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  1. The Quest for Skirt Guards and a Stylish Bike Commute

    March 20, 2011 by lolkitty: Kaela

    Since I have moved to Orange County, my bike has become my favorite means of transportation. Except for one thing, my bike has no sense of style. For me, this is a sin.

    After investigating the idea of putting an electric motor on my current bike, I realized that my problem with my bike is that it is overly sporty (mountain bike) for what I do and I don’t have the freedom to wear what I want when riding it (I get dirty). American attitudes toward bike riding are very different than in Europe. In America, cyclists tend to be very athletic and wear skin-tight neon lycra outfits topped with ridiculous aerodynamic helmets, presumably with a shower waiting for them at their destination. Then there’s super elitist hipster biking, where people tend to be just as stereotyped in their own class as a bunch of hipster kitties. In America, we’re cliquey, trendy, and snobbish about a sport that should be for everyone. I only noticed this huge difference in attitudes when I learned that everything I was looking for in a bike was standard issue in European bikes and their bike culture. A catchy phrase I saw in an ad for ‘antbikemike‘ was “Not sport… Transport!” and his shop features some jaw-droppingly gorgeous bikes.

    I needed something with some style. I decided to buy a new bike, one that fits my riding lifestyle and sense of aesthetic. I considered vintage Schwinn’s with 3 speed hubs that I could use with an electric bike. Just like with my vintage dresses, I don’t have it in my heart to modify a vintage piece in any way.  I decided to go with something modern that I could swap out parts to my heart’s content without feeling like I was dismantling a piece of history, or wear out it’s parts in the many commuting miles I would put on it. (Though if my finances would allow I would love a vintage bike for casual riding).

    I went with the Diamondback Della Cruz 2, the 7-speed version.

    It has that cute beach cruiser style but is more medium weight, like a vintage bicycle.  Plus, I think I’ll need all 7 speeds until I make it electric, and the extra gears will be nice to have even when it is electric too, because I can do more peddling myself and save battery.  Since it’s a Diamondback it’s of good quality considering I only spent $330 on it.  Another reason I opted for this model is because it has front and back brakes, unlike  most vintage-looking bikes which have a coaster brake.  I’ll need these brakes when I make it electric, and I might even upgrade one to disc brakes.

    I still have yet to receive my new toy in the mail and assemble it though, so I’ll post again on how it feels to actually ride the thing. I’m mostly looking forward to having a bike with an upright-sitting position so I can ride long distances comfortably, with a lady-like posture, and a nice ensemble of a skirt and dress shoe flats.

    I wanted this exact Skirt Guard (standard issue, Electra Amsterdam series)

    I started looking for some luggage racks and baskets because that will also be one of the advantages of this bike, I can use it for going to grab groceries, instead of taking the bus. And I can throw my purse, coffee cup, etc. in the front basket and not be bothered by annoying backpacks or messenger bags.

    I stumbled across various bike blogs and saw one post about a “skirt guard” or “coat guard” that goes over the back wheel to protect the rider’s clothing from getting caught in the wheel.  It’s such a practical and useful accessory, I decided to hunt it down as my first accessory for my bike. This blog has a few great posts on the practical use of skirt guards, in fact it’s a really great blog about biking in a commuter sense without letting your fashion go.

    Electra makes really amazing bikes, and the skirt guard that comes on the bikes in their “Amsterdam” collection are exactly the style I had in mind. (They sell the guards separately but only in black, and claim they don’t work with any other kind of bike.) So I kept looking for skirt guards to see what other kinds I could find. Also note, after looking at many varieties of skirt guards, I noticed the Electra one doesn’t seem to cover as much of the wheel as others.

    Crochet Bike Guard

    I found this lovely crocheted bicycle skirt guard:

    You can see the skirt guard pattern is in Dutch but I imagine someone skilled enough with crochet could figure it out with google translate (my glance at the translated version told me I didn’t know enough about crochet to get past the translation barrier).

    I was so enamored with the idea of this crocheted bike dress guard that I looked all over the internet to find something similar. It has that great ‘vintage’ style that I always crave, and is practical too. There are commercial versions, but I just didn’t think they were quite my style.

    An Etsy shop, JustDo, has these pre-made crocheted skirt guards and this pattern if you have the skills to make it yourself. There are also a lot of very unattractive skirt guard solutions that I have seen (wire or mesh), but since they’re not pretty there’s no sense in detailing them here.

    In any event, all this was pretty difficult to find, and I didn’t feel like shelling out $65 for pre-made one, or attempting to do it myself anytime soon. (I have a bad habit of over estimating my skills as a do-it-yourselfer and I don’t want to take on some extra random talent for a one-time need).  I started googling ‘beginner’ crochet patterns that were round, like baby afghans, to see if I could get away with an easier pattern and a similar effect. Then I had a ‘eureka’ moment and remembered the fabulous material: oil cloth!

    Oil cloth is water resistant polyester with a plastic-like glaze on it.  It always comes in adorable patterns and bright colors, and it is inexpensive, $6/yard or so depending on where you go. 

    I happened to be on fashionfabricsclub.com to look up crocheted patterns and I am always trying to think of a good excuse to use oilcloth, so I browsed through their large selection and found some cute ‘Dutch’ looking floral prints that I think will match my bike perfectly.

    Now all I have to do is measure and make a pattern for this and I’ll have a waterproof, and stylish skirt guard for about $6 worth of materials and maybe an hour of work. I’ll also make a liner for my basket, either in the same oilcloth as the skirt guards or I got some cherry-print oil cloth as well that I might use for that (but I bought it for a re-usable lunch bag that won’t leak, and I will definitely be making that!)

    In a few days I’ll have my bike and my oilcloth skirt guards, so I’ll take some photos to post soon! I’m so excited to see it put together!! I gathered a lot of information on the subject (at least what’s relevant to America and the difficulties of finding such a useful item!) so I hope this was useful to someone out there!

    =^.^=

     


  2. Artie’s first acorn!

    May 26, 2010 by lolkitty: Kaela

    Some unbelievably cute photos of my precious little Artie after discovering his first acorn in my window sill!


  3. Henna: my new (but very old) beauty secret…

    May 19, 2010 by lolkitty: Kaela

    What do you mean I’m no natural redhead? This color *is* all natural, it’s henna!

    After being a platinum blond for many years and loving it, my hair was not. And being fickle like I am, after being one hair color for a while I get bored no matter how much I like it.

    The boyfriend voted for red hair. My facebook friends voted for pink. Guess who won.

    Going from blond to red isn’t easy, since you have to build up the color, and what worked before might not work again, since it had been a year or so since I attempted red. (I was stuck with Ronald McDonald orange for about a month before I bleached it again, damaging it so bad I had to cut my hair to a bob!)

    I’ve been pretty tired of using all these chemicals all the time, and after researching different ways to go from blond to henna red, I was pretty sure I could pull it off alright.

    Actually, America’s favorite redhead, Lucille Ball was once a blond who used henna for her vibrant red. This, of course, appealed to my 1950’s preoccupation. Let alone rumors of other notorious historical women like Cleopatra.

    henna paste

    Henna mix

    My first batch of henna was with “Light Mountain” brand in the shade “auburn” since I knew I had to build up the brown tones in my hair before using the red. I didn’t anticipate how much my hair was actually going to soak up the color, and my hair was almost exactly my natural brown after one color set (overnight).

    The pics in this post are from my third coloring. My last one was with pure red henna and this current color treatment was as well. Pure henna is *much* more fun. It’s very easy to work with, compared to any other “plant” hair dye that contains other plants to make the henna darker. (If you haven’t heard before, NEVER use henna that isn’t 100% plants, in the US it’s not very common to find for hair dye but always read the label that you’re only getting pure plant powders).

    Steps I like to use for good henna application:

    1. Boil water and mix in the henna slowly (just get out all the lumps!) Once it’s the consistency of toothpaste I add in an essential oil like Tea Tree Oil (my favorite) or Eucalyptus. Those oils are supposed to help enhance the color and they make it smell really good too.

    henna on hair

    Keep your application neat, and it will make rinsing easier!

    2. Let the mix sit for 1 or 2 hours (this helps “activate” the henna so it’ll dye better).

    3. Brush out your hair and part into sections. Apply Vaseline to your ears to keep them from getting dyed. Use an applicator bottle to apply the henna. Part your hair, apply to roots, and part again with the nozzle until you’ve done your whole head.

    4. Pull the color through, cover every bit of your hair until it’s soaked, trying to keep it neat and not tangling it (you’ll see why when you rinse).

    5. Put on the plastic cap and use a blow dryer on low or even wrapping a towel over the plastic will heat your henna enough to help bring out the color. (I think this helps more than any other tips I’ve read online).

    6. Leave in for at least 4 hours. I leave mine on 8 hours (overnight).

    7. Rinse in warm water and be patient. I don’t shampoo until next wash (so wash your hair before you apply!) I usually have to run conditioner through my hair 3 or 4 times to get all the little henna particles out. (If you get most of it, when you blow dry your hair, the rest should brush out ok, it will just leave your hair a little heavy until next washing.)

    8. Voila! A redhead.. naturally!

    henna in my hair and on my skin

    When you have left over henna, you can use it for body art!

    And if you’ve tried to keep your hair red with usual dyes, you’ll probably be really pleased with the results. You’ll see it does leave your hair much more “natural” looking and healthy looking than any dyes I’ve bought at beauty supply stores, or had applied professionally.

    So I’ve read that by the third or fourth coloring, the henna will be completely saturated as far as color. I’ll have to see how this fades, but my red is much more brilliant after this last coloring.

    So henna is much easier to use than chemicals, since if you leave it on too long, all it does is enhance the color.  (My last one I did more watery and it dripped everywhere and didn’t color as well). The henna is really gritty if you’re used to dying your hair, it feels strange like you’re putting a mud mask in your hair.

    Henna is so much fun that after I was all finished putting it in my hair, I got a little plastic back and poked a hole in it to apply some henna body art. It was a less than ideal tool, and I think I’m going to pick up a proper squeeze bottle with a fine tip to do much more intricate work. After the color “matured” over a day, the body art was very  beautiful. I think I’m going to use it as an indicator of when I need to recolor my hair. It should last about 6 weeks.

    henna color

    This is a fairly accurate pic of the color

    I tried to get a pretty accurate photo for the color result. This is the color over several previous henna applications, and bleached blond hair underneath. The great thing is, though, this is the *exact* same color as my roots! It blends in beautifully.

    I’m not the sort of girl that usually goes all “herbal” and “natural” whenever the opportunity arises. But I’m glad I gave henna another chance.

    There are just a few things that make henna difficult to find, or use in America. Unless you live in a big city, or have a large health food store nearby it might be hard to find henna. I’ve looked at buying bulk henna from several places but I’m always weary when I can’t see it or feel it in person. Because henna is a plant, the quality can vary widely.

    The final henna results

    Henna hair and henna art

    If you buy online, you can get Light Mountain brand, which I’ve been using for all my recent applications but I have tried other henna brands (once with GREEN results!!) so you have to be careful. It’s the only brand I recommend unless you know a friend or a source for mehindi quality henna.

    One thing I’m pretty certain of is that henna treatments will also make my hair accept pin-curling and other wet-set styling better. It seems to have a side effect of making my hair feel thick and full. With pin-curling or wet set styles you will sometimes lose a little body depending on the style and that’s always bothered me. After letting my hair curl naturally, I noticed that it almost looked *too* big! So I’m sure those evasive Andrew’s Sisters and Peggy Lee styles that are just sky high won’t be out of my grasp now.

    My hair has never been healthier since I’ve been using henna. It also seems to have an astringent quality that keeps my hair from looking greasy by the end of the day like my natural hair can do. Also the texture is a little “straw” like, which I’m sure some girls don’t like, but that was my favorite thing about bleached blond hair, because it’s actually easier to control when it has a little bit of texture to it.

    Henna is my hair’s new best friend! I am really surprised at how underrated henna is…

    That’s my two cents on the subject, I’ve had a lot of girls asking about how I get my hair red the way it is. If you have questions, feel free to comment!


  4. Artie: The Trainable

    March 29, 2010 by lolkitty: Kaela

    Artie has a reputation around here of being the boss. If he doesn’t want you to catch him, you will not be able to catch him. If he wants you away from his hazelnut, trust me, you keep away from his hazelnut. For all his fiercesome ways, he has another reputation, and it’s of being very smart and sneaky.

    He already figured out that he can sneak under our bedroom door if we don’t watch him closely enough. The good thing though is he is endlessly and tirelessly greedy. So bribes are alright by him.

    Chris started training him with almond slivers to come to your hand when you stand up and put your arm straight out. He understands this signal in different contexts, with different hands or signals. So my next goal is to train him to come when I call him. I think it’s completely possible.  I haven’t seen video of a chipmunk that comes when you call it, so I’m hoping it’s at least rare enough to be noteworthy.

    Here’s some video of his sweetness. I’ll continue training him and post my progress.

    This is Chris playing with him:

    You can see he puts my finger in his mouth to play bite me, but then he does surprise me with a bit more of a bite toward the end. He’s still pretty gentle, but this is why these special little animals are a little too wild for small kids to play with. I even still think that people who are unfamiliar with the way chipmunks behave would have a hard time playing with him. He also gets spooked a little easy if there are new people around.

    That’s all for now!


  5. Portobello Parmesan & Rosemary and Garlic Brusslesprouts Vegetarian Dinner

    January 18, 2010 by lolkitty: Kaela

    I decided to make something a little more fancy since Chris is trying to be vegetarian and could use some unusual delicious food.

    There are probably a bunch of ways you can make this, since it’s basically one of those meals you throw together “to taste.”

    Brusselsprouts and Portobello

    Breaded “Portobello Parmesean”
    Ingredients:
    2 Portobello Caps
    2 eggs
    2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
    2 tablespoons oil

    Directions:
    Cut Portobello caps into strips, and cut off as much of the stem as possible because it is tough. Beat the eggs in a bowl (you could add cream or milk to the egg to make it thinner, or to make it vegan you could use oil and soymilk).  Dip the mushroom strips in the egg then coat in bread crumbs.  Do all the strips at once and heat up the oil on medium.  2 mushroom caps will be enough to fill an entire skillet, so you can do them all at once.  Preheat oven to 300.
    Cook until browned and turn over.  The nice thing about mushrooms is you don’t have to worry about an internal cooking temperature, like you would have to with meat, so you’re more likely to overcook than undercook, so keep an eye on them.
    Because I was cooking the brusselsprouts afterward the Portobellos, I put them in a casserole dish with a lid, and put some small balls of fresh mozzarella on top so when they were sitting in the oven keeping warm the mozzarella melted on top of the mushrooms!

    Portobello's cooking

    While the mushrooms are keeping warm and getting melty, you can cook the brusselsprouts.

    Rosemary Garlic Brusselsprouts
    1 pound (or approximately a skilletful) of brusselsprouts
    2-3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon rosemary
    3 garlic cloves, finely minced
    salt & pepper to taste
    1/4 cup parmesean cheese

    Wash and cut the stems off the brusselsprouts and quarter them. Some leaves will come loose from the rest of it, but they sear nicely in the pan, so don’t throw them out. Mix olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper together in a bowl until brusselsprouts are coated in oil (may need more oil). Toss everything in your frying pan and cover, stirring frequently. Keep on medium/low heat until you see the loose leaves starting to darken.  You can test if they’re done by poking a larger one with a fork.  I liked mine a little on the firm side, so anywhere from 12-20 minutes depending on how high the heat, the size of the sprouts, etc.  When the brusselsprouts are finished cooking, sprinkle in the parmesean cheese and let the heat of the pan cook the cheese a little as you stir it.

    Brusselsprouts

    When the brusselsprouts are done, you can take the Portobello’s out of the oven and serve with side of tomato sauce for the mushrooms.  This made a lot of food, probably serves at least 4.

    This would be good with garlic bread too.  I didn’t do it this time, but I think the brusselsprouts would have benefited from a splash of good balsamic vinegar. Since that’s an easy thing to do wrong, I think you should test it on a per-serving basis.  Also, a balsamic glaze would have been decadent and delicious on the brusselsprouts as well.

    It’s one of those dishes you can try many different ways.  Even just switching the seasonings from garlic & rosemary to, say mint and lemon would turn it into a greek dish!

    Let me know if you try this out! I thought it was a nice meal.

    Here’s what it looks like all done! Yummy!
    I think the main thing to be careful about with this dish is the seasoning and cooking the brusselsprouts enough without overcooking.  The Portobello’s would be great topped with some homemade marinara (I felt like the jarred sauce was too behind on “fresh” flavor).

    Portobello Parmesean and Brusselsprouts with rosemary and garlic

    Also, I used “portobello” in this post, even though I think colloquially I call them “portobella.”  It seems like it’s more popular as “portobello” though I don’t think it really matters. Just in case anyone was wondering.


  6. Delicious Vegan Oatmeal Cookies (You don’t have to tell anyone they’re Vegan!)

    November 19, 2009 by lolkitty: Kaela

    I started making vegan cookies years ago since my brother was vegan, we started cooking vegan so we all could eat the same goodies.  We used to tease Thomas saying that “vegan deserts are just sad.”  But these vegan cookies (and others I’ll post as I make them, like my famous Snickerdoodles) are so good you can “omit” the fact that they’re Vegan to your friends and family who would otherwise not want them, and no one will be the wiser!

    Many recipes can be adapted to be vegan without losing out on flavor, and this is definitely one of them!  I adapted the classic “Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies” recipe from the Quaker Oats box as follows.  The water mixed with baking powder was my egg replacement, and Earth Balance my butter replacement, it’s the best butter substitute: EVER. I like it better than real butter.

    Vegan Oatmeal Cookies

    Vegan Vanishing Oatmeal Cookies:

    1/2 lb. (2 sticks) Earth Balance (softened, about half a tub.)
    1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1/3 cup water mixed with 1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
    3 cups Quaker Oats (old-fashioned, quick oats are no good.)
    1 cup raisins (next time I’m doing half dried cranberries!)

    Heat oven to 350°F.

    Beat together Earth Balance and sugars until creamy. Add water & baking powder mix and vanilla; beat well.

    Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; stir together until no streaks remain.

    Stir this into the butter mixture. Stir in oats and raisins; mix well.

    Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

    Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown.

    Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack.

    Makes about 4 dozen (makes a LOT of cookies).

    Best when served right out of the oven :)  You might want to make these with some company!  Also, I got to use some of my favorite old-timey pieces to show off the cookies: my favorite cake tin in Kromex!

    Vegan Oatmeal Cookies in Vintage Kromex

    I have almost the entire Kromex set, one of my 50’s housewife weaknesses.

    I’ve been trying to collect the entire set for years and I think I’m only missing a couple pieces like a bread box and rice canister :)

    Hope these cookies turn out good for you! Do let me know! Especially if you trick non-vegan sympathizers with this one!

    xoxo

    Kaela

    Syndicated from www.LOLKITTY.info


  7. Vestigial organs, moth-erflies, and bad engineering.

    November 6, 2009 by lolkitty: Kaela

    I frequently mull over the internet taking in new information.  With Chris being a Wikipedia junkie, it’s needless to say, we have a lot to talk about.  The other day I was hit hard by the concept of “vestigial.”  Organs, genes, or whatever, I think understanding the concept of vestigial parts of our bodies is in some ways consoling and in other ways infuriating.  It sunk in the other day when I heard it referring to some odd genes and to our appendix.  Since I was in maybe first grade, I remember hearing that “the appendix is just a useless organ, it’s just there, sometimes it ruptures and kills people and that’s just the way it is.”  I was always bothered by the idea of an appendix, sort of like how we just accept that the way cats pur is just a mystery.  Then when I suppose the idea of vestigial organs and the appendix mixed, I thought, “why didn’t they just tell us school kids that it was a vestigial organ and that’s why it’s so useless.”

    But as I said, it’s only half consoling.  I have to think that if that’s the way it is, it’s easy to accept, since that’s how most things are.  That’s why we have such terrible genetic diseases and why we are susceptible in ways that are unfortunate.

    Nature is like that, it’s a beautiful disaster.

    We have a hoard of moths around our house that are crowding the town right now.  They do that every few years, making clouds in front of your headlights at night, and for a very brief season before going the way of the may flies.
    These moths are really charming little things that look just like butterflies but without the colourful patterns.  Their wings stand straight up like little sails, just like a monarch would,  pointing their foreboding mock-eyes to the world.  When I see them, I say to myself, “oh, another moth-er-fly.”  After hearing Richard Dawkins once talk about “sloths” pronouncing it with a long “o” sound, I make myself laugh by calling them “moth-er-flies” with a long “o” like some sarcastic biologist.  They are the sort of things that make me think Nature is lovely, even dull grey moth-er-flies.

    But then I still have nagging frustrations with genetic disorders.  Even just one or two genes that do the wrong thing, and you can suffer all your life.  Even with mild genetic problems, there is nothing we can do but treat the symptoms.  Why is there childhood cancer?  Why is birth so traumatic?  Why do so many things have to die, just for there to be life?  Unfortunately for the natural world, survival is really the framework of the old joke: You don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than your friends.   And it’s true.

    This video is a good example of how clunky life is.  Select for one specific task and give the critter some basic building blocks for it’s body and look how absurd these virtual critters can be, but still be technically successful.

    Unfortunately for humans, we can sit there and think about how crazy this is.  Being self-aware is also a mixed blessing.  Just looking at those little creatures, they look like they’re suffering. Look at how much they struggle to be best at the one assigned task.  This makes me want to rant and rave about how cool I think it would be for humans to be cyberized. I’ll probably never see the day.  Though there are some cool things happening in science right now, I would still reserve this for another post.

    My main reason for focusing on this is the burden just women have with respect to bad design from evolution.  I’m the kind of person who’s a bit like a hot house flower when it comes to being fragile and temperamental.  I always seem to be getting sick with something, and it can all be chalked up to bad engineering.

    But Nature doesn’t have it all wrong, I think it went right making a cute peanut powered companion of mine, Artie.  But I do think that the philosophies we have, the way we live life, and our outlook on everything is based on our understanding that we have to struggle to find success.  There is no other way to be successful on this planet, because it’s the foundations of our reality.

    Nobody can win without making others fail, and it’s all we can do to make it so that we aren’t the ones doing the failing.


  8. Vintage Reproduction Faux Bakelite

    November 4, 2009 by lolkitty: Kaela

    I had one of those days where my desire to be creative was overwhelming.

    Chris bought me this darling piece of Bakelite that is a simple but charming tiki head purse clasp.  I really loved it, and when I look at all the great bakelite pieces out there, I think it’s a shame that they are so expensive and hard to find.

    So I did what I always do when authentic vintage pieces aren’t as accessible as I’d like: I made vintage.

    Faux Bakelite Tiki Heads for sale now!

    Faux Bakelite Tiki Heads for sale now!

    I took some polymer clay that I’ve had some fun with recently making cute old-fashioned kind of treat charms, and tried my hand at making these little guys.

    I couldn’t get close enough to the face with my own hands, working with this new medium was a little cumbersome.  I do think it has a great deal of flexibility and I would like to do many, many more pieces like this.  I made a mold from the clay itself and baked it.  I made two faces and spent about an hour on them each getting the details just right.

    After putting on the glaze I was very satisfied with these pieces.  I think there’s a lot of potential for these to be a star piece in vintage inspired wardrobes where real bakelite is just not practical.  For one thing, when you wear real Bakelite, it makes you smell like formaldehyde, and the bangles can stain your skin! Yuck!  I’m not sure if polymer clay is sturdy enough to be a bangle, but this is definitely my next project, among a couple other Bakelite pieces I have saved photos of in the hopes of being able to recreate them one day.

    Hope you enjoyed them!  They’re for sale at Lipstick Vogue or my etsy store.

    xoxo
    -Kaela


  9. How we trick ourselves, mortality, confirmation bias, and being home alone.

    November 3, 2009 by lolkitty: Kaela

    In the spooky Autumnal atmosphere of Wrightwood and this creeky, tiny house, I find myself home alone and up late nights because of my Chris’ new graveyard shift schedule.  To be perfectly clear, I do not believe it ghosts, spirits, or anything supernatural.  However, I am one of the easiest people to scare, and being alone at night brings it out in me.

    Even the thought of ghosts when I’m home alone at night like this makes my hair raise.  Our resident mouse, Mickey, causes some noise that spooks me, but nothing like the concept of ghosts.

    I had a childhood friend, Nicole, that was told not to play with me because I “believed in ghosts.”  Unfortunately for me, I never really did, but I always very much wanted to believe, so I would try to find out for myself.  Nicole and I would walk the halls on sleepovers with flashlights and cameras trying to catch something.  I truly want to discover what there might be out there: but I suppose I never did find anything and my suspicions never went away.

    I think that it’s very easy for people to believe in ghosts.  We’re very social creatures by nature, and when we hear or see something we can’t identify, we are more likely to visualize a face or a person where there isn’t one.  Our brains are just wired to see faces. It’s really been nagging at me that I feel so inclined to be spooked by “ghost” feelings.  Especially being such a skeptic (with exceptions to be pretty gullible in trusting in people). I think by now I have a feeling for how my mind observes things, and it does seek out explanations that are human based.

    Chris’ mom passed away recently, I was living there around that time.  I remember very soon after he lost his mom, his Aunt Judi came to be with them. It was a very sad time, in a way that the feeling just hangs in the air.  I suppose this is where my mind’s susceptibility comes in, because I was so empathetic to this terrible sadness and helplessness of the whole situation.  One night, I fell asleep while Judi and Chris’ dad were talking, and started dreaming about Chris’ mom, Jody.  Probably because of the way American culture views ghosts, my dream reflected the “unfinished business” of a soul stuck in this world (not something I’d think of Jody, but just how my mind was putting the situation together), though there were a lot of complicated elements of the dream that could go into too much detail. (Not believing in supernatural, I don’t usually give much weight to dreams, but the fact that it’s what our brains do with their down time is important enough to note, especially when they have significant effects on us).  I distinctly felt that she was still there with us, and half way between dreaming and waking I heard Judi’s voice, thinking it was Jody’s. By the time I was fully awake, I realized the reality of the situation, that she wasn’t really there, and that my mind was so deceived, I wept.  I can’t even imagine what his family was going through, what terrible processes of the mind and heart a person must surmount when losing someone like Jody.  Our entire town grieved, even I heard about it everywhere I went.  To me, at least to my logical senses, that’s the best we can hope for as far as immortality: being remembered.

    Even months later, we were saying how the unseasonal snows were Jody’s doing. Chris being even more of a skeptic than me, I was surprised that he felt like that, too.  I remember walking the dark halls in Chris’ house thinking, “I hope Jody thinks I’m good for her son” as though she was over my shoulder scrutinizing me. Sometimes I still wonder what my Grandmother, Vivian, would think seeing me do this or that. It’s an impossible habit to break.  It’s so human to have simply the concept of a person as much the reality as them existing in the flesh.  Why is this? Are there studies on this? I feel like I have to know.

    Especially what is nagging at me is the concept of a stranger ghost.  Someone we don’t know that’s there just to go “boo!” And hide in the shadows.  Why am I so frightened of the dark and of bumps in the night?  I am a boyfriend described “militant atheist.”  I guess that means I come off too strong in bashing creationism. But I should be level headed enough to dismiss the concept of a ghost or spirit, right?

    I just saw a really great video on “Confirmation Bias” on YouTube that made me think to post a blog about this, and also that I’m so scared for no reason.  Our culture has a confirmation bias of the supernatural.  There’s not a stitch of doubt that we’re all about anything that’s unproven by science. We love ghosts, chupacabra, homeopathy, feng shui, and anything else not approved by the FDA.  Science is viewed as the spoil-sport, that comes in and tells you how the magic trick is done right as you’re being delighted in the mystery of it.  Perhaps it is simply a fascination with the unknown that is strong enough to let us trick ourselves.  I think this is really an issue of psychology.

    Now that confirmation bias I was talking about, there is a frighteningly powerful technology that’s making it even more widespread:  The Internet.  There are a host of ridiculous misinformation sources like: creationwiki, HIV/AIDS conspiracy, or even these wackjob conspiracy theorists.  Now people who are suspicious of something we all know is legitimate can have their misinformed views reinforced until they are mindless drones of the people who start these messes.  Our minds are very powerful at adapting to the circumstances.  We are inclined to trust authority figures and most importantly, popular belief.  If everyone says there is an afterlife, that there is a grey area to this afterlife, and that they themselves have personal experiences with it, it is a hard thing to completely remove from your own reality.  I myself cannot do it.

    Superstition is another example of this.  I was a very superstitious little girl, always counting things in even numbers and doing things the lucky way, without exception.  I grew out of these tendencies for the most part, but I still have secret lucky items that I’ll put in my purse for a job interview, or such.  I find myself thinking, “this is so silly” and almost breaking the habit, but going back and saying “well, it couldn’t hurt!”  Or even thinking how the concept of having something lucky is like a placebo, and even though I know I’m using a placebo of lucky superstition, I can still benefit from it…… I know, it’s crazy.  But it’s better than giving in to the superstition all the way, right?

    The Amazing Randi is one of my favorite celebrities.  Coming from a completely unscientific background, he comes from the background of tricking people.  Since one of his main missions has been to teach people how they can be tricked, I’ve been following his media appearances closely in the past year or so, trying to learn from what fools people, especially myself.  I really think that being superstitious, being creationists, being gullible, or letting our cognitive functions get hijacked for misuse is a real problem that we have to overcome as a society.  Believing in innocent tricks, like Randi says, is actually dangerous because it leads us to believe in larger “magic tricks” that can get us into much worse trouble (like cults, or Nigerian business men).

    My point is this: I spend a lot of effort and thought in my life to try to be a more rational and inquisitive thinker.  It’s not easy, for certain.  I love the lure of mystery like anyone else, but more than mystery, I love discovery.  I love when scientists find new evidence that challenges current beliefs.  One of the best ways to enjoy that kind of discovery is in myself.  Why is the status quo as it is?  How can it be different? And to what ends?

    The small morsel of reality that we savor with our limited perception is more spectacular than we can imagine.  I think Carl Sagan, my hero, said it best…

    It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.


  10. Homemade Marinara- Easier than you think!

    October 30, 2009 by lolkitty: Kaela

    So I decided that being a wooden-spoon shaking Italian chick in the kitchen means nothing if you can’t make a fine marinara sauce from scratch. That means from real, fresh tomatoes, yes.  If I am to be a real woman in the kitchen, I’ve got to get a few impressive recipes perfected.

    Oh, and by the way, my feminist friends: Being a good cook isn’t being a “slave” to my role in society.  In fact, I think being artfully skilled in the ways of being a woman is one of the best things a girl can do for herself.  It keeps the men wondering how we do it so easily, and being smart and strong on top of it is the icing on the cake.  At least don’t let yourself be a poor cook because you think you’re making some kind of statement!  My “vintage disposition” inclines me to love these humble and underrated things you can do for fun.

    So I had mixed feelings about sauce from scratch. I thought it would be easy to do but that I might mess it up just as easily.  After having had some real w.o.p. sauce from an ex’s brother-in-law, I had an idea of how I wanted to make it.  So here’s how it went!

    Ingredients:

    About 16 roma tomatoes (spend your time finding the good ripe ones, without any green).
    About 1 bulb of garlic (I know, a bulb. Or be a sissy and have half a bulb… to taste.)
    About 3 tablespoons of olive oil (I like my sauce a little oily but when I made it I went with about 5 tablespoons and it was too much!)
    Dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme. About 1 tablespoon of basil and a teaspoon each of the others.
    Salt to taste (You might get away with a bit less salt than jarred sauce, especially if you get good tomatoes, and let the sauce simmer longer)
    Fresh Mozzarella (makes this dish better than going out, honestly)

    Yummm, Tomatoes!

    Yummm, Tomatoes!

    How to make the marinara:

    You’ll want to peel the tomatoes, certainly.  So get some water boiling.  While the water is heating up, cut the tops off of the tomatoes and cut a little “X” at the bottom to make peeling easier.
    When the water is at a full boil, toss the tomatoes in and start cutting up the garlic.  Keep an eye on them because they won’t need to be in very long.  Once you start seeing the skins get wrinkly or peeling away from the “x” cut on the bottom strain them and let the tomatoes cool.
    You probably still have a lot of garlic to cut, so chop the rest of it while the tomatoes cool enough for you to handle them to peel them.
    Peel the tomatoes.  This is a very hand-oriented process.  Hopefully you enjoy getting your hands in a squishy mess.

    After you get the peels off, now comes the fun part, squishing!  Get a big bowl that can easily hold all the tomatoes and their juices. I squished my tomatoes by hand.  If you don’t like tomato seeds (and why wouldn’t you?) you can squeeze the juice into a separate bowl and strain them out of the tomato juice.  You’ll need all the liquid that’s in there though, so don’t drain it out.  I personally liked the seeds in, it felt more “rustic” and tomato-y.

    Once you’ve got them mostly squished, you can mash them further with a hand masher.  People online say to put it in a food processor and I couldn’t disagree more.  Hand mushing it is much better because you can have it a little chunky, I think it would be a bit boring if the tomatoes were blended. Plus it adds an extra step that is not as fun as hand mushing, and pretty much doubles the clean-up time.

    Also, note that there is no sugar in this recipe.  Adding sugar to tomato sauce has always been a pet-peeve of mine. I never buy canned sauce with sugar, ever.  It’s usually used to hide the flavor of poor quality ingredients. It can bring out the flavor if you use it sparingly, like salt does.  If you have poor quality tomatoes or just are used to sugar-added stuff, I’d say keep it under a teaspoon, that’s all you should need with fresh tomatoes.

    All done with squishing?  Ok, now pour the olive oil into a nice big sauce pot.  Let the oil heat up and throw in your garlic. Once it’s starting to get translucent, throw in the spices.  I like to let them soak up some of the garlic-oil flavor for a bit, but make sure they don’t burn!

    Now toss all the squished tomatoes back in the pot.  Let it simmer, uncovered, a good long time for the best flavor.  While it’s simmering you can mush the tomatoes a little more after they’ve cooked a bit and get it to the consistency you like.  I think having sauce on the stove for a half-hour is the minimum to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes.  If it’s a little bit too watery, just let it simmer longer. So you can start your pasta after you’ve got the sauce ready to simmer for a while and everything will be done together.  I took some of the fresh mozzarella, cutting it as thin as I could it kind of crumbles into little pieces so that it will melt when you put it on your piping hot sauce!

    Homemade Marinara

    Homemade Marinara

    As an afterthought, when the pasta was almost done, I took a sandwich roll, cut it in half, and microwaved some butter with some of the chopped up garlic I set aside.  Then I poured the butter & garlic on the roll and put it in the toaster oven until it browned.  Fancy, considering I used a microwave and a toaster oven :)

    I actually got my toaster oven from my full-blooded Italian Nonna (yeah, that’s grandmother to you non-Italian people, hehe).  In the spirit of the way Italians actually do things, she likes things simple and practical.  Once I asked her about some recipes, but it was almost hard for her to explain because the way her family always cooked was just throwing a bunch of what was around in some kind of meal.  Her version of bruschetta included boiled egg and corn, which surprised me, compared to my Americanized ideal of Italian food.  To me Italian food is all tomatoes, in everything, with a side of a tomato based something else.  But when you think about it, tomatoes were a new-world food, so they didn’t even have tomatoes in Italy before the Americas were discovered. :) Oh well.  I’m also not going to go grab any of the meats that Italy is famous for, so I guess I have a very small slice of Italian cooking that I’ll ever be making for myself.

    Now, this isn’t a low-fat/low-calorie dish, but if you ditch the buttered garlic bread and fresh mozzarella it’s not that bad.  Just trying to eat one serving is!

    Enjoy!

    xoxo
    Kaela