Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Last Jedi - self-indulgent thoughts

Last night S & I went out and saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  I was looking forward to it; The Force Awakens and Rogue One were both fantastic, so I was excited to see what Episode 8 would bring.  Ultimately I walked out feeling ... meh.  S had more or less the same reaction.  Spoilers ahead, so don't read if you don't want to.

If I had to boil it all down, I think Kevin Drum says it perfectly.  It wasn't a bad movie per se, but it was the first Star Wars movie I walked out of the theater not wanting, not NEEDING, to know what happened next.


First, the good:
1) It definitely wasn't as bad as the prequels.  There were some sappy moments (we'll get to that in a moment), but overall it didn't feel like a campy movie the way I-III did.
2) It was actually kind of refreshing to see Poe get taken down a notch by cooler heads, who had their plan all along and whose only fault was deliberately choosing not to share it with the hero-fly-boy who already proved himself more reckless than anything else.  In the past, he would've been the brave hero who saves the unwitting and indecisive bureaucrats ... this time he's kind of just an impulsive jerk who refuses to listen to anyone.  I found that very refreshing and a satisfying take on how the world doesn't always work like an action movie.
3) They brought the 'mysticism' back to the Force.  Midichlorians = blech.  This movie made the Force mysterious again; it showed us things that we can't QUITE grasp, things we know have significant meaning and are trying to tell us something, and that would become immediately obvious if you just had that ONE more piece of the puzzle ... which is always just out of reach.  They did a good job with that part.

Now, the bad:
4) Leia is completely irrelevant to the plot.  I mean, she's clearly supposed to be a major character, but at no point in the entire movie does she actually DO anything that influences or changes the direction of the movie.  The movie just kind of happens around her.  She has some dialogue with Luke at the very end that I suppose gives Luke some closure, but none that changes what he was about to do anyway.
5) Snoke.  What.  A.  Waste.  Clearly something ancient, something mysterious & dark ... who just casually gets sliced in half while saying generic bad guy stuff.  That's usually the point in the movie where you're thinking "that was too easy" ... except this time it really was just that easy.  The ensuing fight with his guards was more exciting and more suspenseful.
6) Sappy #1 - What was with the Leia-is-Jesus-space-walk thing?  She gets blown into space, then hand waves herself back in again.  Is she supposed to be the Messiah?  We get it, Leia is deeply in tune with the Force.  But yikes, that was a dumb way to show it, and anyway she'd already demonstrated that by her connection with Kylo Ren just earlier.  They could've achieved exactly the same outcome much more realistically without making us wonder if Leia is only pretending to be human.
7) Sappy #2 - Yoda.  I mean WTF.  After what is presumably 2 decades of absence, he just randomly appears to help Luke blow up the old Jedi temple and impart old Yoda wisdom?  That scene was cringe inducing.

The Ok:
8) I was ok with Luke's story arc.  Not thrilled, but not super disappointed either.  It's plausible, although I'm still wondering how he transformed his personal failure as a Jedi Master into a failing of the Jedi as a credo.  That implies Luke is a whiny baby who needs to blame someone else for his own failings ... which I suppose I can believe, but needed a little more backstory.  I would've preferred a Grey Jedi direction where he really has learned that the "Jedi way", as he knew it, was creating more dischord than harmony.
9) I'm ok with how Rey's parentage was treated.  If Kylo is to be believed (which, I should state for the record, I'm not 100% convinced he should be), then her parents were nobody in particular, just random traders who didn't particularly care for their little girl and needed some drinking money.  Accepting that, and realizing she's more than her parentage, seems to bring Rey some closure, which I can buy.  It's also somewhat backed up by her vision in the cave, where she's trying to see her parents and the cave shows her herself instead.

Rey's lesson may have shades of "be ok letting go of the past", but the lessons for Finn & Poe are "get your head out of your own ass and take a look around you".  Which, as I write it, I guess kind of describes the arcs for Luke and Rey too.  So maybe the lesson for everyone (Rey, Luke, Poe, Finn), is that you're all being self-indulgent whiny jerks; get your heads out of your assess, and figure out what the universe really needs you to be.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Confederacy has a History

For obvious reasons, I've been thinking a lot lately about race, the Confederacy, its history, its monuments, and how it all fits together.  Richmond has a HUGE amount of history here: besides being 65 miles away from Charlottesville, our Monument Ave is a major roadway punctuated by truly massive statues honoring Confederate leaders, and of course the events in Charlottesville are stirring up the debate about what to do with them.  I have a lot more that I think and want to write about that, if only to get it out of my head and onto paper.  But for reasons I don't really understand, one topic in particular bothers me more than others.  And that's the Confederacy itself and its founding principles.

Debate the Civil War and what it means, and inevitably you'll get back to the purpose of the Confederacy and why it existed in the first place.  Was it a race/slavery thing?  Or was it more complicated and involved a lot of overlapping factors?  I have some friends who lean strongly to the latter; that while race/slavery played a role, it was just one of many factors and it's not right to single it out from others.

I disagree strongly.

I'm happy to concede that there were multiple overlapping factors leading up to Southern Secession and the eventual formation of the Confederate States.  But I can't understand how anyone looks at history and doesn't come away understanding that slavery, specifically race-based slavery, was unique and was the central driving force behind everything.  "States' Rights" comes up often.  But States' Rights wasn't some academic debate that got particularly heated.  It was States Rights for the sake of X ... and X was the continued treatment of black people as property.  Put another way, "States Rights" was the argument, the means to the end.  The end goal was race-based slavery.

We don't have to guess at this.  All we have to do is look at what they said at the time about why they were doing it.  Some of them (see below) even explicitly rejected the notion that the Civil War was "States' Rights" over slavery, calling it a "new fangled heresy" conjured by diplomats to make countries like France and Britain more open to helping the South out.

Just take a look and decide for yourself why they were doing this:

Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, "Cornerstone Speech"
Our new government is founded upon exactly [this] idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. 

Richmond's "Southern Punch" Newspaper, 1864 (emphasis in the original):
"The people of the South," says a contemporary, "are not fighting for slavery, but for independence."  Let us look into this matter.  It is an easy task, we think, to show up this new fangled heresy  ---  a heresy calculated to do us no good, for it cannot deceive foreign statesmen nor peoples, nor mislead any one here nor in Yankeeland ... Our doctrine is this: WE ARE FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE THAT OUR GREAT AND NECESSARY DOMESTIC INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY SHALL BE PRESERVED, and for the preservation of other institutions of which slavery is the ground work.

Virginia's Secession Ordinance:
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on [June 25 1788] having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.

Mississippi's Declaration of Cause:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world.

South Carolina's Declaration of Cause:
[A]n increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, ... the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws ... they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery ... because [Lincoln] has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

Georgia's Resolution to Dissolve:
For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery ... [a] brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia.

Texas' Declaration of Cause:
[Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits ... We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Furry House Guest

For the next few days, there is one extra four-legged resident of Casa Heberlein: my friends MP & TP are out of town for a few days, and I'm watching their pup Belle while they're gone.  She's a little skittish around people she doesn't know, but overall she's such a great dog.  I'll always be a cat person, but I've gotta say it's a certain kind of special when you wake up in the morning and she's right there thumping her tail, so excited for no reason other than that I'm awake.

The one iffy thing about all of this was how Lucy was going to take it.  She's never been receptive to other animals in the house, although most of her experience is with cats.  Slowly but surely she's getting used to it (and if I think about it, I'm actually impressed that she's come this far in just 2 days).  Last night she slept on the same bed ... although I think it was with one eye open.  Oh well, just 2 more nights and then she'll have the house to herself again.  And yes, before you ask, Lucy has a room that she can retreat to with her food and litter box.  I blocked off the office door with a latch and eyelet so Lucy can squeeze through but Belle can't.  And she's eating her food so I know she knows.

Also, good lord does this dog shed.  And black hair is WAY more noticeable than cat hair, as I'm coming to learn.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Cat Blogging

She loves looking out into the backyard in this new house :)

Weekend Roundup

Wow this was a busy week.  It started out in Orlando for a conference, which was fine as far as it goes.  But it also meant another 4 days on the road where I couldn't take care of house chores or projects, or work on paperwork for the non-profit choruses (it's a busy time: there's the normal set of bills, a concert this weekend, a concert next weekend, a new treasurer to find, and next year's budget to craft; ugh).  Plus, Mom's coming down to visit in a week, so it's crunch time for home projects.

Speaking of home projects: this weekend's project was the upstairs toilet.  The fill valve has been broken for about 3 months now, but it was so easy to just reach down and flip the valve on-and-off to fill the tank back up, (plus there were 5 other out-of-town trips worked in there), and I just never got around to it.  But having one's mother come for a visit has a way of kicking one's posterior into action.

So ... toilet!  In retrospect, this was actually a very simple repair job.  It took me longer to drive to Home Depot and buy the part than to actually fix the damn thing.  Which I guess is a lesson in just diving in and knocking things out.  But, I fixed a toilet!  On my own!  Accomplishment!!

Incidentally, the instructions to fix a toilet are rather ... um, suggestive.  Such as "grasp the shank" and "align the nipple".  It was not an internal dialogue I was accustomed to having in the bathroom.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

It's Still Hot as Blazes

The AC repair appointment is scheduled, but until then, I'm living in a dystopia.  Seriously guys, my house feels like a cross between a tropical disaster zone and a deep-space outpost that's barely holding together with jury-rigged equipment.

Because my house is ancient and still uses an honest-to-god fuse box, the normal outlets in the living room can't handle too many appliances plugged in at once.  Which means there are extension cords running from the kitchen up and down the stairwell, connected to big box fans to blow as much cold air as possible up the stairs.

That helps a little, but the front bedrooms still bake in the heat all day long.  It would really help if I could get some kind of exhaust fan in there to blow out the hot air and pull in the cold air from downstairs, but the original windows don't have any screens, which means it would be completely open to the outside and all kinds of bugs would get in.

Solution?  Build yourself a screen!  Or rather, two screen sections, one that's just a normal screen and another that holds the small window fan I bought yesterday.  I'm not particularly proud of any of these creations this weekend, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Yard Projects - part 1

There's a LOT I want to do with this yard: re-mulch all the beds, properly edge and expand most of the beds, trim and tie up the roses on the garage, rip out the monster-vine, identify and plan for the rest of the flora, think about outdoor entertaining, and much much more.

It's going to happen one step at a time, though.  So, here's the first small project from a long list: there are two trees in my front yard, neither of them have proper mulch beds.  The grass just grows right up to the trunk, which looks dumb and makes mowing super difficult.  So Saturday afternoon, I tackled the smaller of the two trees: trimmed a few low-hanging branches, dug out & edged a mulch bed, filled it with mulch, and fixed it.  Ta-dah!

Also, bonus picture: these are the garage roses.  I didn't trim them at all this spring, and then I was away for a week that brought them a ton of rain and sun.  The result were these 10 ft monsters that you see before you.  By necessity alone, this will probably need to be the next project.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

AC fritzle fratzle

Because I don't already have enough things to take care of this weekend, the universe threw me another curve ball.  My AC is on the fritz.

The first clue came Thursday.  I was away from Richmond most of last week, and I knew it was going to be warm, so I set the AC to 75.  When I got back from the airport on Thursday morning, the downstairs was comfortable, but the upstairs was not.  Troubleshooting that difference was how I discovered I actually have a dual-zone AC.  (Yes, I have lived here for almost 4 months.  No, I did not know it was dual-zone until just this week.  Yes, you may go ahead and judge.)  "Ok, no worries", I thought.  I'll just turn on the upstairs AC and everything will be fine.  The rest of Thursday was a bit of a haze (it was not a pleasant or restful red-eye flight back), so I didn't think about it much more.

I woke up Friday morning and it was noticeably warm upstairs.  The AC was running, but the air coming out of the vent wasn't cold; so I turned both ACs down a few notches to 70 and then got ready for work.

Then I got home late Friday night, and the downstairs was FREEZING.  The thermostat said 67, so I bumped that zone up a bit.  Then I walked upstairs ... straight into an oven.  Seriously, the heat difference across just a few feet was ridiculous.  The upstairs thermostat was clocking in at 84, which is a 17 degree heat difference between my 1st and 2nd floor.   It's also quite an achievement when the outside is only 75, which means my upstairs must trap heat like nobody's business.  UGH.

So, that is going to be this weekend's main set of tasks.  First, check to see if there's anything obviously wrong with the duct work or insulation that I can fix myself.  Second, go by a few fans and position them to blow the cooler air upstairs, because this weekend is going to be absolutely miserable.  Third, call an AC repair guy and pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that this will be measured in hundreds, not thousands.

Yay home ownership.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Strange People Use My Bathroom

Well, not MY bathroom, but Mom's bathroom in at the gallery.  I'm up visiting Lancaster for a wedding and spending the day in town with mom before the event tonight.  Close to lunchtime a twenty-something girl walked in and asked Mom if she could use the gallery's bathroom.  She explained that she was from out-of-town and auditioning for some role at the Fulton, and that it was just an absolute madhouse over at the theatre.  (aside: I completely believe her, parking in town today is a nightmare).

Mom says "of course", I keep working on my laptop, a minute goes by ... and then a very deep and soulful "weeeeee-ahhhh-OO-UH-OO-UH-OOO" from the bathroom breaks the silence.  That was it.  No other sounds.  Just a single lovely wail that would probably attract herds of fertile manatees if we let them in the gallery.  Mom and I just looked at each other, shrugged, and then 5 minutes later the girl walks back out the door wearing a completely different outfit.


UPDATE: Between then and now, my buddy C called me and asked if I had a hideaway key so he could use my place to shower.  So that's a second random bathroom-related thing to happen today.  Will we get a third?!?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Saturday, April 01, 2017

House Update - SO CLOSE!

In a few days it'll be the 3-month anniversary of me moving into the new house, so now is as good a time as any to share some updates.  The house is definitely coming along, and some major pieces are finally starting to fall into place.  Since last update:
- The chimney & fireplace are repaired and are now functional (just in time for summer, yay)
- The apartment is finally on the rental market, 2 months later than I wanted but with a radiator cover finished that has been bugging me for years
- I bought a lawn mower and mowed the lawn for the first time ever
- Every piece of my master bedroom are finally here and now I'm just waiting on sheets before moving in

The frustrating part is that I can't really say any room is completely done yet, more like every room is 80% of the way there.  And the remaining 20% of each room is going to take a lot more time & effort (and money, gulp) to complete, probably a weekend or two for each.  But at least now it's pretty much all functional and I can have guests over without feeling embarrassed.

Anyway, a little bit more on the master bedroom.  There are actually two rooms upstairs that could be the master that I've been going back-and-forth between.  Room A is a little bigger, but doesn't connect to the bathroom.  Room B is smaller, but connects to the bathroom (the bathroom connects to both room B and the hallway, and it is the only bathroom upstairs, otherwise this would be a no-brainer).  I originally set up my old bedroom furniture (which is going to become the guest room furniture) in Room A, and slept there for a month.  Then, after the family visited, I moved that bedroom set into Room B, and slept there for a month while I waited for my new bedroom to appear.  For a while I was seriously considering making Room B my master to take advantage of the bathroom connection ... but ultimately I chose Room A.  1) Room A is painted in a neutral tone, while Room B has teal accents.  I don't want my master bedroom to have teal accents.  2) It's bigger and, crucially, wider.  I want to have my stationary bike in my bedroom so that I can ride it while watching tv, and trying to put the bike & bed side-by-side in the narrower room is a little too tight.  3) It already has a cable hookup, which certainly isn't a deal-breaker but makes it more convenient.  4) It may not connect directly to the bathroom, but I've already slept here for more than a month and the walk down the hall isn't bad.  Plus I live alone, so it's not like I need to worry that much about scurrying back and forth.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Cat Blogging 2017-02-12

Because Virginia weather is dumb and stupid and hates me, it is sunny and 77 81 degrees here today in Richmond instead of the overcast mid-30's that it SHOULD be in mid-February.  I can already tell that the front of the house, which has old inefficient windows and gets 12 full hours of sunlight, is going to be an uncomfortably warm problem this summer.  Ugh, one more thing to go on the list.

But the warm weather also meant I could open up the sun room off the side of the house, which right now is unused except to store all my used moving boxes and a couch that doesn't fit in the living room.  After looking out into the back yard for a bit, Lucy cat decided she likes the combination of fresh air and a comfy, familiar-smelling couch, and therefore this is the perfect place for her mid-day nap.  Rock on cat.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Tofu Tower Triumph!

A few days ago I shared my tofu tower learning experience and said I had one more try left - well it turns out third time is the charm!

Extra-pressed-extra-firm tofu, sliced into 8 towers instead of 6, extra-TLC on tower formation, and a well-oiled non-stick pan all worked together to produce some very pretty and quite tasty tofu towers.  I'm rather pleased with myself.

On the other hand, I'm probably not going to make these again unless it's a really special occasion that really calls for them.  They're not the easiest or most convenient thing to make, they take a long time for not that much output, and you end up with leftover ingredients that are annoying to find uses for.  But the bigger reason is that pan-frying them on all six sides well enough to cook the chicken all the way through is a MESS.   The oil spits everywhere.  See that liquid sheen dripping down the front of the range?  That's OIL, and it's gonna be a P-I-T-A to clean up.  I suppose I could fix that by using a taller casserole or something, but then that just gets more annoying to work with.  No reason to put that much effort into something unless you need to, and there are many other tasty things to make in the kitchen.

Random aside - somehow I've ended up with a ton of food in my fridge.  Besides these towers (which with broccoli will be 2 meals), I have 4 meals of pot roast, another 4 meals of random ramen-like soup (more on that later), enough leftover veggies for 2 stir-fry's, 4 avocados and chips that were supposed to be guacamole before plans changed, a pound of kielbasa that was an impulse buy, probably 3 meals worth of bacon and eggs and toast (I treated myself to a nice big breakfast in my new house last weekend), to say nothing of all the frozen meals I stocked up on for the move.  And I already know 2 nights next week where I'll be dining out for dinner.  This will be an interesting week to see if I can get through them all without wasting food.

Some house pics later today!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tofu ... Somethings!

Woohoo, another year, another chance to do more than 1 or 2 blog posts!  I'm sure this time will be completely different than last time, and the time before that, and before that, and before that, and THIS time I'll stick with it.  Surely.

Anyway, if I do stick with it, I'm sure most of the posts will be about the new house... but TONIGHT is about kitchen creations.  A few months ago I saved a facebook post for tofu ... stacks?  Burgers?  Sliders?  You basically sandwich some ground chicken and vegetables between two slices of tofu, dredge in corn starch, and pan fry each side.  I've settled on "tofu towers", but if anyone has a better idea, I'm all ears.  But whatever you want to call them, they'll always have the honor of being the first true cooked meal of the new house (easy mac and pizza delivery don't count).

Anyway, I had good friends J&D over for dinner (first dinner guests!), and D had asked for one of the recipes I saved on facebook ... I ended up choosing the tofu towers.

It was an adventure.

First, the recipe was in Japanese, and while someone had helpfully published an English version in comments, it wasn't exactly a stellar translation.  I mean, you could gleam most of it from the video, but it helps to know about how much ground meat you'll need, or exactly what that brown liquid is that you're pouring into the pan (I assumed soy sauce).  So I improvised.  Second, those towers do NOT stay together well, at least mine didn't.  The ground chicken mixture has chopped up vegetables, and I think I did too rough of a chop, which meant the meat couldn't really grip the tofu well and they just sort of fell apart.  I put skewers in them, but I think that only made it worse.  Some stayed together, though, so pics of those.  Third, when the towers are done, you deglaze the pan with a mixture of soy sauce and sake to make a dipping sauce.  I used WAY too much soy sauce and the sauce ended up pretty salty.  Overall, though, they were tasty, and the ones that stayed together did look pretty good.  D agreed that they were good too, although she's way too nice to tell me even if otherwise.  She's awesome like that.

I ended up using only 1/3 of the lb of ground chicken, so I resolved to try it again and next time pay more attention to forming the towers before cooking them.  Tonight I kept that promise, and switched a few things up.  First, I switched from firm to extra firm tofu, which may help the tofu hold together better.  Second, I pulsed the vegetables in the food processor to get a much finer mince, which should give the tofu something much easier to mold onto.  Finally, extra time and attention to forming the towers, pressing them together, smoothing over any bulges, and giving a good pat of corn starch on all sides.  All of that helped, I think.  Unfortunately, I didn't think about the pan, and THAT made things worse.  While last time I used a nonstick pan, this time I used just a plain old iron pan.  And even though those towers were sitting in 1/4 inch of oil, they stuck fast to the pan.  The little buggers would just NOT come up.  In the end, a metal spatula had to be employed several times, and it ripped a lot of the nice crispy crust off.  Harumph.  But this time I only deglazed with sake, and then mixed that with the leftover soy-heavy sauce from earlier.  And THAT tastes much better.

I still have the last 1/3 of chicken left (already mixed in with minced veggies, so there are only so many things to do with it) and I'm thinking third time may be the charm!  This next time, I think I'm going to slice the tofu a bit thinner to make 8 towers instead of 6, and will know to use something less sticky than tonight.  What's happening in YOUR kitchen tonight?