Friday, November 26, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake (A Small Story from Thanksgiving 2K10)

So normally, Chelsea and I don't head back to the motherland (Massachusetts) for Thanksgiving with our families.  Normally, we stay in Chicago and celebrate with friends.  The first few years we did this, it was mostly a matter of practicality.  Fresh out of college, neither of us had alot of money, and flying home for Thanksgiving AND Christmas was just too expensive.

The thing is, over time, our little orphan Thanksgivings have evolved into a celebration of our second family- the people we went to college (the University of Massachusetts Amherst) with, people I've met in Chicago through improv, and our many other friends who we have met living in the Windy City.

Now, over time, we've developed our own Thanksgiving traditions- like every year I make the turkey.  Every year we end the night playing some kind of card or board game, and for the last few years, Chelsea has made pies.

If you know Chelsea, you should know she doesn't do anything halfway.  For Hallowe'en, she decided to dress up as Lara Croft (Chelsea is obsessed with "Tomb Raider").  Did she go out and buy a pre-made Lara Croft costume?  No.  She made the costume herself, and went as far as buying real gun holsters for her legs.  If you ever want to know why we have gun holsters in our apartment, that's why.

In terms of her annual Friendsgiving urban family desserts, Chelsea really outdid herself this year.  She made:

An apple pie- pretty straight up.  Homemade crust, a combo of Granny Smith apples and Honey Crisps, delicious as always.

Peanutbutter Cookies- Which were delicious.  AND shaped like coat buttons.  Chelsea called them "Coraline Cookies".

and the big one:

A pumpkin cheesecake made from scratch- now let's get this out of the way- the cheesecake was beyond delicious.  It was rich, and full of great Autumn flavor.  The reason this cheesecake requires special attention though, is the amount of work that Chelsea put into it.  After making the crust (from scratch) and making the cheesecake mix (which required drying out some pumpkin puree amongst other odd steps), Chelsea loaded the whole thing into a springform pan, loaded the pan into a bigger pan filled with water, and put that into the oven to cook.  Once it was done, it had to cool to room temperature before- in the middle of the night mind you- Chelsea got up and put into the refrigerator to cool further.

Look, I realize baking is slightly off topic for this blog.  I just wanted to tell this story mostly because I wanted to point out that Chelsea is an asskicker.  An asskicker who I'm lucky enough to call my own.  Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nerd Girls Unite!

I recently discovered this article about a little lady first grader who was picked on by boys at school for bringing a Star Wars water bottle to school - a water bottle that she had been super pumped about.

My heart breaks for this little 5/6 year old. My heart breaks for her mommy. My heart breaks for all the little nerdy girls and boys, mothers and fathers who have to go through something like this.

Well, little Katie StarWarsLover, little girls don't need to be "mainstream" or "normal" or even "girly." They can play with boy things (trucks, Transformers, etc.) Girly tea parties, pink Barbie cars, princess dresses are boring. We'd rather be making our own faerie worlds in our back yards, watching Inspector Gadget after school every day because we think Penny is the smartest girl in the world....

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm talking about childhood Chelsea. I was, am, and always will be a nerd. I wasn't always proud of it, I got picked on mercilessly for it, and at times, I did just what little Katie did and I tried to hide it behind normal girl things (some of which I learned to love as well). But then, one day, in second grade, I came home from school after weeks and weeks of after-school crying sessions with my mom and said, basically, that I'd had it with trying to fit in. I'd had it with trying to make people like me. I wanted to be happy, to like the things I liked. To believe in faeries. To believe that Gadget's niece Penny was the person I wanted to be. To watch Han Solo frozen in carbonite over and over again because I thought it so tragic and heart breaking. For getting excited when Star Trek: The Next Generation came on because those guys and gals were my heroes. (Side note, I like both Star Trek and Star Wars and I will never EVER choose sides or allow people to think me less of a nerd because of it).

And you know what? The bullying didn't stop for quite some time. I don't think it truly ended until I got to college and started only valuing those people from high school that I kept in touch with and the wonderful friends I gathered while at UMass because they people who liked me because I was me. They like quirky, nerdy Chelsea, the girl who is all a-SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE about seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in an IMAX theater on Sunday. I'm passionate about the things I nerd-out about.

And I'm happy. Very very happy. And I think being true to my nerdy self, while not always easy, is why I'm happy.

So, someday, when our kids go through what Miss StarWarsLover has gone through, help me in letting them know that their passion for nerdery will make them happy humans someday. That while Sally Normalson and Jimmy Mainstream think you're weird, you'll show them someday, with a big smile on your face and a Wonder Woman mug in your hand, that you're happy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Five Favorite Celtic Mythological Figures

Is writing a blog that's basically just a list lazy? Is it even lazier if it's a list of only five things? Sure. But you know what? The laziest thing of all would be to not write anything. So here goes.

I'm a huge mythology buff. I have extensive knowledge of Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Japanese, Aztec, and a whole bunch of other mythologies. But my favorite is Celtic Mythology. Particularly Irish Celtic mythology. Why?

Well, I'm of Irish descent. Sean Kelley. So there's a heritage thing. Also, it's kind of crazy. The biggest Celtic epic is all about stealing cows and features a curse where men get labor pains. AND it's kind of mysterious. The ancient Celts didn't really have a system of writing (well, the druids did, but the rank and file Celts did not) so alot of their myth came down completely through Oral Tradition till it was written down by other civilizations. Regardless, I find the whole mythology fascinating. Here are my favorite favorite figures (gods, people, monsters, etc.) from Celtic mythology.

1. The Morrigan

The Morrigan, sometimes called the Phantom Queen, is the Celtic goddess of war. Actually the Morrigan is a triple goddess- which means that she's actually 3 goddesses in 1, like the Greek Fates. The Morrigan is associated with crows, and will frequently be seen flying over battlefields in the form of a crow, or flock of crows. So, the Morrigan is basically an asskicking goddess who can turn into a flock of scary crows- basically the Norse Valkyries but more goth. Awesome.

2. Balor of the Evil Eye (or Baleful Eye)

The Fomorians are basically the orcish horde (except they were giants) of Irish myth, and Balor of the Baleful Eye (or Evil Eye) was their Sauron. Balor was basically a giant monster who had a huge eye on his forehead, and another one of the back of his head. Balor could kill you by looking at you, so he kept his eyes closed except when he went into battle. He was killed by the god/hero Lugh when Lugh through a spear through Balor's deadly eyeball.

3. The Tuatha de Danann/ Aos Si

It's believed that prior to the arrival of humans, Ireland was populated by a technologically advanced, tall, incredibly beautiful godlike race of beings called the Tuatha de Danann. When people arrived, they drove the Tuatha de Danann away into an "Otherworld". This world could be accessed via faerie mounds. In later years, some people believe that the Tuatha De Danann became the Aos Si- who are basically a race of malicious faeries who steal babies and curdle milk inside of cows as a means of retribution against humanity.

4. Medb

Medb was an old school feminist. She decided that her wealth had to be equal to her husband's. When she took stock of each of their worldly possessions, she found that he had one stud bull more than she did. So, she set out to find a better cow. When she did, she tried to buy it. When the owner wouldn't sell, she went to war with him. She lost the war when her army was defeated by....

5. Cuchulainn

Cuchulainn is Ireland's greatest mythological hero. He's basically a cross between Hercules, King Arthur, and the Incredible Hulk. On top of being a great warrior, Cuchulainn also had a superpower- he could go into a berzerker rage where his body would transform- his muscles would grow, his hair would turn into spikes, and one of his eyes would get as big as a dinner plate. It was through using these powers that he was able to fend off Medb's armies.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How I Ended Up Reading Harry Potter

Unless you are a Muggle of Dursley-esque proportions, you have probably noticed that the film "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (pt 1)" is due to arrive in theaters any minute now. In honor of that event, I figured I would explain some of my long and storied history with Harry Potter, and how I ended up reading the books out of love for my fiance Chelsea, the co-owner of this blog.

Let us flashback to Fall of 2000. I am 18 years old. It is first semester of my freshman year at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. I am sitting in my Dramaturgy (which sounds like the name of some theater based sorcery but is actually about interpretation of plays) course. A small young woman walks up to me, and introduces herself as- I kid you not- Scooter. Scooter promptly proceeds to say "Has anyone ever told you you look like Harry Potter?" I groan, put my face in my hands, and reply "Yes. Constantly."

You see, when I was 18, I wore glasses, had a thick mop of brown hair, had a rather boyish looking face, and had a lightning bolt shaped scar on my forehead that I got from running into a wall when I was four. I did look like Harry Potter. 10 years, +40 lbs, and a beard later, I still kind of do (that scar never went away).

I looked so much like Harry Potter that I ended up getting stalked. A slightly older student, the name of whom escapes me at the moment, with red hair and a predilection towards dressing like a Renaissance era barmaid ended up following me around on campus. I was clued in when she instant messaged me one night, told me she'd been following me around, and then explained that we should be together because clearly, my resemblance to Harry Potter meant I was the one for her. I turned her down and asked her to stop stalking me, which she did.

All of this attention made me feel...kind of crummy really. I was 18, and ready to be treated like an adult, and I had many, many people telling me I looked like a fictional 12-year-old. So, in order to distance myself from Harry Potter, I ignored the books like the plague.

Flash forward two years to Fall of 2002. Chelsea and I start dating. Chelsea LOVES Harry Potter. When the topic of Harry Potter is broached we had... I won't call them arguments, but I will say I reacted negatively. I mean, I had decided without having ever read the books that they were terrible, and I attacked them with the sort of fervor that only someone who hates something without any real knowledge of it can.

So, after a few months of dating Chelsea, we segued from "infatuation" to "falling in love." In the Spring of '03, I made a momentous decision to show her just how much I loved her. I decided to read all of the Harry Potter books.

I made this decision one week before the release of the series' fifth book "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

I read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on Saturday. Then I read "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were spent plowing through "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" is one of the longest books in the series. It took me three whole days to read that one. On the next Saturday, I went to Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, MA (my hometown) and bought "Order of the Phoenix." I started reading it Saturday night and finished it on Sunday morning. When I finished it, I called Chelsea.

I asked her how the book was. She said she only had a few chapters left to read. Then I started dropping references to things that had happened throughout the series. Normally I'd be more specific, but I don't want to ruin anything for anyone who may not have read the series. She figured it out. I had read the books, and I finished book 5 before she did, because I loved her and I wanted to show her that by overcoming my own misgivings about something that was important to her.

And you know what? Chelsea or no, I loved the series. I do love the series. The whole thing.

In our home that we share, we own three copies of each book, and have a special shelf with our prettiest hardcovers, and a golden snitch. When the final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was released, we both went to Borders and each purchased a copy at midnight. Harry Potter, like Lord of the Rings, Steampunk, Battlestar Galactica, and a few other things, has become something nerdy that we share. It brought us closer together and made our relationship stronger.

Some day, together, I know we'll read Harry Potter to our children who will- more than likely- look a little like Harry Potter themselves.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hulking Out: Why Nerds Should Lift Weights

I wholeheartedly embrace all things nerd and geek. I think that the art, institutions, technology, and culture that we have managed to eke out in our corner of society are pretty amazing. Obviously, I like them so much that my fiance and I put together a blog dedicated to them.

What I'm not crazy about is negative stereotypes about nerds. Despite the social progress we've made over time, "nerd" is still generally used as an insult.

There are some nasty stereotypes out there, and one of the worst is that we're all fat. I bet when you think of the word nerd, this is one of the first things that pops into your head:

Comic Book Guy from the "Simpsons." See the fat nerd! Look how ridiculous he is! His gut is hanging out from under his shirt! Isn't he a gross nerd?

Are there nerds out there who look like this? Sure. I do think that as a culture, nerds tend to focus on matters of the mind, and in some cases, probably neglect to take care of our bodies. We don't all look like this, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do something about the fact that people think of us like this.

So what do we do to combat this stereotype? Well we can obviously chastise folks when they make a fat nerd joke, but why not take things to the next level?

Let's all Hulk out.

Nerds (and really everyone) should work out. What's more, we should all work out with weights. Why? Well first off, it's good for you. The health benefits of weightlifting are many. Here are a few:

1. Weight training will make you less fat- Many people, when they start a diet/workout regimen, don't lift weights, but stick with cardiovascular exercise. This is a mistake. The more muscle you have on your body, the more fat you can burn. Plus, having more muscle on you will allow you to burn more fat throughout the course of the day.

2. Weight training will make you stronger- Obviously. And I don't think anyone thinks to themselves "You know what I love? Being physically weak".

3. Weight training will make your bones stronger too- Bones respond to weight training by getting stronger, and lifting weight while you're young will help you stave off bone related issues later in life.

4. Weight training will make you more attractive- Shallow and vain, I know. But the side effect of working out (the primary effect is to get healthier) is that your body will become more attractive.

Of course, you want to work out. You've been meaning to forever, but you just don't for a whole bunch of reasons.

1. You don't have the time- Okay how much time did you spend watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, or reading comics last night? If the answer is more than 20 minutes, you have time to lift weights

2. The gym is intimidating- I used to think this same thing. The gym is full of muscle-bound jocks who will judge me harshly when I try to work out. I would rather not work out then face embarrassment akin to what I felt for 4 straight years everyday in high school. Here's the thing: in my experience, most people at the gym are awesome. Sure there are a few jerks, but for the most part, people are polite and extremely supportive of everyone else's health goals. Also, there are all types of people at the gym. There are crazy huge powerlifter types, and hardcore triathletes and whatnot, but there are also 36 year old moms who are trying to lose a few pounds, and old college professors who like to do some circuit training after classes, and every other type of person you can possibly imagine. I know it's tough to get over that hump of fear, but it's awesome once you do.

3. I am too weak to lift weights- Start out small. Start out with lightest weight you can. Over time, your body will adapt and get stronger. And you know what? Nerds are often better at lifting weights than jocks because, while jocks focus on putting up as much weight as possible, nerds focus on form, and form is- overall- more important then lifting huge amounts of weight.

4. I don't have access to a gym/ can't afford a membership- buy some dumbbells and workout at home. If you look around on the internet, there are a ton of great home workouts floating around the web.

5. I have no idea how to workout- Again, Google weightlifting. There are tons of great resources which include video tutorials, workout plans, and all kinds of other great stuff.

6. I am a woman- Oh geez. Weightlifting is just as good for women as it is for men. It may actually be better for women. I know, I know. You don't want to get too huge. You won't. Unless you take a ton of steroids, and train like a crazy person, you aren't going to get gigantic. What you will get is healthier.

Look, here's my thing:

My whole life, I wanted to be a superhero. Most superheroes are nerds who come upon power through magic, or technological means. In real life though, you don't get superstrong by exposing yourself to gamma radiation- you get dead. If you want to be a real life Hulk, or She-Hulk, you train. You run, stretch, and yes, lift weights.

So come on nerds! Let's show the world what we're made of! Let's hit the gym.

Here are some resources for nerds looking to get healthier through weight training:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Steamy Reads!

If you're interested in some steampunk related literature, try these on for size!
  1. Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and sequel Dreadnought

    Sean wrote about Boneshaker in a previous entry so I'll quickly just say that anything with zombies, sky pirates and dirigibles is awesome. Dreadnought is the "sequel" to Boneshaker that focuses on related but totally different characters. And it's INTENSE. Picture a Civil War that has gone on at least 3 times longer than the actual one. Picture a Civil War that is fought with huge mechanical walking machines and crazy scary war trains. Oh, and there are zombies, too. And it centers on a pretty badass nurse lady named Vanita "Mercy" Swakhammer Lynch. A name like that can't steer you wrong!

    Aside from all that, Cherie Priest herself is very much awesome. Follow her on Twitter (@cmpriest)!

  2. Gail Carriger's Soulless, Changeless and Blameless

    Vampires, werewolves, parasols, dirigibles and templars. Oh my! TOTALLY up my alley and hopefully yours! These books are easy reads and certainly delightful. They're written in Austin-esque prose and are centered around a saucy lady named Alexia Trabotti who (gasp!) is soulless (called a preternatural). And werewolves are almost always sexy; try Lord Conall Maccon on for size. Nom!

  3. Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and Behemoth

    I recently finished reading Leviathan and was pleasantly surprised by it. I shouldn't have been, but I was. It's classified as young adult fiction and I guess that's why I was apprehensive. Why a girl who is so very enamored with other young adult literature (Harry Potter, The Abhorsen Trilogy) was hesitant is beyond me. Needless to say, while I made the mistake of reading Leviathan right after reading Boneshaker making it feel a little slimmer in plot and substance, I quickly shed this feeling and enjoyed it very much. The book takes place in an alternate version of World War I. The "sides" are pretty much the same, but the amazing thing is that the Allies(Entente Powers) and the Central Powers are differentiated by the type of weapons and technology they use. The Entente Powers are known as the Darwinists and use living creatures evolved specifically for war. The Central Powers are know as Clankers who use mechanized war machines. It's fascinating.

    (Side note: Westerfeld's sequel, Behemoth was released Oct. 5, 2010, but I have not gotten to it yet. :)
  4. China Mieville's Bas Lag books

    China Mieville is a rather intriguing, English fellow. He's a member of the Socialist Workers Party, with a bachelors degree in social anthropology and a PhD in international relations and a member of the tight knit literary group called New Weird. His Bas-Lag books, therefore, do not disappoint. They're undoubtedly unique and strange. They're not completely steampunk, but they definitely have those elements. They're classified as weird fiction. I read The Scar first. The main action takes place on a man-made flotilla of ships and other sea vehicles called Armada. It has vampires (score 1 for team Chelsea!), icky mosquito people, remade people (with totally inhuman body parts) and other enthralling creatures and characters.

    Perdido Street Station
    is set in the city-state of New Crobuzon, which is not unlike London with the exception that it's built within the bones of a gigantic, extinct beast with a forgotten name. It has a new set of awesome characters (bird people, people with scarab heads, giant dream eating butterflies) and nothing is as it seems it is.

    Iron Council is Mieville's most explicitly socialist book. It features a collective of individuals who have fled New Crobuzon in a massive train. The book focuses on the struggles of these individuals and contrasts their socialist beliefs with the anarcho-capitalist beliefs of New Crobuzon

    Beware of China Mieville's endings. They're rarely what you expect and he's not necessarily a "and they lived happily ever after" kind of writer. His characters are not good or evil, nice or mean, flawed or perfect. They're complex and incredible.

  5. S.M. Stirling's Peshwar Lancers

    Peshawar Lancers is set on an alternate Earth where an asteroid struck the planet and wiped out most of the population of North America and Europe in the late 19th century. Thanks to the quick work of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, most of England's population survived the disaster, and relocated to India, South Africa and Australia. The book opens several decades later on a world where the British Raj is based in India and technology didn't progress in the same way that it did in our own.

  6. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine

    The Difference Engine is the big daddy of Steampunk lit. As I'm sure you know, Steampunk developed as a contrast to the sci-fi genre of Cyberpunk which featured dystopian futures where mankind has lost itself in it's own technology. Steampunk features mankind dealing with technology in the past usually the 19th Century- sometime Steampunk is dystopian like it's Cyberpunk predecessor, and sometimes it's anything but. The Difference Engine is written by Bruce Sterling and Cyberpunk demi-god William Gibson. In the story, Charles Babbage actually built his (in our world) theoretical "Difference Engine" and the Information Age started about 150 years early. The world is dark, gritty, and full of fantastic machines and characters.
And now, speaking of steampunk, a wedding update!
We're progressing and developing the basis for art projects to come. BEHOLD! Tools for steampunk weddingry:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote for Cyclops

Tomorrow is election day in the good ol' US of A, and as I tend to get excited for voting in the way most people get excited about watching the Superbowl, or going to Disney World, I spent a good portion of today looking over candidate profiles and propositions.

Now, there's a big Senate election, and a big gubernatorial election here in the Land of Lincoln this year, but as I looked down ballot, I noticed that there's also a race for State Treasurer.

I got the surprise of my life when I noticed that Scott Summers, Cyclops himself, the leader of the X-Men, is the Green Party Candidate for this lofty position.

In thinking about whether to vote for a Democrat, a Republican, or Cyclops, I started to think about his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.

He has a ton of experience. He was the leader of the X-Men since he was 16, and has saved the world countless times from Sentinels, Magneto, cosmic space monsters, and many other possible catastrophes.

On the other hand, he isn't much of a family man having sent his son into the future to be raised by cyborg mutant nuns, and leaving his wife for this woman:

Emma Frost, formerly of the villainous Hellfire Club.

And he sanctioned the Black Ops team X-Force to take out the enemies of mutantkind with lethal force. Oh, and how can we forget all of the terrorists he's harboring on the X-Men's home base in the bay of San Francisco? Magneto, Namor, Emma Frost (as previously mentioned), and many other villains are all valued members of the X-Men.

What matters is the issues, though. Where does Cyclops stand on the issues that matter most to me, the Illinois voter?

Well, I assume as an opponent of the Mutant Registration Act, Cyclops would be opposed to the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, and other efforts to unjustly spy upon, or imprison anyone. Then again, as someone who has so frequently been put upon by the Federal Government, he probably wouldn't support any sort of government intervention into the lives of Americans like Obamacare, or the Stimulus Bill.

Considering this, I guess Cyclops is probably more of a Libertarian than anything else. It's surprising he's running as a member of the Green Party, though as a firm supporter of Civil Rights for mutants, robots, space aliens, and Atlanteans, he's definitely of the "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" mold.

In the end, it probably comes down to intangibles. Like, do I really want a State Treasurer with legislative experience, or do I want one who can blow a hole in the side of a mountain by opening his eyes?

Hmmmm. Well, it seems I have alot to think about before I go to the polls tomorrow.