Friday, December 30, 2011

The Soda Pop Diaries

A few years ago a friend with an exercise physiology degree tried to tell me that diet soda was bad for me.

"It slows down your metabolism! It's all full of chemicals! It's so bad for you! You might as well just drink regular soda, because it'll kill you just as fast!"

I thought about this, but I had another friend who constantly forwarded me and our other friends a link like this one that listed all the horrible things that happen to you when you drink a non-diet soda.

"Your body has three seconds of bliss, followed by an hour of insulin spikes and sugar crash and all your nutrients leeching out of your body and then you might die!"

Overwhelmed by the idea that neither could be the right choice and unwilling to accept that just not drinking soda at all could be a viable choice, I kept drinking diet soda and pretended it was good for me because it wasn't causing liver shutdown and insulin spikes. Lately, though, I've been thinking about my diet soda consumption.

There's a lady in the office who saves soda caps for something at her son's school. Since I rarely drink soda in bottles at work (I get it at lunch from the dining places, where it almost always comes in cups), I save my caps at home and then bring them to her, and I noticed in November that my pile of caps was kind of huge after only a few weeks. Curious and intrigued, especially with the new year and the need to make some life changes on the horizon (I haven't forgotten that girl on crutches who passed me at the Race for the Cure), I decided to track my soda consumption for a month, just to see how much I was drinking.

Jeannie raised the point that just by being conscious of the fact that I was tracking, I might unconsciously limit myself, which is a valid point. I tried really hard to just drink as much as I regularly do, and if I ate out, I tried to give an honest guess at how big the cups were based on my cups at home, which I actually measured. I also had to make sure that I didn't top off any partially emptied cups, but always finished one before drinking the next. If I had soda at work I wrote it down on a post it note, so that I didn't forget about it by the time I got home, and then I wrote it in my log:

December soda diary

So, how much soda am I drinking in a month?

A lot.

12/1: 32 oz Diet Coke, 24 oz diet grape
12/2: 26 oz diet Mountain Dew, 24 oz diet grape
12/3: 60 oz diet orange
12/4: 4 oz diet orange, 36 oz diet Mountain Dew
12/5: 24 oz diet Mountain Dew
12/6: 36 oz diet Mountain Dew
12/7: 40 oz Diet Coke
12/8: 20 oz Sun Drop, 24 oz Diet Dr. Pepper, 18 oz diet Mountain Dew
12/9: 40 oz Diet Dr. Pepper
12/10: 48 oz diet black cherry, 10 oz of punch with Sprite in it
12/11: 24 oz diet black cherry, 12 oz diet grape
12/12: 20 oz Diet Dr. Pepper, 24 oz diet grape
12/13: 12 oz diet grape, 64 oz Diet Coke, 12 oz diet black cherry
12/14: 20 oz Diet Dr. Pepper, 24 oz diet black cherry
12/15: 20 oz Mello Yellow Zero, 12 oz diet black cherry
12/16: 12 oz diet black cherry, 36 oz diet root beer
12/17: 24 oz diet root beer, 12 oz diet orange
12/18: 48 oz diet orange, 12 oz diet drop red
12/19: 20 oz Diet Pepsi
12/20: 64 oz Diet Coke
12/21: 36 oz Diet Coke, 12 oz diet drop red
12/22: 32 oz Diet Coke, 12 oz diet drop red
12/23: 24 oz diet drop red
12/24: 48 oz diet black cherry
12/25: 12 oz diet black cherry, 12 oz diet Mountain Dew
12/26: 24 oz diet Mountain Dew
12/27: 12 oz diet Mountain Dew, 36 oz diet ginger ale
12/28: 24 oz diet ginger ale
12/29: 48 oz diet 7 Up
12/30: 12 oz diet 7 Up, 36 oz diet Mountain Dew

1318 ounces of soda.

That's about 10 and a third gallons of soda. Just to conceptualize that, it's a third of a barrel. An average sized fish tank. The size of the cooler of Gatorade that they dump on football coaches, except instead of pouring it onto a person I poured it into my mouth. According to US News and World Report the average American drinks a gallon of soda a week, and I'm a little over twice that. I'm not sure if it's bad for me, since it's almost entirely diet soda, but I'm pretty sure that it can't possibly be good, so I'm giving up soda for 2012.

I'm probably going to be really sleepy for a while, because I'm not a regular coffee drinker. I'm probably also going to be cranky. This is your warning, people around me.

I'm going to go finish the bottle of diet Mountain Dew in the fridge now.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through my house, something was stirring. Me, stirring up a pot of sugar, evaporated milk, and butter, because I decided to try making the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit again.

You may remember that last year I ran into a bit of trouble with the kit, and instead of creamy glossy candy-shop fudge I ended up with fudge that I described as "an old pioneer woman's face".

What kind of fudge is that? Rocky road?

It's more of a, uh, Ma Joad, actually...

This year, though, I decided that it would be different. I thought through the instructions and the way I had cooked the fudge last year, and came up with two changes:

The first is


Last year when I made it, I used margarine, and even though people say it's the same I know that it's not because chefs are saying on TV all the time that "If it calls for butter, you should just use butter". I had a little bit of butter left over in the fridge from last time I made delicious scones, so I figured I might as well use the real thing and see if that made a difference.

The other change was pre-opening the chips and marshmallows before it was time to use them:

chocolate chips and marshmallows

The instructions say that as soon as you remove the sugar/milk/butter mixture from the heat, you immediately stir in the marshmallows and chocolate chips. Last year I pulled the mixture off the heat, opened the marshmallows and poured them in, then opened the chocolate chips and poured them in, and then began stirring. Is it possible that those precious seconds make the difference between smooth, glossy fudge and grainy, unattractive fudge? I'm not sure, but I was willing to try.

Unfortunately, it came out better, but still not perfect:


Swirls? Yes.

Creamy texture? Yes and no:

fudge square

The inside is perfect, but the top is still slightly grainy.

Next year, I'll try boiling the sugar/milk/butter mix at a slightly lower temperature, as I now think that it's so hot that it's crystallizing some of the chocolate sugars when I add the chips.

Either that, or I'm just bad at making fudge.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ferro Lad, Invisible Kid, and the True Meaning of Christmas

ferro lad and invisible kid (1)

ferro lad and invisible kid (2)

ferro lad and invisible kid (3)

ferro lad and invisible kid (4)

ferro lad and invisible kid (5)

ferro lad and invisible kid (6)

Adventure Comics #332

ferro lad and invisible kid (7)

ferro lad and invisible kid (8)

ferro lad and invisible kid (9)

ferro lad and invisible kid (10)

one more ferro lad and invisible kid

ferro lad and invisible kid (11)

ferro lad and invisible kid (12)

...Superboy comes flying into the future to visit Legion Headquarters for the holiday:

legion christmas (1)

Our headquarters was under reconstruction at the time because Omega, a giant monster that Brainiac 5 created one of the times that he was insane, destroyed it. We couldn't use the Miracle Machine to rebuild in under a minute like the last time that happened, because Matter Eater Lad had to eat the Miracle Machine to defeat Omega and the other Omega that Brainiac 5 created when the first one wasn't crazy and destructive enough by itself.

That's a story for another day, though, and shouldn't be confused with the time Brainiac 5 went crazy and built a Supergirl love-robot in his sleep, or the time he went crazy and framed Ultra Boy for murder, or the time he almost went crazy because he thought Sensor Girl was Supergirl in disguise.

Anyway, Superboy is wandering around the new headquarters when Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl decide to use the mission monitor board to show him how we celebrate Christmas in the future:

legion christmas (2)

And also how we celebrate other holidays, or don't celebrate at all:

legion christmas (3)

Rather than check in on the rest of the team or ask how Christianity managed to spread through the entire galaxy in only a thousand years, Superboy instead gets a wild impulse, and forces the rest of the team to play along:

legion christmas (4)

Forget anything I said about Brainiac 5, because that, right there, is the face of insanity.

The team hops in the cruiser, abandoning the mission monitor board because, I guess, emergencies and crime take the night off for Christmas, and zips through space to where they think the Star of Bethlehem was. Instead of the star, though, they find a planet, and it's in trouble:

legion christmas (5)

I have no idea why it'll take the evacuation arks so long to get there. The Legion cruiser took all of about ten minutes. Anyway

Anyway nothing!

Ferro Lad, how many eggnogs have you had already? I'm trying to finish the story.

Nobody wants to hear that crap. That story isn't fun or exciting. It's just weird. Really weird.

Look, people. The Legion works with the three races on Planet Doomed and convinces them to work together to keep each other alive until the arks can get there. The end. Merry Christmas.

You just ruined the story.

You ruined Christmas, Ferro Lad.

The hell I did! Go have a rumnog and adjust your headband, Kid. I have a story of heroism and explosions, and that's what Christmas is really all about.

Since when?

Since "Die Hard", Kid. Since "Die Hard". Now, like I said, pour yourself a rumnog, have a seat, and I'll tell you all about:

Superboy #206 (1)

As you can see from the intro, it's already a thousand times better than that other story, because I'm in this one.

You can also see that Superboy tucks his pajama shirt tightly into his pajama pants for some reason. Don't know what the hell that's all about.

Our story opens with Superboy getting ready to help knock down the old Smallville Armory:

Superboy #206 (2)

But holy crap! The armory is already getting knocked down:

Superboy #206 (3)

Who could it be? Who could perform this amazing feat before Superboy could manage to lift a finger? It would have to be someone brave, and strong, and maybe even capable of sucker punching Superboy to save the galaxy from the Sun Eater.

Superboy #206 (4)

Yeah, baby.

I fly away while Supes is picking up his jaw, but he barely has time to think about following me before this guy pops up to save a parachuter:

Superboy #206 (5)

Invisible Kid. He never saved the galaxy from the Sun Eater or anything, but he's good people.

Wow. You really know how to lay on the compliments. Really. I'm glad I came back from the dead for this.

Sounds to me like someone needs another drink.

So, later that night Superboy is in his basement, making a tape recording of his diary, and we decide to bust in on him:

Superboy #206 (6)

and prove we're real:

Superboy #206 (7)

Thanks for keeping the x-rays above the waist, Supes. I might want to have some Ferro kids someday.

After we show him our flesh (and damn, do I look ripped in that panel or what? My abs are like an anatomy lesson in AWESOME) we make up some excuse about why we're there:

Superboy #206 (8)

Which is clearly a lie because there ain't never been a day when I wasn't ready for a fight. The Kid and I explain this:

Superboy #206 (9)

And help Supes beat the hell out of a giant robot. After that, he decides we don't suck:

Superboy #206 (10)

And then we head home...

Superboy #206 (11)


Superboy #206 (12)

Not only are we dead, again, but it gets so much worse:

Superboy #206 (13)

Superboy #206 (14)

Not only were we exploding clones duped by our friends before we got splattered all over Weisinger Plaza in front of the headquarters, but our friend Superboy was in on it the whole time:

Superboy #206 (15)

Take your giant robot and shove it, Superboy.

I'm sorry, but how was this story a better Christmas story than the one I was telling? The one that actually had Christmas in it?

I don't know. I'm full of rum, eggnog, and ragey mood swings.

ferro lad and invisible kid (13)

ferro lad and invisible kid (14)

Happy Holidays?


Go make me another rumnog before we explode again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Last Movie Star

Toward the end of every year there are at least a few times when I give my bookshelves a casual looking over, to decide if everything on them needs to stay or if it's time to send them to McKay's for credit, so that I can get more books. Am I ever going to read that book again? Do I still like that author? Why did I think I wanted to save that in the first place?

I ended up doing that perusal the other day, when I finished a book and was deciding if I wanted to read something new off of my "To Be Read" piles or to reread something old that I still enjoy but haven't looked at in a while. I was in front of the Ri-Z bookshelf, pulling out The Radioactive Boyscout for the McKay's stack (I remember enjoying it, but I've never felt like rereading it or referencing it for anything so it's just taking up shelfspace that something I like more could use), when I noticed Martha Sherrill's My Last Movie Star and thought, "I don't really remember if I liked that. Maybe it can go? I vaguely remember the plot, though, and it sounds like something that I'd like. Why did I save this?"

And then I remembered: That book comes with a story.

When I still worked Albany we were very close to Saratoga, and once or twice a season a group of us would go over for a day at the races. We usually brought lawnchairs or folding camp chairs or blankets, bags of snacks, and paid for lawn seats, and I don't think any of us ever bet more than five or ten dollars per race. At the end of ten races that can still come out to fifty to a hundred dollars, but it was once or twice a season, not like we were dropping a hundred dollars on the ponies every weekend, and I usually came out ahead or broke even, anyway.

One year, several groups of people from our department happened to all have picked the same day, and met up in the lawn seats. The director of the judicial office had come very early and claimed a picnic table, and the fifteen or twenty of us who ran into him and his family (his wife and daughter also worked for our department) set up around it and had a pretty fun, relaxing day. It went so well, in fact, that people were still talking about it all through professional staff training, so the next year the professional staff training committee tried to recreate it, and I ended up in charge.

My boss was actually in charge of professional staff training that year, and I wasn't even on the committee, but she had some sort of commitment that weekend, and asked if I would coordinate that particular social event. I was happy to, as I wanted to go to the races anyway and we had a new coworker that year who was cute, gay, and out, and since I was younger, thinner, wore contacts, and had hair then, cute gay guys sometimes also thought I was cute and I was hoping that he would attend and we would get to spend some time chatting and hanging out in a totally innocent friendly group of coworkers setting. We set up a meeting time, and ten people RSVPed, including the cute new guy.

On Saturday morning, I was all ready by the car at the meetup spot. I was wearing a summery short sleeved white, baby blue, and taupe buttondown that I'd gotten at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston. I don't normally buy a lot of Hard Rock Cafe gear, but it was on clearance and I remember thinking that it was a good bar shirt. It really has nothing to do with this story, except that I remember I was wearing it because it matched my buck suede oxfords and I was pretty in love with those shoes for a while. (Now I wear the same shoes to work almost every day. My old coworkers would probably be shocked, as I used to have about twenty pairs of shoes in steady rotation when I worked there.) Anyway, I was all set up at the meetup spot to leave campus and it was time to go, and nobody else was there.

I like to pretend that I waited five or ten minutes before calling people, but I have no patience so I probably only waited a minute, if not thirty seconds. People were too hung over to go, which was understandable since our campus culture was pretty alcohol heavy and it was a Saturday morning before classes had started but after summer classes were over. Cute guy was also hung over, (by the end of professional staff training I had gotten to know him better and realized that he was only cute on the outside, especially after he made it clear that I did not have good enough abs to ever be more than a friend; yes, he actually did say that) but at least he was answering his phone. A couple of people didn't answer at all, and a couple of people had decided to do something else and just didn't feel like going to the races anymore. Since I'd already gotten up, and I really wanted to go to the races, I decided to just go by myself.

When I got there I bought a lemonade and realized that I had no one to talk to, so I walked around and looked at the vendor tables while I waited for the races to start. One of the tables had books, the kind of recently released hardcovers that you see in the bargain section of Barnes and Noble after the paperback version has come out, but they only had about fifteen different titles, and out of those I selected "My Last Movie Star" because it looked interesting.

The book tells the story of Clementine James, a Hollywood reporter and celebrity profiler who has gotten tired of Hollywood and celebrities. On the verge of retirement her editor convinces her to do one last piece, a magazine exclusive with up and coming new Hollywood "It Girl" Allegra Coleman. Their few days together stretches into a roadtrip up the California coast until a car accident abruptly terminates it, leaving Clementine in the hospital and Allegra missing. While Clementine waits for news, she is visited by a string of deceased former "It Girls" and Hollywood starlets: Myrna Loy, Gloria Swanson, Natalie Wood, Tallulah Bankhead, and others from the Silent Era all the way up to the fall of the studio system, and they all want to share their stories of Hollywood and the price of fame.

I started reading it at the races, using my receipt for a bookmark, but by the fifth race of the day I was bored. Since I was still ahead for the day on winnings, I decided to leave, which is also right about the time that the sky decided to cloud up. By the time I got back to the car, I was walking in a sheeting downpour with no umbrella, and I drove home soaking wet but somehow managed to keep that book dry. It was the only time I ever went to the races alone, and may be the last time I ever went at all although I can't remember for certain.

That story's not that exciting. It's long and pointless and doesn't really go anywhere, but it's a specific memory of a certain time and a certain way that I lived then, and it's been enough every year to save that book from the shelf-purge when my eye happens across it. This year, since I had just finished another book and hadn't started a new one, I decided to reread it and see if maybe the story in the book was actually better than the story about the book.

It turns out that it was, and My Last Movie Star has been safely returned to the shelf until I reread it again someday.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Are You Willing to Die for That Food Processor?: Part 2 of My Trip Home

Reading the first entry about my trip over, I realized that I sound really pissy and cranky, and I'm not sure why. I really had a nice time reading on planes, reading in the car, reading on the couch, watching my mom almost get in a brawl over a food processor at Wal-Mart on Black Friday, and almost ending up on the "No Fly" list for raising my voice to a TSA Officer.

OK, maybe those last two don't really sound all that relaxing, but the rest of the trip was.

My mom spent a while on Thanksgiving evening picking out a food processor for me for Christmas. It's already arrived, but I have not opened it, and have instead placed it in my bedroom and put the Jesus statue that Elizabeth and Ben got me for my birthday on top of it to keep me from opening it. Jesus hates when you open Christmas presents early, you know, because it makes Santa feel sad inside. After she spent all that time looking for my food processor, though, Mom decided that she needed one, too, so we decided to go get one on Black Friday. At the largest Wal-Mart in New York State.

I know it sounds like we were just asking for trouble, but we really, honestly thought that all of the crazy people would already be gone if we waited until after lunch.

We were wrong.

I only left my mom alone for a minute, while I went to go look for this, which they did not have. When I came back, my mom was standing in the appliance aisle while a small, angry woman glared at her and demanded to know if Mom intended to buy that food processor.

"It's the last one in the store! If you're not going to buy it, you put it down! You put it down right now!"

Lady, I don't think you know my mom, but she can be a little formidable. She also has guns. Plural. I don't know how you see this particular argument playing out, but I see it ending with you not having a food processor and maybe, you know, you also not having all of your limbs. Just walk away, lady, please. I don't want to get gore all over my shoes, because I only packed the one pair for the trip home. To paraphrase Danny Glover in "Silverado", lady, Mom don't wanna kill you and you don't wanna be dead. Just back away from the food processor and go home to your family.

Mom put the food processor in our cart, the lady wandered off, and no one had to die.

Then the next day we made pepper jelly! Delicious pepper jelly that I'm eating right now!

I've never made jelly before, but there's a lot of boiling involved. Three burners worth of boiling, plus the burner where you're actually making the jelly:

more boiling

You have boil jars, lids, and rings, then lay them out to dry:

jelly jars

Then you chop up a bunch of red, green, and jalapeno peppers in the food processor that you won in Wal-Mart's arena of death:


add some vinegar and a gigantic six cup container of sugar:

six cups of sugar

and do some more boiling. Then, after you've boiled down the jelly, boiled the jars again, and boiled the tongs and funnel, you pour the jelly into the jars:

jelly funnel

and carefully move the funnel from jar to jar without touching anything else so you don't have to boil it again. After the jars are filled, you boil them again so all the air slowly leaks out, a vacuum forms inside the jars, and it pulls the lid down and seals it:

pepper jelly

Someday I might try canning, but there's so much boiling and so much risk of botulism if you do it wrong that for now, I will just be content to shovel Mom's delicious pepper jelly into my gaping maw.

Other than reading, making jelly, and harshly judging my town based on privately owned and installed landmarks, I found time to play with Mittens:

mittens (2)

mittens (1)

one of the outside cats that lives in the garage, so named because of his extra toes:

mittens' mittens

and with Ebby, the other garage cat, who I tried to capture with the pinhole camera:


I also walked around the village with the pinhole camera:


sand street

pinhole indian river (2)

and think that the dreamy pinhole effect, combined with the overcast day, actually made everything look kind of sinister:


I did take a comparison shot of the pond with my regular camera:

indian river (1)

and the pinhole, just to contrast the differences:

pinhole indian river (1)

but the one that really strikes me as showing the total difference between camera types is the view of the Indian River from the vandalized footbridge.


pinhole indian river (3)

and a shot from the same angle in 2008:

indian river

You'd never guess they were the same place.

Travelling home, I almost lost all of the pinhole pictures. I haven't flown with film in our scary, post 9/11 world, because I've used digital cameras that whole time, so I've never checked on the restrictions or warnings since they've never applied. At the Syracuse airport I was instructed to hand my suitcase to the TSA agents, so I did, and as we watched it roll into the gigantic scanning machine the agent asked, "Guns? Explosives? Any film?"

"Yes," I said, as we both watched my bag vanish inside. "I... have film in there."

"Oh, well, you should have read all the signs before you handed me your bag, then."

OK, seriously? I realize that the TSA workers have minimal training, no union, and were probably exhausted from working through the Thanksgiving holiday and the volume of travellers involved, but he couldn't say anything as I handed him the bag? Or before he put it on the machine?

I raised my voice a little, even though I probably shouldn't have.

"When, exactly, was I supposed to read the signs? When I was getting herded through check in as fast as possible? When is there time to stop and read?"

He raised his voice just as loudly, leaning forward a little bit aggressively.

"Are you making a complaint? Do you need to step out of line?"

In a shocking moment of rational thought, I realized that the bag had already gone through. The film was already x-rayed. Nothing could be gained by arguing except ending up on a federal list, getting violated during a search that ignores my 4th amendment rights and presumes I am a criminal just because I purchased a plane ticket, missing my plane, or some combination of those.

"No, sorry. I'm just tired. I'm sure you are, too."

Then I seethed all the way home. Fortunately, my friend Prole said there was a chance that low speed film, like the pinhole camera uses, might not be fogged by x-rays, and I gave developing a try rather than throwing the roll away. I'm not exactly sure how many pictures I lost, but a few at the beginning of the roll did not come out and are lost and gone forever.

So what did we learn from all of this?

1) Packing a dozen books for a week of travel was a little overly ambitious. I only read six.

2) A food processor is totally worth dying for.

3) You should always buy your Christmas tree from a giant Frankenstein made of steel drums, if possible.

barrel frankenstein, with trees

4) Film should go in your carryon, not your checked baggage.

5) My parents are awesome, and I had a really great vacation.