Saturday, February 27, 2010

Handmade vs. Store-Bought

I can only speak from a female perspective here, but I would guess it's the same for guys — certain clothes just make you feel good. For men, it might be a tux, a really nice suit, or even just a new pair of jeans. For me, it's a really nice, well-fitting dress (of which there aren't many in my wardrobe, if any). Especially when it's a dress that makes you feel like a princess.

My mom asked if she could take me wedding-dress shopping today, so of course I said yes. She and my dad had spotted a bridal store near their house on a recent car trip, so I met my mom there today and we proceeded to pick out about five dresses I liked. The saleslady later brought several more options. Here are a couple of the top contenders:

There were two other dresses that really piqued my interest as well, but because I couldn't decide on one, we decided to wait. I can't wait too long, however, as the wedding is in less than seven months.

Another option is that my mother can sew my wedding dress herself, which appeals to me not only for the sentimental value but also because I admire anything handmade. If we can't find the right dress in a store, we are going to look for bridal patterns at a fabric store. I imagine it will make my wedding day even more special knowing that I am wearing a dress my mother created.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Yin and Yang of Television

Television is often an insidious force in my life. Sometimes it brings me pure joy, like when I watched the beautiful Olympics opening ceremony on Feb. 13. But other times, it saps me of my time and mental energy until I feel too weak to even reach for the remote to turn it off. Pathetic!

For example, there are some TV shows that I know if I start watching them, my evening is gone — I simply can’t turn them off. Much to the chagrin of my fiancé, this includes reruns of Roseanne and That ’70s Show. Other shows pull me in with the promise of an intriguing plot and then, in the end, all they offer are predictable clichés — this happens in crime dramas like Criminal Minds, CSI, and Law & Order. Just about any sitcom will turn out to be lame and predictable as well. I'd be better off reading a good book. Or watching paint dry.

A few shining examples out there do redeem the television industry. I’m thinking of shows like The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica, and Deep Space 9. The first two make me howl with laughter; the third one draws me with its compelling character development; and the last two created worlds so complex, so believable — even though they were set in space — that I became very invested in the personal and political dramas that played out there.

Despite how much I love those shows, however, I am constantly aware of a little voice, in the back of my mind, that says, "Instead of watching TV, you should be [insert any task or hobby or chore here]." I think it's because I know I watch too much TV, and that there are plenty of other, more fulfilling things I could be doing. I've thought about unplugging the TV for a week for a detox, but haven't quite worked up the motivation needed to do it yet. Plus, I think my fiancé might start a riot if I suggested it.

I believe that if everyone had enough room in their house for a separate TV room, it would be best to keep the TV as a special destination to be savored, like a movie theater, rather than as a continuous presence in our lives — always on, always tempting.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Seize the Sunshine

Yesterday my fiancé Bernard had the wonderful idea to take advantage of the first sunshine we'd seen in days by taking a trip to Lake Houston State Park, about a 45-minute drive from our house. We invited my parents and brother, who met us there.

I had fun packing our picnic basket before the trip, with 10 little mandarins (for us and for my family), two sandwiches each for me and Bernard, two thermoses with hot tea, and a box of cheese-onion crackers that I brought back from my grandmother's house in Holland.

We arrived at the park and an enthusiastic if somewhat wry woman at the park headquarters gave us maps and detailed instructions of the best paths to walk. We set off across Peach Creek Bridge and around Peach Creek Loop, an interesting trail with varied elevations, a view of the creek along one stretch — and lots of mud. It's been raining here for weeks, something we forgot when we set out on the hike, and so much of the trail was mush. Luckily I was wearing my hiking boots, because in sneakers my feet would have been infiltrated by mud pretty quickly.

My brother traverses Peach Creek Bridge as my dad,
in the background, takes his photo.

We stopped toward the end of our walk so that my dad and brother could pop into the Nature Center while I played with my dog outside, and Bernard and my mother relaxed in rocking chairs in the sunshine on the Nature Center's porch. My dad and brother said it was an excellent Nature Center, like a little museum, but with live snakes.

My mother enjoys the Nature Center rocking chair.

Nema and I play in the field.

At the end of our hike, which took less than two hours, we returned to the car, grabbed the picnic supplies and set ourselves up at a nearby picnic table, where we proceeded with our feast. The hot tea tasted great after the long walk, especially because it was the end of the afternoon and the sun had been replaced with a chilly wind.

During the picnic, we opened the box of crackers from my grandmother's house and shared them, and we toasted to her memory with our thermos teacups.

When Bernard and I invited my family to join us at the park, we didn't think they'd accept, because they had a lot of things to do around the house that day. But after initially demurring, they called back and said they'd decided that since the sun was shining that day, and might not shine tomorrow, they were going to seize the opportunity. As a result, we got to spend time together in nature, we got some exercise, my dog got to visit a new place, and we had a lovely time, despite the mud.

A random kid glances at Bernard on the bridge.

It was a good decision, actually, because the sun did not shine much today.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Pizza Party

Surround yourself with people who can cook really, really well — and who love giving dinner parties — and you'll never go hungry for either food or good conversation. And by dinner parties I don't mean fancy ones like you see in movies. I just mean a bunch of people who like food getting together at someone's house to eat.

I'm lucky enough to live near a longtime friend of mine who has a knack for picking great cookbooks and turning out delicious recipes. This girl even makes her own yogurt, grows her own sprouts and bakes her own bread — impressive.

My sister is another such person. Unfortunately, I don't live very near her, but when she visits and cooks at my parents' house, you can bet it's going to be yum.

Last month, she spent the weekend in town and decided to make us pizza. Banish any thoughts of DiGiornos or Papa John's from your minds. This was gourmet pizza.

She made and tossed the pizza dough by hand, and placed superfresh ingredients on each one. The first was an eggplant, basil and tomato pizza with various wonderful cheeses.

Here's a closeup to make your mouth water:

The second pizza was covered in butternut squash and fried sage leaves. Incredibly tasty!

We served the pizzas with this very nice California chardonnay:

My sister and my friend have so inspired me with their cooking that I have invested in another cookbook and am doing my best to replace my habit of eating too much in restaurants with homecooked meals, made by moi.

Speaking of cookbooks, for a great listing of vegetarian cookbooks, check out this post on Gwyneth Paltrow's blog, GOOP.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Nema in the Sun

One of the simple pleasures in my life is watching my dog sunbathe in the mornings. In warm weather, she'll ask to be let out onto the patio, where she'll sprawl on the outdoor furniture and soak up the sun. In colder weather, she'll just catch rays through our living room window. It's a peaceful sight.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Real Men Wrap Pipes

We've been having uncharacteristically cold weather here in Houston for weeks now, starting on Dec. 4 when it actually snowed. Since then we've had several freezing episodes, which newscasters referred to as "Arctic blasts", and people looked for excuses to stay home from work due to "possible icy roads". One day, it was so cold that I went on an unsuccessful search for a pair of reasonably priced gloves. After visiting about half a dozen stores, which had either sold out of gloves or had only one or two expensive pairs remaining, I found what was literally the second-to-last pair of gloves at a Target for $9.99 — but they were men's gloves and way too big for me. I bought them anyway, out of desperation, but the next morning when I wore them while walking the dog I felt like a puppy myself, waving my too-big paws at passersby.

However, one thing I discovered during the first freeze a few weeks back is that my fiancé is quite adept at wrapping pipes. In fact, I would say that of our five neighbors (some of whom didn't bother to wrap their pipes at all) he did the best job. I also discovered that it's possible for me to be impressed by things like pipe-wrapping, which is not something I'd ever given much thought to before everyone began warning us that the subzero temperatures could burst the water lines.

I was so impressed by the job he did, in fact, that I took photos of it.

Now, maybe this is a perfectly horrible pipe-wrapping job — if it is, I wouldn't really know. But it sure seems like those pipes are well-insulated to me.

A few days later, my sister was glancing through the photos on my digital camera and saw these pipe pictures. She asked me what they were, and when I told her, she gave me the weirdest look. I think becoming a homeowner has cost me my "cool older sister" status — not that I was ever that cool.