November 25, 2006

My jeans smell like potatoes

It's true.

And our fridge is filled with Thanksgiving dinner leftovers. We celebrated this year by inviting an American co-worker of mine over for dinner and we shared the cooking duties. The turkey and stuffing however were cooked by someone else. I found out from another American colleague that a catering place in town (owned by Australians) was doing a menu for Thanksgiving at reasonable prices. Since it would be a long wait to cook turkey after work on a Friday, we thought it would be handy to get that portion catered, and the rest we'd take care of. I would have preferred to make the stuffing, but it was included with the turkey.

So after work yesterday I picked up our 3 portions of the main dish, then my colleague came over and we got cooking. I took care of the potatoes: mashed and glazed sweet. Actually O took care of the mashed ones, so I'm not quite sure why my jeans smell like potatoes today, but they do. I didn't know it was such a pervasive smell (and his pants don't smell like potatoes despite him being the one who peeled and chopped them). My colleague made a cheesy squash dish (using zucchini), a cranberry-orange relish, and a wonderful pumpkin cheesecake. We had enough food for twice as many people, but what is Thanksgiving without leftovers? And those leftovers are now stuffed in the fridge for many more days of indulgence (we took a good chunk of the cheesecake. I'll be savouring that for as long as possible). I just finished off the mashed potatoes for lunch, frying them up sort of like hash browns and eating it with a good amount of ketchup. Good stuff.

To switch topics, I got our tickets today to see the Decemberists in Berlin on February 14 (aw =P). Neither O nor I have been to Berlin, so we thought why not, though they are playing at other, closer German cities. The train trip there is almost 6 1/2 hours, but I like train trips. Unfortunately the show is on a Wednesday so we won't be in Berlin long because I don't want to take too many vacation days, but we should still be able to see a bit of the city.

November 23, 2006


I hit such a sleepy state this afternoon at work that when I was reading the Tomato Nation Vine for today and I got to the second letter about cookie recipes, I started giggling uncontrollably at Sars' little laughs over things like "Emeril's Spiced Nuts" or "try her white balls". So immature and yet I found it so funny.

Anyway, about plants... I did eventually get the second birthday present O was promising me, and it was certainly nothing I was expecting. He gave me a dinosaur plant. No, it's not some massive fern overgrowing our entire living room, it's a plant that's been around for a gazillion years and has evolved to be able to survive long droughts, apparently for up to 50 years. You get a little brown curled up thing, plunk it in some water, and within two hours it's open and green. It actually likes to go all dry and brown every once in awhile so you starve it of water, let it shrink back up, and revive it a couple of weeks later. It's a houseplant you pretty much can't kill.

I have another plant that you pretty much can't kill, a money tree given to me by a friend when we had a housewarming about 2 years ago. And it's still going strong, but I'm worried about it. I only water it about once a month, which is all it really needs (handy for when you go on holiday, it's still nice and green when you get back), but before when I finally watered it, it would take in nearly a liter of water. Now it hardly takes in half of that and quickly gets oversaturated. It's still green, but this doesn't seem right. Perhaps it's outgrown its pot once again, though if I go up to a larger size I'm afraid it is not really a windowsill plant any more, but more of a small bush in the corner of the living room.

Ah, the things you learn via Wikipedia: First of all, apparently my "money tree" is not a money tree at all (I was wondering why the photos online of money trees looked nothing like my plant). It's actually a jade plant, though mine has never had flowers like a couple of the photos show. And apparently me giving it so much water is unnecessary, it says they need very little watering in the winter. Note taken, I'll leave it alone for awhile and perhaps one day it'll be as large as this monster.

November 18, 2006


I'm on my own because O is in town following around Two Gallants and taking photos of them. I guess it's his first project he's snagged using a bit of leverage from the Canon thing. The whole plan was a bit vague, just document them doing their pre-show stuff and then take photos at the show tonight, but I think it's going well (well, judging from O saying "it's going well" in a text message). I'll meet up with him later when I head into town for the show.

I'm starting to get some photos up now on flickr, nothing very exciting yet, but I put up some of the better photos I took recently. I still haven't taken photos out of the house, which might be part of the reason I don't have much that's exciting. If nothing else, I know I should have some photos in early December because I'm going to Dusseldorf for the Christmas market.

November 15, 2006

Spreading the good English word

On Tuesday I did my first stint volunteering at a school, helping some grade schoolers who could use some extra attention because they are above the average level of their classmates. The volunteering is organized through my work, so about 10 of us head over every week to work with groups of 2-5 kids and we'll do this for the rest of the school year. I don't go every week, we work in pairs so that we only have to go every other week, often less than that once you count in skipping weeks because of holidays. Some of the volunteers help with math or reading, using workbooks, but my group is English conversation, so we just sit around and talk.

Considering I don't really care for kids, I sort of surprised myself by not only signing up to do this, but finding myself looking forward to it. Maybe I was drawn by the idea of being able to provide a good English-speaking example, if only to a few kids. When you read about recent studies finding that Dutch people overestimate their foreign language skills, not only in English but in German and French as well, and you know that this matches what you hear on pretty much a daily basis, then I guess I did get excited at the opportunity to promote proper English.

In the time leading up to my first visit to the school, I sometimes worried that the idea in my head of how it would go was expecting way too much out of some still rather young kids. I imagined coming in and being able to talk to them, perhaps simply and with some explanations of what words meant, but they'd at least understand me. I was fortunate that my group of four kids are indeed that advanced in their English, so it went rather as I expected it (a fellow volunteer wasn't as lucky and had a group who speak only very basic English, so he was really teaching them as opposed to just talking). What I should have thought about more though was what on earth I was going to talk about for 45 minutes with some 10-11 year olds. I'm not used to this stuff, and the teacher just dropped us into the groups of kids with no direction at all. So our first session had a bit of a rocky start. I asked them their names. I asked their ages. I asked where they live (I live in the same neighbourhood, so I knew where these places were). We did some more small talk about pets and siblings and school activites, but I was hitting a wall and feeling rather silly since I was supposed to be the adult in charge. Fortunately, one of the girls (there's only one boy) suggested we go over colours, so that gave us something a bit more structured to talk about. But they knew their colours, so after a bit of that I was stuck again. But I thought we could do animals, so we ended up spending the rest of the time going through a book of Dutch wildlife and I taught them a lot of words for various animals in there. It was pretty fun and the pictures added another dimension too because they'd go "ewwww" at some freaky spider or caterpillar, or go "oooh" over a neat photo of a bird flying.

I'm planning already for my next session with them in 2 weeks. I definitely need to come better prepared so they don't start to think I'm totally lame for not knowing what to do. I'm thinking of ideas where they tell a story, perhaps about animals to use some of the words they learned. Or to have them talk about their favourite subject or hobbies. In any case I'm really excited and I really like the group I have. Sometimes it was a bit off putting talking to them because their eyes would wander and I would think I was totally boring them, but I think it was just normal kid short attention span, or sometimes they were just thinking of things to ask. It's just something I need to get used to. They were really into looking through the wildlife book though, they kept scooting closer and closer in their chairs, so I just need to find things to engage them with.

November 12, 2006

Some photos

I got to play around with my new camera yesterday, and got a nice little Crumpler bag for it (which was actually a birthday present from O). I've not taken any photos outside yet, so all the photos I've taken so far are of our living room and of each other. Not the most exciting, but here are a couple photos anyway. I promise better stuff in the future, once I've actually taken the camera out of the house.

O being silly.

Me being serious.

Me reading the paper.

November 10, 2006

New camera

I received my camera last night! I thought I'd have to pick it up at the post office today (since they tried to deliver it twice but no one was home, of course. Lesson learned for next time: send it to work), but the delivery guy came back at about 6 to try again. Sweet. Unfortunately I was out last night so I didn't really get to play with it, but I got the battery charging and looked through some of the stuff included in the box.

The camera looks awesome, very sleek and shiny. I really like it. And though it's so small, it still feels comfortable to hold. It uses an SD card, and I'm used to O's CF cards, which are huge in comparision. I didn't realize the card was that tiny. I'm so worried I'm going to break it in half... These days they don't even print out for you the full, detailed user guide, they just give it to you as a PDF on a CD. I suppose it saves on the box size since everything else comes in 4 languages, so to include 4, 140-page books would be a bit much. Anyway, I can't wait to really use it when I get home today and hopefully play around with it some this weekend.

O was supposed to have his new camera today as well, but unfortunately it won't arrive until Monday. This is the top-of-the-line Canon 5D he is getting as "payment" for being in the Canon film. Well, not that they had to pay him to be in it, but some incentive was nice, especially when it's this camera he would have never bought for himself. He's been dying all week for it to arrive.

Speaking of the Canon film, it's finally been spotted on MTV. We're not sure what time of day it was on, but it's a relief to know they are airing it and now maybe we can catch it sometime.

November 6, 2006


If all goes smoothly this week, I'll have a new digital camera by the weekend. I've ordered it online from a shop O's used before and it should only take a few days to get here, though it is coming from a middle-of-nowhere town with the absurd name of Urk. On Saturday I thought I was sure of the camera I was going to get, but I started to look at other options and then my mind was changed after checking out the cameras first-hand in a shop.

My first option was the Canon Powershot A630 (the stupid letters and numbers these cameras have as names. And then it turns out that the camera I'm getting is called something different over here, with a different number, so at first I thought the shops didn't carry it because I didn't see the right number). I thought the A630 would be good because it's similar, but much smaller, to the old G3 I was used to. It even has the nice flip-out screen feature. But after comparing it to the even smaller Powershot SD630, I decided a smaller size and a few less options was probably better since I'm not sure how much I'd dig into the manual settings. Also, since the point was to have something very compact, I figured I'd better get a camera that is quite pocketable.

While I left the shop really liking the SD630 (and the screen on the back is huge), after getting home and researching some more I ended up settling on the camera which is the next step up from that one, the SD700. It doesn't have quite as massive a screen, but that's ok, it has pretty much the same features, but with the added benefit of image stabilization and a better zoom. From what I read online these features were going to be worth the bit of extra cost. So, that is the camera I have ordered. It looks quite stylish and overall was highly recommended in various reviews, so I think I'll be happy with it. And it will be my own camera, not a hand-me-down, and I can start setting up the photos on my computer and maybe join the Flickr crowd and all that.

After ordering my camera, I was enjoying digging back in the camera reviews to see how fast things have evolved in just 5 or 6 years. Going back not quite 3 years, and the layout of the buttons on a similar Canon camera is very different, clustered around a tiny 1.5 inch screen and leaving a lot of blank silver space (scroll down almost halfway to the photo of the back of the camera). For comparison, the screen on the camera I'm getting is 2.5 inches; the one on the SD630 that is massive is 3 inches. You go back to one of the first ultra compact cameras from 2000 and it's pretty sparse on the buttons on the back, has only 2.1 megapixels, and costs about $600. Yeesh.

November 4, 2006

Quiet evening to myself

I just listened to the new Decemberists album for the second time. Still trying to get a grasp on it. I think my favourite song right now is the ghastly Shankill Butchers, just because it's so grim and vivid and I love the tune of the chorus. But there are other songs I like, mostly parts of the long, multi-part songs, Crane Wife and The Island. The first single, O Valencia, is pretty good too. I've been reading about their current tour in the US and I think some of the new songs will be great live. Just gotta wait 3 more months till I can see them myself.

Speaking of seeing the Decemberists though, O and I saw 3/5 of the band while in Portland when they did a signing to celebrate the new album. It was at the wonderful NW Music Millennium store and we got there early enough to be rather near the front of the line. We had about an hour to wait and eventually the guy behind us in line sort of started joining in our conversation, which was fine, he was pretty nice and it was cool to chat with a stranger for awhile. He and his wife (who was rushing to the signing from work) had moved to Portland from Baltimore only a few months back. They quit their jobs and moved across the country mostly because they loved a lot of bands from Portland and figured it must be a pretty cool city. I thought that must have taken a lot of courage, but then they didn't feel all that tied to Baltimore. Finally the signing began, but John and Nate were missing unfortunately. Still, it was nice to say hi to the other 3. We had great hopes that Colin would remember O from the Paradiso show in May, when the note O had thrown on stage was read aloud by Colin, but when O got to Colin and was trying to jog his memory, you could tell he just had no clue what O was on about. Well, they were quite jetlagged at the show. I was so hoping that they'd be really freaked out that this guy who'd been in Amsterdam was now in Portland, like some really insane, obsessed fan, but they didn't seem to remember it. It was a bit of a letdown, but I did get my CD signed and we met some nice people.

An even bigger letdown was after we came home and I realized I could have gone to see Colin playing solo in the living room of a friend of his, but I confused the date of my friend's wedding and thought the two events coincided. Ok, I still would have had to decide whether to spend $75 just to see Colin playing solo in the living room of a friend of his, but at least I would have had the choice. But I thought he was playing on the evening of the wedding, making it a moot point. But it so wasn't moot. The little show was right after the Music Millennium signing, so, while O and I were chomping down some Mexican food and then retiring early to our hotel, we could have been enjoying an intimate, once-in-a-lifetime concert. I'm so dumb.

To finally move away from the Decemberists, in honour of the baked potato I had tonight, which was heated in the microwave, I present a link to one of Sars's recent columns over at Tomato Nation. While part one is usual cat hilarity and part three has a good ending, it was part two - specifically the paragraphs at the top of the second page - which had me giggling so hard I was crying at my desk at work. Maybe you had to be there, but I found the whole image absolutely hilarious at the time.

Oh, I guess I should post a link to O's video, though I think anyone who really reads my blog will have already heard about it. He was filmed for a commercial for Canon that is part of a series focusing on amateur photographers (though previous films in the series were about professionals). He was contacted back in July, arrangements were made for where to film and how it was going to be done, he and I made the trip to London for two days at the end of September for the filming, and now, finally, there is the final product. I think it turned out well, it's weird seeing O in his normal clothes and all in this professional looking little film. It's meant to be airing as of yesterday on MTV, but I've not seen it yet. It would suck if we never catch it on TV.

So, drinks tomorrow with friends to celebrate my birthday (and hopefully presents from O who was too jetlagged to be prepared for my actual birthday last weekend) and then we see O's brother and his girlfriend on Sunday for lunch. I also want to pop by a camera store and check out a camera I think I really like. I really want a new, smaller point-and-shoot to replace our old G3 which is so bulky. I think I'd use it so much more if I can easily tuck it away rather than the G3 which, besides being heavy to carry around, is so slow and unwieldy that I often would pass up taking a photo rather than dig it out. Hopefully, then, I'll have a new toy soon.