the domestic life

I took the opportunity this last week to be domestic. Really, mom, you’d be so proud of me!

First off, I took up knitting. I was in Target last Friday night (you know you’re married when you’re out shopping at 10 pm on a Friday night), and I saw one of those ‘Learn to Knit’ kits. I’ve seen them before, but the pictures on the packages were always of ugly pillows or scarves, and I’ve got all the ugly pillows (2) and scarves (0) that I really need. But they had one with cat toys – little knitted fish and mice – and so I had to get it. Because, well, my cats aren’t nearly spoiled enough. So after a couple of hours trying to decipher the cryptic directions, I found a website with pictures to show me what all this knitting, purling, and invisible increasing was about. So, yeah, I’m a knitter. I’m still working on my gauge (my cats are now the proud owners of one demented knitted fish that my husband keeps calling a mouse because it doesn’t really much look like a fish) but I plan to become an accomplished afghaner. Afghanist? Afghan maker. I plan to become an accomplished afghan maker.

My second domestic task involved cooking a real, live dinner – a main dish, vegetables, bread AND dessert. I had the opportunity because all my neighbors are having babies. So when new baby mama #1 stopped by to ask if I’d make dinner for new baby mama #2, I of course said yes. You can’t say no to an exhausted new baby mama. I think there’s a special level of purgatory for that. And I really have enough levels to visit already. So, anyway, I made lasagna Wednesday night, because my husband hates lasagna, and I never get to make it anymore. I had the foresight to make 2 pans of it (I threw one in the freezer) because I’m sure new baby mama #3 will soon be in need of dinner. And, if not, well then I’ll eat it myself. Because my lasagna is amazing. And I really hope baby mama #2’s family at least kinda liked it, or else I’ll likely get thrown out of the neighborhood ladies’ circle. Or maybe they’ll all get together because they feel so bad for the newlywed who makes such terrible dinners and teach me to cook things my husband will hate anyway…

So, after the lasagna and a quick dinner of nachos with my husband, I started on my third domestic task: I went to Costco with some ladies at church. Because I had been finagled into being on some committee for some church ladies’ social. Somewhere between the 48 croissants and 6 cantaloupe, we picked up 6 brownie mixes and I volunteered to make 2 pans of brownies for the following evening’s social, after mentally taking stock of my cookware and deciding with 80% confidence that I did, indeed, have two 9×13 pans. Then we saw the picture on the side of the giant brownie box: brownies topped with a cream cheese layer, drizzled with chocolate, and it was decided that we must have THOSE brownies. Regular ghirardelli triple chocolate brownies were somehow no longer enough. So then we needed 6 pounds of cream cheese, which was easily found in 3 pound blocks. Which then, after doing some quick math, prompted me to announce that I would do 3 pans of brownies, so as to avoid having to deal with the mess of cutting off 2 pounds from one of the blocks – which is what I would need to do 2 pans. I quickly recanted when I remembered the issue of my bakeware stock, but then vaguely remembered having some 8×8 square pans, and decided the third batch could just be split ino two smaller pans. So, I volunteered to make 3 pans of ghirardelli cream cheese delight. Even though it was 8:30 on Wednesday night, and these said brownies would need to be made by 5 pm the following day. And I have this thing called a job. But there’s something that happens when ladies get together and all start volunteering to do things, like making 20 chicken breasts worth of chicken salad, that makes all the other ladies start volunteering to do silly things.

So, at 9:30 Wednesday night, I made a pan of brownies. I figured that I could only fit two pans in the oven at a time, so I’d just knock one out before bed. I’m a pro at making brownies out of a box, I figured it would just take 30 or 40 minutes. I didn’t take into account that the cream cheese layer would involve some lengthy, low-powered microwave cheese softening, and then a tricky spreading of cream cheese batter ON TOP of brownie batter. The spreading of batter on top of batter is not a quick process. Especially when one layer is most decidedly brown and the other is white. After finally getting it to be ‘good enough’, I threw it in the oven. For 45 minutes. Because special cream cheese topped brownies take longer than regular brownies. And then I read on the box directions that the brownies needed to be refrigerated after baking. Some quick time calculations brought me to the realization that making the rest of the brownies after work the following day would not allow for the requisite cool down and refrigeration period.

5:15 Thursday morning, I got out of bed and made two more batches of brownies. As annoyed as I was with the cream cheese softening and batter-on-batter spreading the previous evening, everything is more annoying at before-the-sun-rises A.M. After finally getting them in the oven, I got ready for work, then waited around for the brownies to finish. (It is possible for me to get ready for work in 45 minutes because, even though I am a woman, I am also a software engineer, and there is no pressure for me to ‘get pretty’ for work. Quite a nice perk of the job.)

4 o’clock Thursday afternoon, I worked feverishly to cut 3 batches of brownies, and get them out of the pan without breaking them. Ha! As if. Something about the two layers made it nearly impossible to get them out of the pan without separating the layers, or else completely crumbling the brownie. So I did what any self respecting woman would do: I ate the crumbled brownies, and I just set the separated layers back down on top of each other, and figured that I didn’t mind if the ladies at the social thought they had been the one to ‘break’ the brownies. After getting through two pans, I realized I didn’t have any containers to carry any more cut brownies, so I gave up. I cut the last pan, but left the brownies in it. The ladies at the social could dig out their own brownies. Then, they would truly understand my pain.

5 o’clock, I headed to the church with all my brownies. The social started at 7, but there were cantaloupe to cut and croissants to stuff with chicken salad. Oh yeah, and centerpieces to arrange. Two hours of food prep, decorating, and you’ve-been-married-two-years-but-have-no-babies interrogations from well-meaning older ladies later, the social started. Everyone loved the food, the inspirational thoughts were surprisingly inspirational, and I have to admit, I rather enjoyed myself. Plus, there were totally too many brownies. I got to take a whole pan home. As much of a pain as they were, they were delicious. I will make them in the future. Maybe tomorrow, as my husband and I seem to have devoured them all.

The domestic life has been a nice change of pace from my every-day schedule, but I’ve decided that all this domesticity is exhausting! I don’t know how women do it. I guess maybe sleep is really an optional thing? I suppose I may get a chance to find out, in a few years (sorry, mom), when I have kids and suddenly have more need to make well-balanced meals (with vegetables and all), and make costumes for school plays, and all that. Till then, I think I’ll enjoy the domestic life in small doses.

watch out for the quiet ones

I’m a quiet person. I mean, really quiet. Like, I’m sure there are people I went to high school with, who think I can’t talk.

It’s not that I don’t ever talk. I will most certainly respond to anyone who talks to me, and if I am in need of information, I will willingly seek out and talk to people who are more knowledgeable than myself.

One of the benefits of being quiet, is that people come up with the craziest ideas about you. Some people are under the impression that I’m smart. Not just smart, but crazy smart. They think that because I spend so little time talking, I must be spending an awful lot of time thinking. Which I do, but not about how to improve upon Einsteinian theories. (Wow! Now THAT sounded smart.) I spend most of my day, for example, thinking about how I can’t go to Target after work because I’m totally wearing a red polo and khakis. And that I should never have bought a red polo, because I really love Target. Probably more than any healthy person should. But – I really do look good in red. And, well, polos are sort of a staple of the engineer wardrobe. So, it really was inevitable that I would end up with a red polo.

One of the drawbacks of being quiet, is that people come up with the craziest ideas about you. I once had a guy tell me that he thought I seemed like a person who would like Alice in Wonderland. The Disney cartoon. Now, I’m a big Disney cartoon fan. But there are some of those older ones, that I just can’t make it through. Like Fantasia. Or Bambi. (Total snore-fest.) Or Alice in Wonderland – it’s just weird. And boring. I’ve probably seen most of it, but definitely not in one sitting.

At work, we’ve got a blog, where people can post about the projects they’re working, and I generally post a quick update a few times a week. Since I’ve started blogging, several of my coworkers have stopped by my office to express surprise at the fact that I am mildly humorous. I guess, for whatever reason, since all quiet people are smart and like boring ‘Classic’ Disney cartoons, that it means that we must all be horrifically dull. Which, I have to admit, some of us quiet ones are. But – for the rest of us – give us a chance. We may just surprise you. 🙂

retirement

I was recently reading an article about Americans readiness for retirement, and it greatly disturbed me. For the sake of most Americans, I hope the stats are skewed, or that there is something that I am missing.

The article states that:

“58 percent of workers between ages 45 and 54, and 56 percent of those age 55 and older had less than $50,000 in savings.”

Now, this is strictly talking about 401ks, IRAs, and other retirement accounts, so I suppose these baby boomers might have some really amazing pensions, or they may own a multi-million dollar home that they plan on trading in for something more modest, or perhaps they plan on retiring at the age of 75. I don’t know the ins and outs of the social security system, but it doesn’t seem to me that any government assistance would really be enough to live on. Well, not unless you’re Canadian.

My dad falls into this camp – or close to it – but he was Enronned. Literally. By Enron. (Thanks to a class-action lawsuit, he will soon be receiving a penny for every dollar that Mr. Lay borrowed. Such a nice man, that Mr. Lay. He surrounded himself with such upstanding people.) Luckily, my dad’s a union man, so he has pensions and whatnot, but even then, he’s had to seriously rethink his retirement. Like the early retirement he was going to take so he could run a b&b, or start a music career, or finally become a seasoned world traveler.

Retirement should be a fun time. After years of working for the man, retirement should be a time when you get to do whatever you want. Like buy a winnebago and visit all the national parks, with stops along the way to see your kids and embarrass them by parking the RV out front. Or open a roadside jewelry stand in New Mexico. Or run an animal rescue. Or start a full-time letter writing campaign to NASA, in support of a mission to mars. Or anything you’ve ever wanted to do, but didn’t have the time. Retirement accounts should be there to make sure you have the money.

I’m 26 years old, and I already have close to $50K in my 401k and IRAs. Admittedly, I am a bit of a planning freak, and I was lucky to be able to start my first 401k when I was 19. I suppose the article stats should make me feel good, to know that I am as prepared as over 50% of baby boomers, but it instead makes me worry for all the people who will reach retirement age in the next 20 years. I hope they all have amazing pensions will full health-coverage – or that they like Canada.

rediscovering an old love

I recently rediscovered something I had once loved so much: the Tysons Corner mall.

I had forgotten about my favorite mall. It happened slowly, over a matter of years, as I moved from Fairfax, to Reston, to Herndon, to Ashburn. Each move took me further west, and further from the best mall ever.

I had to go to Tysons Corner on Monday this week because it’s the only place I know of in the area with an Apple Store. And, well, I needed to go to an Apple Store because my mac mini was going to be available for pick up at my local FedEx after 8 pm that evening, and it had dawned on me early that morning that I had neglected to buy speakers for my mac mini.

On Apple’s website, I found speakers that rivaled the mac mini in adorability. I checked Best Buy and Circuit City’s websites for the tiny Sony speakers, but to no avail. It seemed that if I wanted the speakers of my dreams, then I would need to go to an Apple Store.

Usually, my husband hates malls. Even more, he hates going to malls with me, because I am capable of spending hours and hours in a mall. And, well, that’s just torturous. But – the prospect of going to the Apple Store was enough to pique his interest, and so we headed to Tysons Corner after work.

The Apple Store was a bit of a disappointment, as they did not have my tiny Sony speakers. But – while looking at the Directory to figure out where, exactly, the Apple Store was, I happened to notice that there was also a Sony store. And so we went to the Sony store.

On the way to the Sony store, it dawned on me that they seem to have added new stores to the mall. I don’t know if they added a wing or a floor, or what, but there are definitely more stores there than I remember. And also a theater! And an upstairs food court. With a Five Guys. So after I found my tiny Sony speakers (yay!) we got dinner, and caught a movie.

Most people might say that a food court is not the ideal place for dinner, but I disagree. My husband eats cheeseburgers. And when he wants to mix things up, he eats a bacon cheeseburger. I happen to like mexican, italian, chinese or bbq every now and again – and so a food court allows us both to be happy. Especially a food court with a Five Guys. (Best burgers in the world. Just ask my husband. He knows burgers.)

As we walked through the mall, I remembered all the good times . . . my roommates who worked for the Victoria’s Secret . . . the dilly bars from the Dairy Queen . . . checking my email at the Apple Store when I didn’t have internet at home . . . the dinner party I arranged with a big group of acquaintances at the Rain Forest Cafe just to avoid a date, and the guy I wanted to not date didn’t even come (mission accomplished!) . . . the dress I bought that I wore the night my husband proposed . . . Christmas shopping . . . and, well, shopping.

The great thing about Tyson’s Corner is the atmosphere. Everything is fancy and expensive looking. But they’ve got all the normal mall stores. There’s GAP and Old Navy, Payless Shoes and Claire’s. And there are plenty of not-quite-Sak’s-expensive stores. You can pretend like you’re really a part of the whole “I’m so rich” fantasy that everyone in Northern Virginia is caught up in, without having to actually really buy anything from Nordstrom or Banana Republic. You can go to Sephora and sniff coffee beans between whiffs of every perfume known to man, browse the Bombay Company as if anything there actually matches the decor in your home (if, uh, you’re talented enough to have ‘decor’) and get a makeover at one of the Hecht’s makeup counters. AND you can play with Discovery Channel Store gadgets, buy $5 shirts from Old Navy’s clearance rack, check out the displays in the Lego Store (they have Batman legos now – I think my embarrassingly large lego collection may soon get even larger), and buy gum at the CVS. In short, it’s the best place in the world. There’s a reason I have so many fond memories of the Tysons Corner mall. I have a feeling I will soon be going back – sans husband – to make even more.

passwords

I have 14 passwords that I use to access 7 networks, 6 email accounts, 2 chat clients, 2 bank accounts, 9 bill-paying sites, 2 blogs, 1 MMORPG, and 4 work-related sites: timesheet, payroll, hr, and training. And that’s not even counting all the dumb little websites I’m a member of.

Some of my passwords must be semi-secure: contain letters and numbers. Some must be secure: contain letters, numbers, and special characters. Some must be obnoxiously secure: contain upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters, with no more than 3 of each type occuring in a row.

Some of my passwords must be changed on a regular basis. Of these, some cannot repeat the last 4 passwords. Some cannot repeat the last 8. And one cannot repeat the last 24 passwords. 24? Honestly. I guess that’s a super-secure system, seeing as no one will be able to log into it after 4 or 5 password changes because they won’t be able remember what they just changed their password to.

It is no wonder that I have trouble remembering my passwords! And not only remembering my passwords, but also remembering which password applies to what account. I was just trying to log in to one of my email accounts, and it kept telling me that my password was wrong. After 2 minutes of trying different passwords, I finally realized that I had typed in my username wrong. Because, well, I have 7 or 8 different usernames.

I am so ready for a retinal-scanning-thumb-print-taking login mechanism. I’d almost welcome a finger-pricking-blood-scanner. Couldn’t be much more painful than the current system.

star trek conventions

I’ve never been to a star trek convention. It’s been on my do-once-in-my-life list for years now. So, when my husband announced that the 40th anniversary star trek extravaganza was going to happen THIS YEAR, I decided it was time.

When I tell people I’m going to a star trek convention, they always ask if I’m going to dress up. No, I don’t plan on dressing up. I don’t own a star trek uniform. The star trek actors don’t even dress up for conventions. Of course, I could go in my pajamas, as it seems that everything that is worn in the Gene Roddenberry future resembles sleepwear.

When I agreed to go to the convention, I didn’t realize that it was four days long. Four days? Of total trek immersion? I must be out of my mind! What could you possibly do for four entire days? Well, according to the schedule, you can play bingo (star trek style), eat chocolate (star trek style), auction for charity (star trek style), wait in line for autographs (star trek style), wait in line for pictures (star trek style), watch improv (star trek style), dress up (star trek style – with the possibility of winning $1000 in the costume contest – maybe I’ll reconsider…), DESIGN A CENTERPIECE (star trek style), create a music video (star trek style), participate in talent contest (star trek style), write an essay (star trek style), drink champagne (star trek style), eat dinner (star trek style), eat dessert (star trek style), buy loads of crap (star trek style), wear a plastic wristband (star trek style), ride a fake roller coaster (star trek style) or watch a 3D movie (star trek style). Oh yeah, and listen to actual star trek actors speak.

Now, I’m a little confused about the star trek centerpiece contest. I don’t really recall any centerpieces from the shows, but I suppose that people in the Gene-iverse liked to decorate their tables. I’m a little intrigued to see what people come up with – perhaps something with silk flowers and a tiny warp core replica? Or a nice vase filled with marbles and fully-functioning posotronic brains? I, for one, would vote for anything with a likeness of Wesley Crusher.

One contest I do plan on entering, however, is the essay contest. The contest is in honor of Scotty and is limited to engineers. And, well, I’m sort of an engineer. Plus – I’m a totally awesome writer. I’ve worked with a lot of engineers (seeing as that’s what I do and all) and most of them can’t write. I so have this one in the bag.

So far, the list of convention guests is rather impressive. They’ve managed to snag all the captains, minus Picard (rumor has it he still has a career or something), and they have one of my favorites, Weyoun from DS9. My other DS9 favorite, Damar, has not appeared on the list yet, though they keep adding people, so I’m still hopeful I’ll get to see him.

Damar

Damar?, you may ask. Yes, Damar. Because he’s obscure, and also because he giggled when Worf killed Weyoun 18. I made my husband rewind it on the tivo so I could watch it again. So – Damar – please don’t disappoint me. I’ll even share my essay-winnings.

mac mini: adorable computing

Last week, after months of pining and deliberations, I finally broke down and ordered my mac mini. 2 inches of computing adorability. An entire computer, complete with dvd burner, 80 gig hard drive, and good enough graphics for me to get my WoW on. All in a 6 and a half inch square, 2 inches tall. (Check it out.)

So, I’m a windows person. Used to do me some win32 programming, even. So this whole mac thing is a little new – I haven’t touched an apple since my high school days. I’m really missing my ctrl-c type shortcuts, but I’m sure mac’s got their own little shortcuts. It’ll just be a matter of time before I discover them. I hope.

I love my new little speakers. (Click here to see them – Sony SRS-P11Q if the link doesn’t work.) They are intended to be portable speakers for an mp3 player, but I find they work quite nicely for my new little computer. I don’t know how good they really are, as I generally hate sounds coming from my computer, so I keep the sound turned down real low. Unless I’m playing WoW, then they get turned up to one notch above real low – cuz with no sound, you can’t tell when something is attacking you from behind till you’re half dead. And that’s never fun.

Did I mention the built-in wireless? Took a little finagling to get it to play nice with my home network, I ended up having to type in the hex wep password, but mac gives you the option of turning off the password dots when setting up network stuff, so you can actually see the hex mumbo-jumbo you typed and double check it.

Oh, and built in bluetooth. So you can use a bluetooth-wireless mouse and keyboard – which I would have done, but my husband has a wireless mouse, and he didn’t want me to interfere with his signal. But the wired set up isn’t so bad – especially when you have a tiny computer that can sit ON your desk and take up minimal space, so you don’t have wires stretched all over the place, trying to reach under the desk.

Plenty of USB ports. The keyboard takes one, but actually provides 2, so the mouse can plug right into the keyboard. The mighty mouse has a pretty short cord, so it’s not annoyingly bunched up or anything, being plugged into the keyboard and all.

Firewire. So my tiny little camcorder (ok, so I have a fetish for all things small) can plug right into the mac mini. And with iDVD, I can create DVDs from my camcorder tapes in one step. Granted, in one step, you can’t do anything fancy (like create clips or menus) but you can create a regular ol’ DVD player playable DVD. Of, like, say, your friends’ wedding. That you taped last June. And then promptly forgot about. And now that your friend is pregnant with twins, and wants to, uh, watch her own friggin’ wedding, so she told you to just give her the mini-DV tape and she’ll figure out how to watch it. So, in one easy step, you can slap the thing on a DVD, hand it over with the tape (so she can do something fancy with it later), and she can happily watch her wedding. On her tv. From a DVD.

The mighty mouse. An odd little invention – one seemingly solid piece of plastic on the top, with a little bitty roller ball on the top, about where you’d expect to find a scroll wheel. Which is precisely what the bitty roller ball does. Except, you can roll the roller ball sideways (for sideways scrolling) AND up and down. Genius. But the even stranger part: The mighty mouse knows when you left click, middle click, or right click. Even though its just one piece of plastic, no buttons. There’s even two low-side ‘buttons’ that don’t really depress, but it somehow knows you clicked them. They seem to only be configurable to one thing, so I’m not sure why there’s one on each side of the mouse – I guess maybe to make it left-hand friendly? Right now, I have it set so that if I press either of these pseudo buttons, it opens the application switcher (that thing alt-tab does in windows).

The verdict: I love it. It’s tiny. It’s cute. I can check my email. I can play WoW. I can make long overdue DVDs. It came with software for making comic books – I haven’t played with it yet, but I downloaded gimp so I can ‘cartoonize’ my wedding photos and turn them into a comic book, complete with WHAMS! and thought bubbles. I just went to mypublisher.com (my kind of scrapbooking, no scissors involved) to see if they had a mac version of their bookmaker, and they have something even better: a mac plugin, that works right with mac’s iPhoto.

I still have a LOT to learn about the mac world. I mean, I’ve only had the mini in my possession for 26 hours, and I had to spend most of that time sleeping and then that pesky thing called work. I haven’t even figured out what half my applications are (I think I even got Quicken – which is like my favorite thing ever – for real). But I think it will be a fun journey. Plus – I totally have the cutest computer on the block.