Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Homemade microwave popcorn! And a warning.

A few years ago, I had a smack-your-forehead moment when a friend told me about making homemade microwave popcorn (Read that blog here). I can't stand store-bought microwave popcorn because it has a chemical aftertaste*, but I rarely want to hover over the stove and cook my own, nor do I enjoy cleaning out those fancy popcorn makers. For years now I've just been tossing a few kernels in a paper bag and hitting the "popcorn" button.

Sometime this winter, when I was frantically searching for a paper bag to no avail, I had another smack-your-forehead moment and realized I could just use a glass bowl and eliminate ALL waste.

Pyrex bowls are microwavable, right?

Look what happened!

FYI, the lid was not sealed, just resting on top, with a slight gap for air.

 I did a bunch of googling to see if this was a thing that happens with Pyrex, but no. Pyrex is supposedly microwaveable -- it even said so on the box. Any engineer friends out there want to comment on that? I did have some butter in with the popcorn, so all I can guess is that it has something to do with the liquid butter. I don't know, but it was scary. So, yeah, I'm going back to paper bags, if I can ever remember to buy some.

* A friend & food writer pointed out on my last popcorn-related blog that most microwave popcorn actually contains a poison that is banned in Europe. So gross!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Best Weekend to come to Louisville

Most people probably think Kentucky Derby Weekend is the best weekend to be in Louisville, but you're wrong. It's the weekend BEFORE Derby that showcases my favorite things to do here. We made the most of our Saturday by walking to the Balloon Race at Bowman Field, then catching a quick nap (the balloons take off at 7am!) before meandering over to the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair. It sounds like an Art Fair, but it's actually just a big social event party where people scramble to purchase as many little green cups as they can manage. The beer that fills them is just a bonus.

Saturday night, David and I even managed to GO OUT BY OURSELVES! It wasn't Derby-related (though it would be fun if the last-Saturday-in-April meant Michael Jackson Festival -- someone get on that, please!), but it was super fun. A friend offered us last-minute tickets to the Cirque de Soleil Michael Jackson show down at the YUM! Center, which made me want to dance wildly AND do a lot more yoga. The troupe did a lot of interpretation, but stuck to most of the original dance moves that we all know and love. It was also my first time at the YUM! Center, and I dug it quite a lot. Do they always have musicians playing pre-game/pre-show in the lobby? If not, Mr. Mayor, please get on that! Wouldn't that be a great place to showcase some great local talent?

Speaking of that, there was this half-naked woman cello player who wiggled around in Cirque de Soleil and made me think they probably, no, DEFINITELY, need a musical saw player in that troupe. I'm not above dangling from a trapeze while I'll play the accordion, either. Call my people, and we'll work something out.

But back to important things: What's your favorite move from "Thriller"? Mine is the step-to-the-side/shimmy/clap-your-hands-above-your-head. I'd post a video of myself doing that move, but you all don't really want to see that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just what IS a State Fair?

An English -- as in from England -- friend of mine is considering going to the Minnesota State Fair. We won't go into the why for now. Today we are focusing on the what. You see, she's not sure what a "state fair" is. Where do we begin, my friends?

My mind immediately goes to the old Rodgers and Hammerstein movie, State Fair, because,well, I am nerdy about old-school musicals. 

But what else do I think about? Well, corn dogs. Deep fried everything. Airbrushed t-shirts. Charlotte's Web. Zuckerman's Famous Pig. 

The last time I went to the Kentucky State Fair, I held a baby alligator, saw a hundred hemorrhoids on goats, and feasted my eyes on quilts, watercolors, and apple pies. And pigs. And cattle. And watched the World Championship Horse Show. 

Then, of course, there are the rides. They aren't even that great, but they are sprinkled with opportunities to win goldfish, teddy bears, and toys that aren't worth the dollar you spent to play the game. State Fairs have definitely grown beyond their original intentions -- livestock judging from all over the country farms.

As David says, my English friend, think about Brighton Beach, throw in a Cotswalds Village Pie-Baking/Quilting Contest, and multiply it by AMERICA. 

So I ask you: how can we describe the magic that is The State Fair to a proper Englishwoman? One who surely likes proper Early Grey and calls her cookies "biscuits."

In the spirit of both the State Fair and of brevity, I propose a haiku contest. Post (or send me) your best 17-syllable description of a State Fair.

Here's my best effort:

Funnel cakes, rednecks,
pigs, pumpkins, fried food,
bad concerts and sun.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Garden plans -- a new patio awaits!

Stockbridge Colonies front yard.
Even a big pregnant woman can
mow this one. Edinburgh.
While we were in Scotland earlier this month, we stayed in our old neighborhood. It happens to have some of the most adorable collections front yard gardens I've ever seen. The Stockbridge Colonies were originally built as low-income housing for the worker classes. Nowadays it's a fairly posh address and a tight-knit community. It's not, however, ostentatious in the least. The stone buildings have small, uniform apartments and streets so narrow that most people dare not drive down them.

I fell in love with our garden on Hugh Miller Place (see right) when we were living there in 2012. It was a simple small round area of grass bordered by perennials and a small shed. It took me about three minutes to mow the lawn -- and that was when I was 9-months pregnant. I'd sit out there for hours in the summer and read or write.
Patio in the Stockbridge Colonies

We stayed a few blocks over, on Bell Place, during our last trip. The front yard area was the same in size, but the owners had replaced all the lawn with a lovely patio. It wasn't simply paved concrete, however. It was a nice mix of river pebbles and paving stones.

Being that I don't have a front porch in our Louisville home, I now want to recreate that patio in our front yard here. We spent part of the weekend digging up a lot of my front yard vegetable garden to make room for our new patio. I'll keep you posted, but I'm pretty excited to dine al fresco and catch up with the neighbors at the same time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tips for surviving a transatlantic long-haul flight with a toddler -- by yourself.

It didn't occur to me until the fifth person told me I was crazy that I may -- just may -- have been crazy for flying Transatlantic with just me and an 18-month-old. I've given it some deep thought since then, and I've concluded that, though I may indeed be crazy, it's not for that reason. If you're not up for adventure, you're not up for my kind of life. We can still be friends, but you're always going to think I'm crazy.

You all know to bring extra diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes. Here are more some thoughts/tips:

1. Sleep on the plane. I know, I know, easier said than done. But flights to Europe leave around bedtime for toddlers anyway, so your kiddo will be tired. Airplanes are basically huge white-noise machines, so my boy was able to get about 4-5 hours of sleep. I managed a little less, but that's just how overnight flights to Europe go. If you aren't able to sleep much, well, perk up and get excited that when you land, you are landing in EUROPE -- land of perfect coffee, perfect croissants, and public transportation! I am usually riding on a travel high when I land overseas, which makes up for my lack of sleep. Also, I haven't gotten a good nights sleep in well over two years, so what's one more night of light naps?

2. Be flexible with your travel plans. We waited until the last possible minute to book our tickets and flew on a Wednesday when the flights were least full. There were over a hundred empty seats on our Cincinnati to Paris direct flight, meaning we were able to snag an entire row to ourselves near the back of the plane. Having an entire row means you and your toddler can snuggle up together and attempt some sleep.

3. Be nice to the gate and flight attendants. This goes without saying as a) you should always be nice to everyone and b) these people, in particular, are essentially Gods when it comes to making your flight pleasant or miserable. Be kind. The gate attendants will be able to tell you how full the flight is and move you to better seats. Tip: if you want to know where empty seats are, you can usually log on to the airline website with your phone and start to buy a ticket for your flight. At that point you can usually see a map of the airplane and available seats.

Toddler on an airplane.
4. Relax. I spent the first few flights with my wee one very stressed out at every peep he made, worrying that I was upsetting my fellow travelers. Try to realize that: most people are or have been parents. It's only people like you (pre-baby, of course) who scoff and wonder why you can't keep your baby under control. Everyone else understands. And unless he's having a total meltdown, it's probably not nearly as loud or annoying as you think it is. Again: airplanes are huge white-noise machines.

5. Bring lots and lots of snacks and a bottle of water. You aren't allowed to sit in 1st class (on most airlines) with a baby, so you are not going to be bombarded with fresh cookies or warm nuts every five minutes. Bring an empty water bottle and refill it after security.

6. Babywear. You can't wear your child for takeoff or landing (I think that's weird, but lots of things about airline rules are weird.), but you can wear him to help him fall asleep, or stay still, or any other of things you might need. If you bring a Moby or similar wrap, it can double as a blanket. I used an Ergo because my kiddo hates the Moby nowadays. You know what your child likes.

7. Check your luggage. You usually get to check one bag for free when you're flying internationally. Even if it's standard carry-on size, consider checking it just for the freedom, particularly if you have a direct flight. It'll make going through security and running through the airport a thousand times easier.

8. Order the vegetarian meal. Or really, order any kind of special meal. This way, the flight attendants will bring you your meal before everyone else gets theirs.

9. Accept help. Most people are nice. I can't tell you how many people offered to do the smallest things for me -- like put our diaper bag in the overhead bin or get it down for us. I am very much an I-can-do-it-myself type of person. This is not conducive to solo traveling with a toddler. Get over yourself, and ask for help if it would make everyone's flight easier.

10. Bring toddler earphones. My friends know me as the screen-time dictator. On long-haul flights, this goes out the window. My kiddo can watch The Little Mermaid the entire way there if it keeps him quiet (though, again, considering the overnight flights, sleep is more likely than movies). Those little earbuds they give you on the plane, however, don't cut it when it comes to 18-month-olds. We got him some little kids' earphones that are supercute and actually stay on his head.

Toddler earning his wings!
11. Bring a new toy. I bought my wee boy a bunch of reusable stickers at an airport shop. He was captivated because they were new and they were all pictures of things at the airport. We talked about planes, control towers, and luggage, placing sticker after sticker, until dinner was served.

12. Nurse if you are able. I have honestly not found that the old saying of "nurse during takeoff and landing" to make much of a difference, though I know some people who swear by it. I do know, however, that nursing makes my little boy happy. It's really, really nice to have an immediate solution to any sort of potential meltdown on the plane. Kudos to Delta, also: when a flight attendant noticed I was nursing mid-flight, she brought me a bottle of water.

13. Pajamas on the plane. It's not only comfortable for the baby and encourages bedtime, but everyone thinks it's super-cute.

So how was our flight to Paris? My little boy watched about 15 minutes of a cartoons, ate some snacks, played peekaboo with the woman behind us, nursed himself sleepy, and slept for about five hours. He then woke up, ate half my breakfast, and was wide awake in Paris. He took a short nap in the Ergo while I was on the train to my friend's apartment, took one short nap later that afternoon somewhere on our walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs-Élysées, then went to bed at 8:30 as usual.

Mayb I just got lucky, but it was well-deserved, believe me. (He's 19-months-now and still doesn't really sleep through the night.) He was awake most of the nine-hour flight home, however, and managed to avoid the jetlag better than I did.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Some ALMOST belly pics and tips on riding the bus in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I almost posted this fantastic "After" photo that David and I just took of us post-vacation. Except that we didn't post it because we didn't actually TAKE the photo. If we had, then you would have thought it was a pregnancy announcement from both me AND David. Our bellies have, um, grown a bit, to say the least.

When it was just me and the wee boy in Paris for a week, eating cheese, baguettes, crepes, and chocolates with pure gluttony, I actually LOST weight (or maybe my pants just stretched out a bit -- i don't know because i never actually weigh myself). Odd, I know, but when you walk ten miles a day, you can eat whatever you want.

Then we went to Scotland. 

To be fair, we walked quite a bit the first few days and cooked at our flat. Then we renewed our unlimited bus passes. We definitely still walked our fair share, as the nearest bus stop from our flat was almost half a mile, but we made a few too many pub and potato stops. 

It was totally worth it though. And just in time for sundress season. I don't understand why everyone always panics to lose weight before the summer. Mumu season is the best.

But, yeah, we are off the bread and cheese diet for a while. Thankfully you can't get good cheese in this country anyway.

Travel tip for Edinburgh:
If you're planning on going to Edinburgh for a week or longer, considering popping into a Lothian Bus Shop (27 Hanover Street just off Princes Street is the closest shop to downtown until the Waverley Bridge shop re-opens in a few months) and purchasing a Ridacard. It'll cost you £3 for the card, plus an additional £17 for one week of unlimited rides. Bring a valid student ID, and it'll only cost you £13 -- definitely worth it. Your Ridacard is also good for rides on the brand new trams (just don't mention to any of the locals that you like the trams. In fact, if you want to make friends at a pub, start complaining about the trams.) Another nice thing about the Ridacard is that then you have a little photo ID/souvenir of your trip that you'll be able to use again should you ever return.

If you don't want to buy your own Ridacard, you can still buy daily unlimited tickets for £3.50/day. Keep in mind those daytickets aren't good on the Airlink buses to the airport (that bus alone costs £4). If you need to return to the airport, you'll have to purchase a separate ticket.

Be sure to download the Lothian Buses App, which gives you real-time information on bus routes and locations (why can't every city put this kind of effort into their public transportation??). If you've got a data package with your international mobile, you can buy daytickets or single rides directly from your phone just before you hop on the bus -- no need to hunt for correct change. There is a £10 minimum purchase on these mobile tickets, however, so you'll need to buy several rides in advance for it to be worth it. Still, how cool is to look down at your phone, plan your route, see that the bus arrives in 3 minutes, and just show your screen to the driverto board the bus? I love 2014!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back in the States.

A little screen time and lot of pretzels on the nine-hour flight.
We pulled up to our Louisville house yesterday, the wee boy wide awake in the backseat after being a rock star on the: 4-hour train ride, 9 hour flight, 2 hour layover, and final 1 hour flight. He casually looked out the window, pointed, and said, "Home."

Yes, my boy, we are home.

I'm still not sure how I feel about being here. On the one hand, I can't wait to get together with my friends here. Then again I felt the same way when I touched down in the United Kingdom last month. I wish Edinburgh were located in, say, Edinburgh, Indiana -- a quick road trip away -- rather than an ocean away. Or truthfully, I wish Louisville could be where Glasgow (Scotland) is, so I could just hop on a train to visit my pals.

I'm tired today, but not really any more tired than usual, considering the wee boy's sleep habits. I must say that, even though we had a few rough nights on our travels, he was absolutely great with all the time changes (there were four) and different sleep arrangements (six or seven). He managed to go to bed fine last night, waking for the day at 6:33am. That's early, but it's no earlier than usual for him.

He may not be a good sleeper, but he's a fantastic traveler. Sure, he said, "Home," yesterday with some relief. But this morning when I asked, "Are you ready to go on an adventure," he just grinned and made for the front door.

I think I'll keep him.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A new attempt at an old task.

It's Monday, the last real day of my holiday. Yes, it's been a loooong trip, but it's also been ridden with business meetings, performances, and research. Still, no complaints: I'd rather be WORKING in Scotland than NOT be in Scotland.

A few nights ago we all pulled an all-nighter. The wee boy had done surprisingly well on this trip so far, so we were overdue for a crazy night. You all know by now that a good night in our house is if the boy sleeps a 3-hour stretch. I'm just used to it by now, have learned how to manage, and I've stopped expecting him to magically sleep through the night. (Please don't offer a suggestion or tell me that at XX months, everything will get better. I have been ridden with false hope for 19 months now, and I'm tired of it.)

Anyway, a nice side effect of being up all night is that I got a lot of thinking done between the bursts of "mouth hurts!" and "dinosaurs swimming!" and "Mommy-o sleeping!! (Giggle giggle!)" I've decided I think I'm going back to the daily blogging over here. It's not a job, but it keeps me focused and provides an outlet. Allowing myself so many breaks from the blog has been bad for my creativity and productivity, the two main things that self-employed artists actually need.

I've got some random days on trains and planes this week, so this may not be my first full week back. But once this holiday is over -- yes, even during Derby festival -- I am back. Hit subscribe again, and check back often. I'm backlogged with stories to share with you. Join me!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back home in Edinburgh.

Guess what?! I'm still in Scotland. I am so full of blogs for you, but also have been out having so many adventures. The blogs will have to wait until I have a nanny. The wee boy still doesn't sleep through the night, though we did have one random miracle night in Oban after a pint of Haagen-Daz. We haven't had ice cream since then, and we also haven't had much sleep ... Maybe there's a correlation.

I had a really fun gig at the Leith Folk Club this week, filled with good friends and a great crowd. 

Mostly we've been catching up with friends and enjoying the village community that is Edinburgh. It's hard to pin down one thing that is my favorite about this city, but the sense of community is a front-runner. It's a series of small villages, much like New York, with lots of people living in loose quarters (but not like in the Plague, just cozy-like). Maybe it's the magic population density, but it just feels like the best combination of small-town/big-city that you could ever concoct. I've been to a lot of cities, but Edinburgh just has something magical.