Saturday, February 28, 2009

Favorite Artist Decides My Life

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 10 people and include me!

Pick Your Artist: Stephen Sondheim

Are you male or female: The Boy From...

Describe yourself: Truly Content

How do you feel about yourself: You Could Drive a Person Crazy

Describe where you currently live: Everybody Says Don't!

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: Welcome to Kanagawa

Your best friend is: No One Has Ever Loved Me (As Deeply As You)

Your favorite color is: Gold!

You know that: You're Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through

What's the weather like: It's Hot Up Here

If your life was a tv show, what would it be called? Silly People

What is life to you: Everybody's Got The Right

What is the best advice you have to give: It's Only a Play

If you could change your name, what would it be: Franklin Shepard Inc.

Your favorite food is: Chrysanthemum Tea

Friday, February 27, 2009

My New Album (well the cover, anyway)

Create your own album cover.

Here's how:

1 - Go to "wikipedia." Hit “random”or click
The first random wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 - Go to "Random quotations"or click
The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album. (make sure you hit the new random quotations button at the bottom)

3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days”or click
Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use photoshop or similar to put it all together ( works well, online.

Man vs Meat

A few weeks ago I posted about the awesomeness that is the 'Bacon Explosion'.

I guess it was only a matter of time before Meat met it's match.

Here is Houston Competitive Eater David Cagle (who is ranked 48th in the country), attempting to eat a whole explosion!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Giving Up and Going On

Today is the start of Lent. I am participating at 2 services today that will feature the Imposition of Ashes. Imposition. It's an interesting choice of word. Why not distribution or anointing?

Imposition - the laying on of something as a burden or obligation. An unusual or extraordinarily burdensome requirement or task.

The Ashes used in the service are made from the Palm Leaves that were used for Palm Sunday Celebrations in 2008. It is a reminder that we can shout 'Crucify' as quickly as we can shout 'Hosanna'. They are a symbol of Penitence and Reflection, they are a visual aid to help us Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

Saying 'no' - the act of giving something up is another practice that happens during Lent. The purpose is not to get legalistic or bound up in what you are giving up, but to allow that act of self-denial to lead you into greater awareness of yourself and God. As we give up something important to us we become aware of our own desires and impulses. So many of us say 'No' to ourselves so infrequently that the Lenten Fasting Practice can lead us to a deeper understanding of what we need to say 'Yes' too.

"Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words: 'For my sake was the world created,' and in his left: 'I am earth and ashes.'"--Rabbi Bunum of Pzhysha

In a society where people are often judged by their appearance, spending the day with a smudged ash cross on your forehead is a reminder that inner beauty is of more value than physical beauty.

In a society where commercials frequently tell us ways to get '...what we deserve', Ash Wednesday is a reminder that the world is bigger than we are and will go on after we have gone.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Shelley

One thing I have suggested in previous years is Journalling for Lent. There is a list of 40 questions that I have put together here

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Fountains at the Bellagio

I'll post more of my Las Vegas pics as I have time, but I wanted to post my favorite free experience in Vegas! The Fountains at the Bellagio.

I shot the video from my digital camera, so it's quite good considering :)

We enjoyed the fountains so much that we went back again another night and caught a couple of different shows each night.

This is the view across the Belagio before the fountains play. It will give you a sense of scale.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Singular Answers?

I linked to this on a previous post, but I finally was able to embed it on my blog.

This is awesome.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quarters on the Butt?

I mentioned in previous posts here and here that I'm trying to lose weight - all inspired by the rather sad New Years pic here. Well I decided to take things to another level this weekend.

I've been doing Dance Dance Revolution since January, I sort of enjoy it for some reason, it reminds me a little of learning choreography for theater productions - musical productions numbers consisted of nothing more than angry stomping of course!
I was attempting to do about 60 minutes about 4 to 5 times a week, which was just about doable with my schedule. It helped me lose my target weight in January, but I am aware that I need something that is more of a cardio workout than just stomping!

I was in Borders on Friday, wandering through the DVDs and something caught my eye.

I'm actually rather in shock that I bought this, I was reading an 'expose' of The Biggest Loser in Entertainment Weekly, talking about some of the tricks that contestant use to lose as much weight as possible before each weigh in (I don't think I could eat that much Asparagus). The workout DVD interested me though. You have a 5 minute warm up, three different levels of cardio workout, and then 5 minutes of yoga to cool down.

Three levels, I can do that!!!


The first time I attempted the warm up I was sweating more copiously than a cop running for a donut shop! I finished the cardio only by watching every minute click by on the DVD player and cursing the name of Bob. As for the yoga? Ha!!! I had the balance of a drunk after an all night binge.

The next day I was hurting so much that I knew it had to do some good.

I'm looking forward to the time when I know the routine so well that I can turn 'Bob the Trainer' off and just do the moves. He's so encouraging I just wanna punch him at times.

One comment on the DVD has me confused though. Why is it a goal to be able to 'bounce quarters off your butt?' Who was the person who first decided that the mark of a well formed buttock was determined by it's ability to ricochet coins from the mint?

Personally, I kind of like having a little padding. If I get so fit that I carry my own monetary deflection shield with me isn't it going to make sitting on hard surfaces a lot more painful? Will it affect my ability to sit comfortably in a pew during the sermon?

I don't see how having this 'Quarter Trampoline' will impact my professional life. I work at a church, I don't see how having this skill listed on my resume will increase my ability in the workplace. I'm not planing on deflecting coinage into the Offering Plate during the choir anthem!

And why a Quarter? Can I start with a penny and work my way up?
Come to think of it, I really don't need the answers to these quesitons, but it's something to think about while I'm cursing 'Bob the Trainer' and sweating out lunch!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Three little words
are not enough
to say what I feel for you

I could write every word
in the dictionary
and still it would be too few

But until I have mastered
each language on earth
Three words will have to do

I love you

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Goodbye Simplicity?

I thought this was an excellent video. I wish I'd heard this story when I was still trapped in my 'fundamentalist' phase.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dance Dance Revolution gets Weird!

As I mentioned in a previous post I've been using D.D.R. to get some aerobic exercise. Most of the songs just have animated or still graphics in the background, though occasionally they will superimpose the dance steps over the video of the song. As you can imagine it can be distracting at times, which I guess is the point as it makes the dances harder.

There is one dance however that I found the background video so distracting (and mildly disturbing) that I had to hunt it down to see what was exactly going on.

This is 'Where's Your Head At?' by Basement Jaxx.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

5 Minute Chocolate Cake!

Regular readers of my blog will know that at times I 'Boldly go where no cook has gone before' - if you pardon the split infinitive. From Lasagna in a Dish Washer to The Burrito That Should Never Be, the chances are if it's crazy, and in the kitchen, you can count me in.

The 5 minute chocolate cake is one of those recipes that I suddenly seemed to be encountering everywhere, it was like culinary karma or something. I was being led to this recipe. So here it is in all its glory.

4 Tablespoons Cake Flour
4 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa
1 egg ( I use jumbo size)
3 Tablespoons milk
3 Tablespoons Veggie Oil
A Splash of Vanilla Extract
Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (optional, see below)
1 Mug

I would suggest a) Not using your best china or any mug you cannot spare. I have not had any problems, but I have heard horror stories of exploding mugs so proceed at your own risk!

First spray the inside of your mug with Pam to facilitate cake removal, and then mix together the flour, sugar and the cocoa.
Use a spoon or fork to get it really well mixed, and make sure you scrape right along the bottom of the mug and get in the corners.
Next crack in the egg, whisk it a little and then add the milk, oil and vanilla. Mix the cake batter thoroughly until it has combined in the mug.

In my last test I added 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips. This gave the finished cake an almost 'Chocolate Lava Cake' texture. Next time I make it I will probably add 1/4 instead of 1/2 a cup, but really it's up to you. If you can put it in a chocolate cake you can probably add it to the mug.

Put the mug in the microwave. I put down some paper towels for safety's sake, but I've never actually had a boil over yet.

I microwave on full power for 3 minutes. You may need to adjust depending on the power of your microwave. After about 1 minute the mixture will begin to rise at quite an alarming rate and tower over the top of the mug. It's quite cool to watch.

I videoed it to show you, but a) it's done on my cell phone so the quality is not that good and b) the amount of chocolate chips made the batter heavy so it did not writhe around as much as my prior chip free attempt.

(wow, a 30 second badly filmed clip of a cup in a microwave. Can my blog get any more exciting!)

As soon as the microwave stops running the cake will sink very quickly. Do not be alarmed.

BE WARNED THE MUG IS VERY HOT. Use something to get it out of the oven or you will burn yourself.

I've found that even with the greasing the mug it still tends to break as you upturn the mug. Next time I'm going to run a knife around the edge of the mug first, this time I was too eager.

Here's the finished cake. As you can see, even with my own careful instruction to mix carefully I still missed a few spots creating a mottled bottom.

I would suggest serving it warm with either vanilla ice cream or chocolate sauce drizzled over the top.

So how does it taste? Well let's face it, it's a cake cooked in a microwave, it's never going to taste like a lovingly crafted oven baked chocolate dream, but if you are craving a quick burst of warm chocolaty goodness it's definitely worth the time. If for the novelty value if nothing else.

And think of the fun you can have with kids.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Games Games Games

I realized today that although I play a lot of Board Games, I really don't blog about playing them that much. Oh I know you can scroll down to the handy-dandy widget on the right hand side and see what were the last games I played, but no-one but a serious game geek really does that right?

To rectify that I thought I'd post a picture of the current state of the Board Game collection. It's not very well organized to be honest. I have an online list of everything that's there, but I don't have designated spots for everything yet.

The saddest part is that their are still a few games up their in shrink wrap :( There are always more games to be played than time allotted or people available.

Most people know that if I'm going on a weekend retreat or around someone else's house I will often bring a bag of games with me. I saw someone Wednesday who I'd introduced to the game 'Blokus' whilst we were both on the Chapelwood Men's Retreat. He liked it so much he bought a copy to play with his family at Christmas. He mentioned on Wednesday that at a recent family gathering they had 3 copies of Blokus on the table and they were in constant usage all weekend. I love that.

There's something about game playing with other people that I love. It's better than just talking, and it creates lasting memories.

The trick is choosing the right game for the group. Most of the people I introduce games too are 'newbies' to modern board gaming. This means some serious thought has to go into what I pack into my bag. What criteria do I use?

a) Easy to learn
b) Interactive
c) Not too long in play
d) Can cover a wide variety of players.
e) Wow factor

'Easy to Learn' - don't get me wrong, I like longer more complex games (well maybe not too complex GRIN), but if it takes me more than about 5 minutes to explain the rules to a group of newbies then they are going to close up. I find this interesting though - have you ever tried to explain Monopoly or Risk to someone? It's tough to cover all the nuances in 5 minutes, but no one seems bothered by it. I guess it's like languages, if you learn them as a child it seems simple, but when you try to learn them as an adult suddenly it's complex.

'Interactive' - many of the games we played as children were of the type that you didn't do much when it wasn't your turn. As we get older we find those kinds of games rather tedious. I try to pick games that keep the players engaged.

'Not too long in play' - some of the games I play can take 2 1/2 to 3 hours. This is great at a game night, but can be terrifying to the newbie. The other advantage of short games is that if you are playing in a public place like on a retreat it's easy to say to observers 'This game will be over soon, stick around and we'll play something you can join in on.'

'Can cover a wide variety of players' - I can't think of one game that works as well with 2 as it does with ten. Consequently I try to include games in my bag for all possibilities.

'Wow Factor' - This is picking a game that has something about it that draws people in. Maybe it's visually appealing. Maybe it contains a mechanic that will be unfamiliar to newbies. Maybe it's a game that draws spectators.

So what games fall into my bag when I'm trying to indoctrinate new people into the gaming cult? It depends a lot on the gaming environment (private house, bar, Retreat center etc), but here are a few suggestions from my collection.

For Sale - Simple to play and explain. The fact that the game falls neatly into 2 sections helps keep the interest going. The bidding factor in the first phase and the trying to predict what other players are going to do in the second helps keep people engaged.

Coyote - If you've got a crowd that doesn't mind wearing silly headbands, this is a great game. It can cause a lot of mental anguish and actually functions well as a spectator sport. Normally I would avoid elimination games with newbies, but this one seems to work well.

Ca$h and Gun$ - There is something wonderful about pointing foam guns at one another around a table.

Saboteur - This game can hold up to 10 people which is a bonus, and once people get into the roles of trying to figure out who the saboteurs are at the table you suddenly discover people smack talking to one another :)

Blokus - At first glance this would not seem a great choice. It needs to be played with exactly 4 people, no more no less which is a drawback. But the game is so simple to learn and looks really pretty on the table that people are just drawn to it. It's one of those games that has crossed over into the mainstream.

Felix the Cat in the Sack - Bidding and bluffing. It has a feel a bit like Texas Hold Em which draws some people in, and the game can produce delicious agony with some of the decisions you have to make.

Cockroach Poker - This is a relatively new game in my collection that is deceptively simple. Lots of bluffing and lying in this one :)

Category 5 - Simultaneous play and second guessing what your opponent is going to do makes this one hit the game bag. Plus it can accommodate ten people. Bonus!

King Me - another game of bluffing and deduction that newbies tend to enjoy.

Pitch Car - there's something about flicking disks around a track that is just fun. It can handle up to 8 people, it's easy to learn and it draws a crowd :)

There are many other games that I have that I would pack, these are the ones that come to mind.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thank You Which Book!

A while ago I blogged about a website called that will recommend fiction for you.

The book it suggested for me was 'Easter' by Michael Arditti. The fact that I have finished it so quickly is a sign of how much I enjoyed it. 'Easter' is not an easy read, some of the passages would make many people (including myself) uncomfortable, but it is a compelling one.

The parish of St Mary-in-the-Vale is preparing for Easter. In his Palm Sunday sermon, the Vicar explains that Christ's crucifixion and redemption are taking place every day. He little suspects that, before the week is out, he and his entire congregation will be caught up in a latter-day Passion story which will tear apart their lives.

This is not a 'christian fiction' book - most christian bookstores would refuse to stock it because of its rather graphic homosexual scenes. The clash of Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and Liberals is played out against a backdrop of contemporary Parish Life that may seem unrealistic to anyone who has not witnessed the incredible variety that is London culture.

The book presents the challenge of living a Contemporary Faith. The hymnal may have us sing of the 'Faith of our Fathers', but faith itself needs to be crucified and reborn for every generation. We do not live in the world of 'our fathers' and the manifestations of their faith leaves us ill equipped to deal with today. It is devastating to watch the faith of central characters get torn apart and killed, leaving you to wonder who will come forth from the grave.

It's not an easy read, not just because of the content.

The book has many characters, and I found myself referring to the list of them frequently. The book is written in triptych form. The first third presents the calendar of events during Holy week. It then switches to follow just one character in the drama. The final third of the book rewinds to Palm Sunday and replays the events from a different angle and fills in other details that the first section only hints at.

Moving. Thought Provoking. Engaging. Shocking.

Thank you whichbook!!!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Super Speedy Ziti

America's Test Kitchen does it again. I love their stuff and this time I've found a real winner. I like baked ziti, but normally it is a real hassle to make. The pasta and the tomato sauce are cooked separately, combined with the cheese and then baked for about an hour in the oven. That's way too much time and too much washing up.

America's Test Kitchen to the Rescue!!! They've found a way to make baked ziti in 30 minutes in only 1 pan!!!! I must admit I was skeptical, but the first time I made it I was a convert.

I made it again today, so here it is with pictures.

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves - minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 ounces (3 3/4 cups) ziti
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 oz Parmesan cheese grated (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
Ground black pepper
4 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

(It can be difficult to grate fresh mozzarella as it sticks to the box grater. If you spray the grater lightly with oil, it makes the job much easier)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 475 degrees

2. Combine the oil, garlic, pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large OVEN SAFE nonstick skillet and saute over high heat for about 1 minute until fragrant.

3. Add the crushed tomatoes, water, ziti and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook stirring often and adjusting the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, until the ziti is almost tender. (Check the cooking instructions for a time guide as they vary by company. I recommend DeCecco pasta for everything!!!!)

4. Stir in the cream, Parmesan and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the ziti. It will look really runny at this stage, but fear not my friends!

5. Put the skillet in the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and is browned, about 10 minutes. BE CAREFUL getting the skillet out of the oven, it is easy to forget that the pan is hot.

Enjoy :)

Weight Loss

I mentioned back in January that my goal for this year was to lose weight. I've set myself a target of losing 5lbs a month. I know that faster weight loss is possible, but this is the goal I used last time and it worked well for me.

Well it's Feb 1st and I'm glad to say I've lost 6lbs. I was actually on target to lose more, but I caught the flu that has been going around the office so I had no energy to exercise.

Let's see if I can maintain it in February

One product that I'm sure would help me lose weight is the following:

That's enough to put everyone off their food :)