Final version of Cheese Salad open for business!

October 2, 2009

That’s right!  Rather than using it as a collection of random junk, I’ve decided to turn Cheese Salad into a collection of food recipes.  The site’s had a complete overhaul (its last for a long while, I hope) and has been set up with recipes of several different categories – including entrees, party snacks, desserts, and single-serving dishes.

The finished site can be accessed at http://www.cheesesalad.org/

I’ll be updating the site from time to time with new recipes, so check back periodically!


Fun with Bicycles (or, How Not To Ride One)

July 23, 2009

I’m going to make a confession now that is actually less embarassing than one might expect: I never learned to ride a bicycle.

(Gasp!  Shock.  Really?  Yes.)  Why?  Numerous reasons:

One, I was a coward as a kid.  I’ll be the first to admit it.  I also didn’t learn to swim or climb trees, for exactly the same reason.

Two, the bicycle is an insidious device.  With only two wheels and (in my case) a seat designed to give you crotch bruises, these suckers are anything but fun for the novice.

Combine that with certain feelings of inadequacy (having an older sister and cousin who could already ride perfectly and certainly weren’t patient enough to help me learn), frustration with relatives (PLEASE, Dad, do NOT walk up to me after I’ve killed my ass and ask me in the perkiest tone you can muster if I’ve been “practicing riding my bike”), and an uncontrollable feeling of terror whenever the thing goes too fast and you have a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, I learned a few helpful things today that should help to minimize discomfort, panic, and injury for anyone who’s just starting out on a bike, but especially me.

Lesson One: How Not To Ride A Bike

1. My sister’s method: Start at the top of a shallow hill and coast down, keeping your feet a short distance from the ground.  Repeat until you stop going into panic attacks.

Why?  Because this happens: The bike starts going too fast.  You try in vain to brake, by touching the ground with your feet, but by this time it’s already too late.  You have two choices: fall over or stand up, hold on, and skid along the ground while the bike humps you from below until it finally stops.  Then, if you have something else in common with me, you hyperventilate for the next few seconds.

2. Mother’s advice: Disregard sister’s advice.  Get on the bike, push off, and start pedaling.

And be ready for Panic Attack #2, because – again, only if you’re like me – as soon as the bike starts to pick up speed, you freak out.  Assuming the bike ever picks up speed in the first place.  The alternative: you try to pedal, the bike tips over.  You try to correct the problem.  It fails and you have another panic attack.

(Although this might seem a bit self-serving, I do not consider “having a panic attack when I lose control of the bike” to be the same as “being a coward”.  I am fairly sure that a coward wouldn’t have gotten on the stupid bike to begin with.)

Anyway, this is the method I found that actually works:

How To Actually Ride A Bike

First of all, you know all those seasoned bike-riders you see out there with their feet on the pedals?  They’re not you.  Unlike you, they’re actually comfortable with what they’re doing.  You are not – or so I assume, because if you were I expect you would know how to ride the thing.

So here’s what you do: Keep your feet on the ground.  Lower the seat until you can get a good grip on it.  Start at the top of a slope (a gentle slope), sit on the bike, and walk your way down.  Yes, walk.  While you’re on the bike.  When you’re a bit more comfortable, you can even start to pick up some speed.  Run a little.  Walk it back up the slope and go down again.  Whee.

All right, so it’s a little childish.  But let’s be serious here: would we rather look a little childish, or kill our elbows, knees, shins, ankles, and nervous systems trying to ride the thing some other way?

(Oh, and here’s a fun tidbit for future adult bikers: a podcast about adults learning to ride for the first time. We’re not alone out there.)


iApprove: The Internet./DoNotWant: Herpes Simplex.

July 18, 2009

This might seem like a “duh” one. Everyone knows that the Internet is awesome and that anyone with half a brain in their head will use it if given the opportunity. Heck, without the Internet I wouldn’t be able to write blog entries (or procrastinate them half as effectively).

But I think it’s about time that I give the Internet dues for a little more than the basics.

See, I learned a few “medical” basics from my mother.  Don’t eat raw meat, stay away from rust, don’t kiss anyone while you have a cold sore; the usual.  Most of it is pretty basic, and most of it is pretty sound.

But a lot of it was shrouded in good, old-fashioned, down-home country hogwash.

Raw meat?  Perfectly safe (if prepared properly).  Rust?  Not a magical “spawning point” for tetanus.  Cold sores?

Hoo… cold sores.

Otherwise known as oral herpes (and there’s a reason for that, folks), cold sores are a lip-based invasion of the herpes simplex virus.  And, like Mom said, they’re especially contagious when you have a blister.  What Mom didn’t say is that they’re also contagious when you don’t have a blister.

Nor did she tell me that the repeated cold sores I suffer are manifestations of the same viral infection. Or that a bit of adventurous lovemaking could give my hypothetical partner a nasty case of lower blisters – or, as they call them in the medical industry, genital herpes.

Yup.  Thanks to some overzealous relative who thought it was an absolute must to kiss the cute little kid, I have a proper STI.  Cool, huh?  In other words, I have to take care – even when I don’t have a huge, painful blister on my lip – not to transmit the bugger to any sexual partners.

I don’t think I can adequately describe how mad I am right now.   I feel on some level that I was being taken advantage of.  I was three years old – barely old enough to understand what a cold sore was, never mind that I could catch it from a seeming innocuous kiss or that the infection would last me the rest of my life.  The darling relative to whom I owe the infection obviously had no clue either, or she wouldn’t have gone around kissing little kids.

I know I certainly don’t feel like kissing anyone right now.

Am I overreacting?  Probably.  It’s not a big deal to prevent infection (in the genital area, anyway) – basic protection should cover it.  And an oral infection, while annoying, is hardly a lifebreaker.  But I’m mad.  One of my family members, whom I trusted implicitly, gave me a virus that I will never be rid of and will impact me for the rest of my life.  Darn right I’m peeved.

(Edit: Mom says that I may eventually get over it.  She’s probably right.  But I’m still irked.)


God does not answer prayers

July 6, 2009

(Today, I’m writing this on the Wii, which is somewhat of a pain in the butt. It’s a bit like a laptop, inasmuch as it’s a bit slower to operate than a standard computer, and it’s not like a laptop inasmuch as everything takes longer to load and the Visual version of my blog inputter is broken, meaning I have to do everything in HTML. Plus the text input thing only has two lines, making it somewhat of a Word Processer From Hell.

But I digress.)

I was thinking about God, and Christianity, and prayer (I do that a lot, as I was once a Christian myself). Specifically, I was thinking of one doctrine – never heard in my church, but touted in a few others – on the subject of prayer.

It goes like this: “God always answers prayers. He just answers them in one of three forms: Yes, No, and Wait.”

Forgive my impertinence, O Mighty Pastor, but having thought it over, I believe you are incorrect.

When you pray, what do you hear? Is there a Great Cosmic Voice that booms down from the heavens, offering you the word “Yes”, “No” or “Wait”? If you’re most people, probably not. The only thing that you get is an oppressive silence that you have to try to interpret – or just to wait and see what happens.

In other words, there is no answer. Or, if you want to be liberal about it and say that God’s silence is an answer, then that answer can only be “Wait”, since you must invariably wait until something happens (or doesn’t happen) to find out what the “actual answer” was.

Of course, this is a dodgy proposition at best, since prayers, when they are finally “answered”, are almost always answered in the vaguest ways possible. You ask for some financial help? Something you need to buy is on sale. Need a new car? After two weeks of searching, you finally find the one you need on Craigslist. These kind of events are so vague that you can’t even know for sure if they were the answers to your prayers. What if that sale was the result of a poor Hindu woman begging Vishnu to have pity on her? What if the owner of the car cast a spell on it to make it look more attractive to buyers? Or what if – as it happens sometimes – your purchase of his car was just a matter of two people with similar needs taking initiative at roughly the same time? You could ask God, but it won’t do you any good: he only answers in “Yes,” “No” and “Wait.”

By and large, though, the greatest complaint I have about this claim is that it is not backed up anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the Scriptures are fairly clear about what you should expect from a prayer: Knock and the door will be opened. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. If ye have faith even to the size of a grain of mustard, you shall command a mountain “Move over there,” and it shall move.

If you talk to a Christian about this, though, it breaks down fairly quickly. None of them will claim to have moved a mountain – and if they did, no one would have a reason to believe them. Very few have even professed a miraculous recovery from an injury or fatal disease (at least when the malady was previously confirmed by an independent party). Why? you ask them. Their response: “Because I didn’t have enough faith.” Which again contradicts scripture. Faith as a grain of mustard, remember? In order for someone not to have enough faith for their prayers to be answered, they would need to have no faith at all. In other words, they would need not to believe that God exists or that he can do miracles. But they must believe, because they continue to pray for them.

So which is it? Does God answer prayers? If so, he seems to do this in a tumultous and unpreferential fashion. Or do some people who pray – the “Yes, No, and Wait” people in particular – not actually believe in the being they are praying to?


I’m going to be snarky today…

July 3, 2009

So there I was, checking out my life as represented by a long beach with footprints on it.  It was easy to see which parts were the bad ones; they tended to have hard rocks and crabs mucking about.  One particularly rough time was marked by a giant sinkhole and several bits of broken glass.

One thing bothered me, though: I noticed that, as I examined the tracks where Jesus and I had walked, the parts of my life that had been the hardest were home to only one pair of footprints.  Naturally, I asked Jesus about this: “Jesus,” I said, “was there some particular reason you thought it was a good idea to take off while I was going through the rough spots?”

“Silly child,” he said, “those are the times when I carried you.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, “so what are these other footprints, about a couple yards away, that look like some drunk guy staggering around?  Look, there are beer bottles.”

“Er-” he said, “well, that was the Devil, coming to tempt you.”

“They match your sandal prints,” I said.

“We shop at the same store.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Here’s the time I got married.  Best day of my life, with me and my wife and my family, and there’s only one line of footprints.  Don’t tell me you needed to carry me through that?”

“…I was flying.”

This is what it’s like trying to argue with Christians.  It doesn’t matter how many arguments you bring up, because they are fully capable of inventing endless rationalizations for your questions/protests.  Some of them are Biblical, but many of them come from the Christian themself.

The problem with these arguments is this: they’re nice, they’re tempting, and they explain things easily, but they are not canon.  Ergo I cannot accept them as an explanation.

On another note, as in the story above, the explanations tend to get exponentially sillier the longer you argue.  See the whole “the snake was Satan in disguise” silliness.


A bit of introspection…

June 23, 2009

Hugh Laurie re-taught me a lesson I’d almost forgotten: that although I am smitten by a good-looking man, it is a brilliant one who really ravages my hormones.

Thank you, sir.  We need more men like you.


DoNotWant: Monsters vs. Aliens.

June 18, 2009

Ah, Dreamworks, how ye have fallen.

I remember, way back in the day, when you used to be a respectable movie-making company.  Back in the days before you discovered CGI, remember?  Back when you were still making films like The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado.

Those movies… they were classics.  Funny (El Dorado), inspiring (Egypt), mostly-timeless incredible pieces of cinematography (both).  No, they weren’t the most “hip” things ever.  And they certainly weren’t up to Disney’s level, but not for want of quality.  You guys made some fine movies.

Then came Shrek.

The great thing about Shrek was that it was different.  It took a classic fantasy world, turned it on its head, then blended it with the modern world to create a unique, entertaining and seamlessly brilliant piece of work.  It was an instant hit, and with good reason – it was complete genius.  No movie could ever have been its equal.

Especially not the shameless rip-offs you guys have been producing ever since.

Yeah, I’m not blind to what you’ve been doing.  In your greed for cash, you’ve decided that the only solution is to reproduce everything that you thought we loved about Shrek, then wrap it in a new package and cram it down our throats.  Shark Tale? Shrek underwater.  Madagascar? Shrek on a deserted island.  Shrek 2 & 3? I think they speak for themselves.

The latest piece of crap you throw at us is Monsters vs. Aliens, a.k.a. Shrek with a Female Lead. And you’ve fallen into the exact same pitfalls.  Good story?  Check.  Star-studded cast?  Check.  Decent acting?  Strong script?  Houston, we have a problem…

Monsters vs. Aliens could have been so much better than it was.  It starts out with a good premise.  It carries it with an awesome cast.  But that is as far as it gets.  The script – which would have made a great first draft – is shaky and weak, and soon collapses under the weight of its own pop-culture references.  The characters, with the exception of Susan, feel flat and unrealistic.  Dr. Cockroach is supposedly a human scientist who mutated himself in an accident many years ago – except that he acts like he’s been a roach-man his entire life, and that life seems to have started maybe two weeks ago (during which time he learned modern dance moves and the expression “OMG”).  Link is even worse, with no obvious motivation even to live – he gets a passing reference to a fitness obsession, but this is treated like a throwaway gag.  At least Bob and Insectosaur, being inherently mindless characters, have a good reason – but none of the characters manage to feel like anything more than wall decoration.

And then there’s the acting.  Oooohhhhh, the acting. As I said before, the movie has a decent story – the tale of a young woman whose (personal) world is effectively destroyed on her wedding day, and who must learn to cope.  Unfortunately, she also lives in an alternate reality where all humans are obnoxious, overacting Pixar ripoffs – a common flaw in Dreamworks’ CGI films.  The characters speak as though they’re under a time limit – presumably because every character feels the need to supply a witty line in EVERY scene – and Susan’s voice is almost unbearably shrill.  The film, whose success seems to ride largely on its incredible cast, manages to distort every actor into a mangled, barely-recognizable caricature of themselves – to say nothing of the visual designs.

I know you guys can do better than this.  You did Sinbad – a silly but largely entertaining piece of work – and you did Kung Fu Panda, for goodness’ sake.  Admittedly, the latter falls into many of the same pitfalls as MvA, but you pulled it off.  Probably because it was set in a fantasy world where realism would have required the characters to speak Chinese.

Here, you were dealing with our world, our time period, and our people.  And, in your overzealous efforts to make the film accessable to the Blu-Ray generation, you blew it.  You took an incredible story and turned it into a shallow, largely pointless waste of an hour and a half.