Friday, February 25, 2011

The facelift

I decided it was finally time to update our little piece of bloggerdom, and give it a little facelift. I'm going to keep tweaking it, but for now, I think it's a welcome change.

I was reading my old blog last night. This might have been a mistake. Do you ever get jealous of your own past? I feel like I was a much better writer back then, and probably a much better person, all in all. Aren't people supposed to improve over time?

But that's not why I brought you here. I called this meeting for a picture update! Yippee!!

This past weekend, Andy and I volunteered at the South Side Soup Contest. The South Side is probably the hippest place in Pgh--lots of cool retail shops and eateries, as well as bars if you're into that scene. It was probably the best volunteering I've ever done: I made sure people threw their trash in the proper bins for an hour and a half, and then I walked around eating soup for the rest of the time. A lot of really good soup, too. On top of it all, we got free t-shirts!

Here's Andy, in his South Side Soup Contest official 2011 tee. The punch card around his neck is how they make sure you're not taking extra samples of soup, although there were 25 different soup stations, so I can't imagine anyone wanting more soup than that. All of the stations were in different retail shops: ours was at stuffurnishings, a pretty swanky little housewares store.

One of the soup stations was located in the Milkshake Factory, otherwise known as the happiest place on earth. They also sell handmade chocolates there, which looked amazing. Upon entering, you see a TV playing the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (behind my head, you can just see the corner of the set), further adding to its charm. It's appointed in the old-school soda fountain / chocolate shoppe style (think an upscale Beth Marie's, all you Dentonites), and I noticed that they were doing a lot more business incidental to the event than any other location on the strip. It is pretty hard to resist . . . and we'll definitely be going back when the weather starts to warm up to appropriate ice cream climate.

Although the parsnip soup won the South Side Soup Contest, this was our own personal soup contest winner. Vegetarian tortilla soup, from this amazing book by Deborah Madison. Even as a mostly-vegetarian, I was skeptical of a vegetarian tortilla soup, but this was so flavorful, spicy, and vibrant that I didn't miss the chicken at all. Top it with some fresh cilantro, green onions, feta + taco cheese, and (of course) some crispy tortilla strips, and you have a little bowl of heaven in your hands. Yum. Of course, it totally ruined the chicken tortilla soup that we had at the contest--there weren't even tortillas in it, which was obviously a faux-pas. Damn yankees.

Lastly, we made these Texas-shaped pop-tarts. I got this idea from Jen, and then saw it again at our favorite Pittsburgh bake shop, so of course I needed to try it. Turns out it's super-easy: just make your favorite pie crust (you could use a refrigerated crust too, certainly, or maybe even a puff pastry), use a cookie cutter to cut out your desired shape, and spoon some jam in the center. Cover it with another cut-out, crimp the edges together, and bake! (I did an egg wash on mine, then sprinkled it with some granulated sugar, just to be fancy.) Word to the wise, though, make sure you let these suckers cool before you dive in. Jam gets pretty hot in the oven, and it just might squirt out of the pastry and leave you with a nice scar on your chin. Maybe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Random Acts of Kindness

. . . or, Rachel the Cynic.

This morning, I was once again headed to work feeling very misanthropic. We’d gotten 8 inches of snow overnight, and because this Texas girl isn’t used to having to navigate in such conditions (“Hey, Chuck, is that dust or a snowflake floating around there? You think it’s dust? Hrm, well, we better cancel everything anyway, just to be safe.”), I was soaking wet and running late after having dug my car out of the snow. One of those days.

Things got better in the afternoon, when a husband and wife duo came in to do a juggling act. Were it not for the fact that they declared they were 40 years married, I would have said they must have been no older than 50, but I suppose considering that fact, they must have been in their 60s. For some reason, it made me want to cry (and NO, this has nothing to do with hormones). I think it had to do with joie de vivre. This couple was jumping around, shouting, hula-hooping, juggling, swing dancing doing all sorts of ridiculous and dorky things, and having a ball (no pun intended) all the while. I think their routine would have worn me out, and I’m half their age. So there I am, leaking from my eyes as I watch this silly couple juggling to “Five Foot Two with Eyes of Blue,” admiring them for their spunk and energy, if not for their sequined attire and choice of pastime.

Eventually, it came time for me to leave work. As I went out to my car, I noticed I’d been parked in pretty closely. Now, in Texas we have parking lots. In Pittsburgh, people parallel park. I’ve done that once in my life: on my driver’s test (with my driver’s ed teacher barking commands at me), and the thought terrifies me. So, I’m again feeling a little grumpy.

Out of nowhere, a man appears, and before I know it, he’s brushing snow from my car. “You go ahead and warm her up, and I’ll get it taken care of out here.” He proceeds, with great care, to brush the rest of the snow off my windshield and hood, even taking time to chip the ice off my wiper blades, which I am always way too lazy to even think about. After he finished, I shook his hand, and he asked if I’d need him to help me get her out on the road. I said no, at least I’d be going down hill in the snow, and he said, “Well, that’s my truck in front of you, so I’ll pull up as far as I can,” which he did. I got out perfectly well, honked and waved a “thank you,” and left feeling bewildered. Did you know that there are people out there who just do nice things for other people for no reason?

Enter Rachel the Cynic. Now, this doesn’t paint a flattering picture of me, but I started to second-guess his intentions. Obviously, he had a guilty conscience. He must have bumped my car on the way in, and felt bad about it. Or he was just trying to steal my car, building up my trust while he dug me out. What a sick—

Then I snapped out of it.

When did I become such a cynic? I have always thought of myself as someone who believes the best about people, that everyone is inherently good, and trying to do the right thing. How, at 26 years old, am I so jaded that I can’t let someone do a small, simple act of service without questioning his integrity?

Yes, there are a lot of terrible, horrific things that happen in this world, but there are also wonderful, miraculous things. There are kind, loving people, who just try to do the right thing, even if no one expects them to do anything.

I need to try harder to be one of those people.

"Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cold and Flu Season Wins.

Andy and I are both currently home sick. Our Valentine's Day was spent cuddled up under lots of covers, watching "Law & Order: Los Angeles" in bed. Nothing like a brutal murder to make your heart all fluttery.

Our escapades began on Wednesday night. After a long day for the both of us, neither of us felt like cooking, so we decided to try out our local Eat'n Park, which is basically like Pittsburgh's answer to Denny's. Everything was fine--we even got our little Smiley cookies, and were pretty happy about life.

About 3:30 in the morning, I woke up with a strange gurgling sensation in my stomach. There's no glamorous way to talk about a stomach virus . . . suffice it to say that the gurglings continued, and resulted in just about every consequence of a gurgling stomach one could imagine. That left me incapacitated through Thursday.

Friday was fine, except that while we were babysitting, one (of the five) was also sick, and she threw up too. As luck would have it, this happened just as we were putting everyone to bed, and things quickly descended into chaos thereafter.

Saturday, we somehow managed to escape any illness, and make it to Columbus, Ohio, for our temple shift. (Aside: for those of you who have a temple nearby, be grateful. We drive 3.5 hours to get to ours.)

Sunday, Andy woke up feeling pretty lousy. He stayed home from church. Monday, he called in to work and said he couldn't come in, and stayed home from classes. I went to work, despite that I was feeling a little crummy.

Upon arrival at work, I discovered that the very same stomach bug that had afflicted me had been going around there. We were short-staffed, and everything was out of whack. Made for a pretty sucky day at work, despite the fact that in light of the illness that had taken over, our director told us just to show movies all day. Even so, I started feeling crappier and crappier as the day went on. By the time it was time for me to come home, I was feeling so grumpy and misanthropic that I was swearing at everyone who crossed my path.

So, that brings us to today. Here we are, both home, both feeling worthless. Happy cold and flu season!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Poetic Justice

Dear Texans,

This is what you get for bragging about your 75-degree weather. Your hubris has finally caught up with you.

It's actually warmer in Pittsburgh than it is in Denton right now. Take THAT!