Friday, May 27, 2011

A few fantastic documentaries

I'm often looking for something to watch on Netflix Instant while I crochet. Having made it through all the available seasons of Say Yes to the Dress (seriously), I've moved on recently to less embarrassing fare.

If you have access to Netflix Instant movies, check out these three documentaries. I bet you'll enjoy them as I did!

All images from Netflix; click the images for more information on their website.

The Wildest Dream

Awhile back, I read the book Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer. It's a novel based on the true story of George Mallory.

Mallory tried to climb Mount Everest long before Sir Edmund Hillary successfully conquered the peak. Mallory died close to the top of the mountain, but no one knows for sure whether or not he made it to the top before falling to his death.

I really enjoyed the book, and have been fascinated with Everest ever since. When I came across this documentary, I knew I wanted to watch it. It's about Conrad Anker, an Englishman who wanted to attempt to climb Everest without fancy equipment, just as George Mallory attempted, to see if it can be done.

Anker is interviewed throughout the movie, so we know he survived his quest...but we don't know if he succeeded until near the end. If you enjoy suspenseful, real-life adventure stories, check out The Wildest Dream.

God Grew Tired of Us

I was ignorant regarding Sudan until I watched this movie. I didn't know about the thousands of boys who fled Sudan during its civil war (1993-2005), many of them ending up in refugee camps (and many of them dying along the way.) They are called the Lost Boys of Sudan.

God Grew Tired of Us is about several of these boys--now young men--who immigrate to America. They have to learn to use to handle requests for money from refugees back at the to survive in a place where both wages and expenses are ridiculously high compared to where they'd lived in Africa.

Watching their adjustment to America is fascinating, and watching their hard-fought successes is inspiring.

By the way, don't let the name fool you; this is not a move that is antagonistic toward people of faith. Watch this one if you want to see both Africa and America from a different point of view.

National Geographic: Inside North Korea

A few years ago, Lisa Ling traveled to North Korea with a cataract surgeon who went there to give sight to the blind. (There is very little medical care in North Korea.) Ling pretended to be a nurse, but was actually there to document the real North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the world.

The whole movie is eye-opening, sad, and fascinating; and the last scene is positively chilling. I'm horrified that this country has nuclear weapons now.

Inside North Korea is only 50 minutes long, and I hope you'll be able to watch it. (When you're done, you might like to watch Kimjongilia, a 73-minute documentary about the oppressive regimes of Kim Jong Il and his father, and about people who have successfully escaped North Korea.)


If you watch any of these documentaries, be sure to let me know what you think!

Disclosure: These are unpaid reviews of movies I just felt like watching.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My new Kindle

For Mother's Day I got...

...a Kindle e-reader!

Like so many people, I've questioned whether I'd want to read on an electronic device. But I'd heard such good reviews of the Kindle, that I decided I'd probably enjoy it.

A few days after I received it, I'd made a case for it.


And with a fun way to carry it, I was ready to really get readin'!

The first full-length book I read on my Kindle was The Hunger Games. I started it in the tent at Relay For Life. (I loved being able to have multiple books with me without carrying much extra weight.)

My sister offered to loan me the other two books in the Hunger Games trilogy from her, and I really loved this lending feature. She went to her Amazon account, and from there sent me emails with links to the books. I just had to click on the links, activate them in my Amazon account, and they showed up on my Kindle (downloaded through a wi-fi connection.) Each book loan is two weeks only, but these books were hard to put down, so the time limit wasn't a problem! (However, not all books are eligible for Kindle loans, and the time limit might be annoying for extra-long books.)

I got the Kindle With Special Offers. It's a wi-fi Kindle that costs $25 less than the normal wi-fi version ($114 instead of $139.) In exchange, I look at full-screen ads when the screensaver is on, and small banner ads when I'm in the Kindle menu. However, there are no ads when I'm actually reading a book.

Some of the ads are for products (cars, skincare, etc.), but others are Special Offers from Amazon, and I absolutely love this feature. I claimed a code for a 99 cent mp3 album. Later, I received an offer letting me know I'd get an $10 credit from Amazon if I bought one book from a supplied list. I bought The Hunger Games for $5. Once the credit comes in, that means Amazon will have paid me $5 to "buy" the book!

I tried to claim an amazing deal from$6 for 6 audiobooks...but wasn't eligible since I'm already an Audible member. I'm contemplating an offer for a $100 Amazon credit if I get their credit card (which I'd probably just use occasionally when they give me a good incentive to use it!) The Special Offers are a huge plus for me--I'd want them even if we hadn't gotten a discounted price. I'm thinking eventually the Special Offers may pay for the Kindle!

As for the reading experience, it's overall quite good. Kindle screens aren't backlit, which means they are generally really easy on the eyes, can be read even in bright sunlight, and have amazing battery life. My biggest complaint is that I wish there was more contrast between the light gray screen and the black letters. Yes, it looks like a real printed page...but a page printed on light gray paper. At night, my living room is not that brightly-lit, and my eyes strain just a bit to read. (I need to get a good light to use for both reading and crocheting at night.)

I also just got an Android phone, and the Kindle app I downloaded on it is fantastic. When I open it, it syncs with my Kindle (and vice-versa), so whichever device I'm reading on, the software takes me to just the right page of the book. I've been using the phone if I'm reading in the bed while The Engineer sleeps, since its screen is backlit.

Overall, I'm really happy to have a Kindle. I hope in the future they can improve the contrast of the screen. I also think a touchscreen would be convenient, though I wouldn't be willing to pay a whole lot for it. Even with those complaints, I adore my Kindle and think it's a great way to read, especially while on the go.

Disclosure: I wasn't compensated in any way for this post.

Saturday, May 21, 2011 run barefoot?

I get asked that question sometimes. When I first started running barefoot, I wrote often about it on Facebook and on my blog. So I figured it's time to set the record straight.

At this point, I'm not a barefoot runner. I'm a minimalist runner. I don't know why, but the balls of my feet have started hurting after I run barefoot--like I have stone bruises or something. One foot gets pretty bad pretty quickly. And somehow, the ultra-thin soles of my Vibram Five Fingers KSOs (a.k.a. "itty bitty gorilla feet") are enough to protect my feet so that when I do feel that discomfort, it's minimal.

When I'm chatting online with other barefoot runners, I'm a little embarrassed to admit...I'm wearing shoes. Barefoot runners and minimalist runners usually congregate together, since both groups are committed to running with a gentle form, and to feeling the ground (whether on bare feet or through very thin-soled shoes.) Even the Barefoot Runners Society, a group that has helped me a whole lot, states on their site that they want "To offer resources that unite barefoot and minimalist runners from around the world."

But sometimes there's this attitude within the barefoot/minimalist community, that barefoot running is the only really pure way to run. That minimalist runners are kinda...I don't know...weak or ignorant or something. And minimalist runners can have the same attitude toward those who wear traditional, heavily-structured running shoes. I hate to admit it, but I've even had that attitude.

And that's just plain silly. Do I even need a prefix like "barefoot" or "minimalist" or "shod" before the truly important word..."runner"? I don't want to only identify with a small segment of the running populace. Sure, it's fun to talk about minimalist shoes with others at races when I see them wearing Vibrams or Merrell Pace Gloves. But the most important thing to me is being surrounded by other runners, whatever they wear or don't wear on their feet. We're all one group, joined by our love of running.

Yes, I believe in the ideas behind barefoot and minimalist running. But when it comes down to it, I run in minimalist shoes because it works for me and because I like it. I love the light feel on my feet, and I think I run with a gentler form than I did with heavily cushioned shoes.

If you run, you should do the same. Run however it works for you, whether you're barefoot, or in minimalist shoes, or in thick-soled Nikes, or in combat boots.

And we'll all be joined, not by what's on our feet, but by our passion for getting out there and moving those feet.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book review (and a strong recommendation!)

I had the opportunity to do another book review for BlogHer. The book, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, is about a mother and daughter who immigrate from Hong Kong to the United States. I thoroughly enjoyed, and heartily recommend, the book! Read my full review here. (And if you'd like to leave a comment there, I won't complain!)

Disclosure: I was provided with the book free of charge from the publisher, and will receive a small stipend for writing the review.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Relay For Life 2011

Last Friday night, I walked in Relay For Life. Relay for Life is a fund raiser for American Cancer Society. All night long, each team "camps out" (though there's not much sleeping going on!) on a local high school football field, and at least one member of each relay team must be walking on the surrounding track at all times. There are Relay For Life events all around the world each year.

I was so honored to walk with my friend Ann, who I blogged about here. She is a survivor and a wonderful friend--I loved having all this time to chat with her! (Ann is a blogger too.)


I walked 10 1/2 miles through the night--about a mile an hour. (I got a lot of reading done back at the tent too!) Ann walked 19 miles!! Wow! Our mileage included some running too, which helped break up all the walking.

The night started out with a lap for survivors only. It was very touching, and I repeatedly got tears in my eyes. I think this couple were both survivors.


I was so proud of Ann as she walked by.


And the most touching moment for me was watching this young survivor walk by. As a mom, I can't think about her right now without getting tears in my eyes.


We headed home around 6 a.m. It was a long night, and I think I'm still recovering from the messed up sleep! But it was so worth it, and I'm really hoping to participate in another Relay For Life event next year. I'm even thinking about trying to get my own team together. I heartily encourage you to find an event in your area next year too!

Thank you to all of you who donated! I raised $250--and American Cancer Society will put that money to great use!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


On one of my other blogs, The One-Minute Writer, today's writing prompt is,

"Think about your mother, or the woman who had the most influence in your life as you grew up.

"What name fits her best--"Mom," "Mama," "Mother," or another? Why?"

The woman who gave birth to me is "Mom." It's a comfortable name, and that fits. I'm so glad to have a mom who I feel so comfortable around. In fact, I crave more time with her.

I like being in a family where I don't have to dress in my best finery for Thanksgiving. I can tease (nicely!) and be teased in return. I know that my mom loves me with all my good parts and bad parts, and that she's comfortable enough with who I am that she doesn't try to change me into someone I'm not.

As a kid, I felt more comfortable at home than anywhere else. I wanted to spend time there, hanging out with my parents. I think that providing such a place is one of the greatest gifts my mom (and dad) gave me as I grew up.

Thanks, Mom, for providing a home that was loving and comfortable...a place I always love returning to.

Happy Mother's Day!

And a quick P.S.--This Mother's Day, we're lucky enough to have The Engineer's mom visiting. She's welcomed me as being truly part of the family ever since we were married--even before that, in fact! I'm proud to wear her wedding ring/engagement ring, the one The Engineer's dad gave her. (He passed away before I came into the family.) It's great to spend Mother's Day with her (and with my really awesome step-father-in-law too!!)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Chickie doesn't attend preschool

Chickie starts kindergarten in three and a half months. The time is passing quickly! These days I often get the question, "Did she go to preschool?" or, "So she's in Pre-K now?" But other than Sunday School and gymnastics, Chickie's first day of kindergarten will be her first day of school.


Let me start by saying, I'm not anti-preschool! But I didn't go to preschool, so I didn't automatically assume my children would. At various times I've thought about sending Chickie, and, while Zoodle may eventually go, Chickie never did.

There are many reasons to send a child to preschool, but in my mind there are several big ones.
  1. Often someone is needed to watch children while their parents work. I don't work anywhere close to full-time, and as a real estate agent I don't have a regular schedule, so I haven't needed regular childcare.
  2. Many children benefit from socialization with other kids. Chickie would have loved the socialization of preschool, but she gets a lot of other socialization. We're active at church and do plenty of play dates with other kids--plus, she has a playmate at home. In other words, she gets a lot of free socialization, and I didn't want to pay for extra!
  3. Preschool can prepare children academically for kindergarten. Chickie enjoys learning, and I think she's quite well-prepared for kindergarten. While she would have gotten extra education at preschool, we didn't think she needed it in order to do well in school.
  4. Mommy needs a break! I can understand this one! When we were expecting Zoodle, I thought I might send Chickie to preschool if I needed a few hours a week with only one kid. But, while I certainly have had many overwhelming moments as a mom of two, Zoodle's generally not a high-maintenance kid, and the transition to two kids was in most ways easier than I expected.
  5. It's nice for young kids to learn classroom skills like standing in line, raising their hands, etc. I know that Chickie will be a little behind in some of these areas compared to preschooled kids, but she gets some experience in her (structured) Sunday School class and gymnastics class, and I don't think it will take her long to "learn the ropes."
We live in a state without free universal Pre-K. In the end, we never wanted to add the cost of preschool into our budget, when we didn't feel that Chickie needed it for any reason. She'd have enjoyed it...but she'll enjoy kindergarten soon enough!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Milk Ice Cream

My wonderful friend Ann eats mostly vegan foods, so while she likes ice cream, it's not something she indulges in very often. But recently I got an ice cream maker, and our play date today was the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at making vegan ice cream!

And you know what? I'm not vegan, but this stuff tastes good! It's great whether you're vegan, lactose-free, or just want a flavor different than normal ice cream. The texture is fantastic--very creamy!


Best of all, it's very easy to make. The recipe is below. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chunk Coconut Milk Ice Cream
Vegan & lactose-free

Approx. 750 mL/25 fl. oz. canned coconut milk
2/3 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla
4 oz. vegan chocolate of your choice (I use Baker's Semisweet Baking Squares, which contain no milk. Be sure to read labels carefully.)

1. Pour coconut milk, sugar, & vanilla into a bowl, and whisk the sugar in until it's all dissolved. I used the whisk attachment on my stand mixer.
2. Pour into ice cream maker bowl and start ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's directions. (Mine requires that the maker be started before ingredients are added through the top.)
3. While the ice cream maker is working its magic, cut chocolate into nice lil' chunks. It's okay if some of it kinda gets shredded because your knife is too dull. It's all good....
4. When ice cream looks like it's done, add chocolate and let it all get mixed in. Turn off the ice cream maker, and enjoy! (If you don't like the soft-serve consistency, let it freeze in a separate container for a couple of hours before eating.)


Monday, May 2, 2011

Muddled thoughts on the big news

I'm trying to find balance today.

I want to rejoice because in some inadequate way justice was served. I want to rejoice because a dangerous person can't make dangerous plans anymore.

I don't want to rejoice specifically in a human's death.

But it's all connected, and it's hard to sort it all out in my head.

I'll just say--I want a more peaceful world, and I hope that this action has taken us in that direction.

I think I can celebrate the courage of troops and acknowledge that very occasionally, killing is justified, without actually glorifying the death.

I want to seek justice, not revenge. And I'll admit, it's hard to seek the first without desiring the second.