Geek Alert!!

So, I never thought of myself as a total geek. Don't get me wrong, I always knew I was nerdy and never part of the "in" crowd. I listened to Billy Joel and watch old episode of Star Trek TNG even. (Note: I have been informed that my use of TNG for The Next Generation may, in fact, classify me as a geek.) That suited me just fine. But, recently, thanks to my husband and some good friends, I have entered the Realm of Geekdom. Let's get this straight though, I'm just inside the borders. I mean, I'm not talking Dungeons and Dragons here. But, I've definitely taken taken several steps on the road to Geekdom.

Case in point: Tonight Gavin and I will be going to what has become a fairly regular (weekly) Fallout 3 session. Yes, video games, and a role-playing one at that! I'm not saying I've never played video/computer games. I have, and have been for a long time (Kings Quest, anyone?), but this seems to have taken me to a whole new level. I actually DREAM about being in a post-apocalyptic dystopian society where I have to decide which mission to go on next. Really. It's true! The last dream saw me running through the Capitol Wasteland trying to get away from the SuperMutants.

This should tell you about what role I play in the Fallout 3 experience. I watch. I sit at the back of the basement room (yes, I said basement) and alert the boys to enemies. I also have a good time trying to pick the meanest comments when talking to other characters, because we have to keep up the "Evil, Optortunist" persona! It's a given. Anyway, it's not to say that girls can't play video games, because they most certainly can. I just don't have the hand-eye or perhaps finger-eye coordination it takes to shoot things and generally move around on the screen. It's a learning curve that my years outside the Realm of Geekdom have not prepared me for.

However, I'm totally hooked. I love this game, even I only passively participate. I can't believe Geekdom could be so great! I think I may venture further into the Realm, but perhaps only with baby steps. I mean, I could get attacked by a Level 20 Super-Mutant-Sorcerer-Dragon thing and have enough magic to fight it off!

I'm a Culinary Genius!

Well, not really, but after rolling 12 enchiladas, I certainly feel good. In this post, I will take you through (with pictures!) how I made Cheese Enchiladas. Honestly, it'll be lame, and I'll probably leave out lots of steps, but I just wanted to post pictures of food. Prepare to drool...

The first step I took in making the enchiladas was to make the enchilada sauce. I take no risks with the canned stuff, and I'm not even certain if I could find it easily here. I probably could, since Old El Paso is quite prevalent, but then it just wouldn't be the same. Besides, I found a tasty recipe and it's pretty easy. Basically, you make a roux (oil and flour) and CAREFULLY add some chili powder. At this stage, I should note from recent experience, that you face should not be anywhere near the saucepan when the chili powder is added. I think my lungs may actually be scarred, hence the all capital wording above.

Anway, after I did the chili powder thing for a couple of seconds, you add some liquids and some more spices. Then voila! You get this:

I then tasted my masterpiece of sauce, and was surprised. I was not surprised at how incredibly yummy it was, but rather by the burning in my mouth and on my lips. That was not the sensation I got the last time I made the sauce. I went back to consult the spices. Apparently, all those times I was told that "spicy" in Britain wasn't spicy at all, it was a lie! Seriously, the Hot Chili Powder in my cabinet is actually quite hot. But, the sauce was still good, and it didn't byrn that bad, so I kept going. I then let the sauce cool.

Good cooks might use this time to prepare the next step. Lazy cooks, like me, would take a break, surf the net, watch some TV for a while, or whatever makes them happy while the sauce cools. It doesn't really matter, but you have to stick your hands in the sauce at some point, so the cooling step is a good one.

After being lazy for a while, I prepared the items for the next step. Here they are:

I particularly like the saucepan of warm-to-hot oil. It just makes the "southerner" in me all warm and fuzzy. Anyway, with these ingredients, a lot of dipping and rolling takes place. The tortillas get coated with a good amount of oil, which supposedly makes them floppy. Then they get dipped in the sauce which supposedly sticks to the supposedly floppy oily tortillas. Obviously, this was not my experience. I had non-floppy, non-saucy tortillas at the end. But, it still worked out. After dipping, I rolled cheese--LOTS of cheese--and onions in the tortillas and placed them in a pan.

Then I poured the rest of the really yummy sauce over the enchiladas. And, I forgot to take a picture of it.

Cooking the enchiladas made the flat smell pretty fantastic and I was met with a smile as my wonderful husband came in from basketball. It was all very Leave It to Beaver, which kind of makes me want to puke. However, I won't, and instead will just continue with the conclusion of my enchilada experience.

The enchiladas also looked great when I took them out of the oven. Unfortunately, this is another step I forgot to capture for all eternity, because my stomach was just too excited and overrode my brain. It's not surprising.

I hoped that the smell and sight of the enchiladas would only mean better things from the taste. I was right...and somewhat wrong--they tasted quite yummy indeed, before my my mouth turned to fire and I had to run to fridge for some Coke Zero (of course I would have preferred Diet Dr Pepper, but what was I to do?!). I like spice, lots of it. But, this was REALLY spicy. I won't kid you. Go for the mild chili powder if you make this. You won't regret the decision, unless you're a masochist, and then more power to ya.

Oh, and after all that, here's what was left:

I won't lie. The food was mouth-wateringly good...and also eye-wateringly spicy. I have to chock this experience up to living in the UK, because I would never have tried making enchiladas if I had a good Mexican restaurant to go to. Next, we'll try making Tacos al Pastor, but seeing as we don't own a grill or have a place to use one...that might get a little tricky.

Driving in England

Perhaps I'm biased (yes, I am very biased), but driving in England is a very harrowing ordeal. Ok, maybe that should just describe my first driving experience in the UK. Well, really, that probably only counts for a quarter of that experience. I'll recount the taking of my driving-in-the-UK innocence.

We went from Manchester, England to Helensburgh, Scotland (a drive that takes about the same amount of time it takes to get from Houston to Dallas) for our trip to The Open--The British Open to the Americans who acknowledge the existence of multiple "Opens". I had the second shift. I stalled the car before we ever got out of the parking lot. Apparently, 2 months of not driving makes me forget about clutches and their necessity in a manual transmission. Once I got the hang of the clutch, I reached over my left shoulder for the seat belt only to find thin air. Things were not looking great, but they got much better.

The motorway was a cinch! I even passed a car in the first 5 minutes. I was told that this was excellent and much better than Gavin had done his first time. I'm sure that was just a way to make me feel better. But then I passed many more cars, on the right!! Passing on the left is a no-no. We made it to Helenburgh with no incident. Gavin took over the parking, because parallel parking just isn't my thing.

Skip two days ahead.

We were driving back from Helensburgh to Manchester via Yanwath. I drove the second half of this route as well. We stopped in Yanwath for a rather excellent lunch at a gastropub called The Gate Inn. If you're in Yanwath, go. It's well worth it. Anyway, back to horrible driving. Gavin had some beers, so I was forced to drive. It was the plan in the first place, but once he had the beer, I didn't have an out.

I wanted to do something touristy on the way back, so we decided to drive through the Lake District. Actually, it was partially my idea. I should ALWAYS keep my mouth shut. (I never take my own advice, unfortunately). If you were to ask me, "Laura, what does the Lake District look like?" I would reply, "Well, I wouldn't know. I assume that it looks like black asphault, stone walls, cars coming toward you, cars talegating you, and sharps drops." Then you might say, "But, I always heard the Lake District was beautiful." I would reply, "So have I. I'll have to visit there sometime when I'm not driving"

Seriously, whoever thought it was a good idea to make 5" wide roads that are expected to be roomy enough for cars on both sides of the road going at least 45 mph was a moron. Or maybe, they were just smoking something really really good. (Note: I do realize that the roads were most likely just paved over versions of cart tracks.) Needless to say, I almost hit several stone walls trying not to hit oncoming traffic while trying to drive fast enough not to get the back bumper ground off by the car sitting about 2" from my bumper.

When your favorite road in the Lake District turns out to be the B road that is literally wide enough for 1.5 cars and has spots where it's just wide enough for one car to stop so the other car can pass, shake hands with the other driver, and keep going, you know something is wrong.

After that, the motorway and driving through Manchester was a piece of cake. Getting out of the car after the drive, not so much. My muscles were so tense from the drive, I could hardly walk. Let's just say that it'll be a cold day in Hell before I drive in the UK least on roads like that! Most likely, however, in 2 months I'll have another post about how horrible my second driving experience was.

New Blogger Syndrome

Well, you may notice that this post will be signed by me, not Gavin. He was kind enough to invite me to post on his blog. Well, really, I was kind enough to log in as him and invite myself. But, whatever. He did have the notion that we could BOTH post on this blog, but I will believe that when I see it. (Gavin, if you're reading's a challenge! But, since I had to force you to read my post last night, I hold out little hope.)

Anyway, I think I have what the professionals might call "New Blogger Syndrome". I found myself dreaming about what I might blog today. (As an aside, I find it slightly annoying that I just used the word "blog" as a verb.) Actually, I don't remember my dreams, which is a first in a long time as I actually slept last night. I haven't been sleeping so well, so I was quite pleased to wake up at 7 and not 5 this morning, well-rested. Nevertheless, I woke up thinking about the blog. Sad, I know. Don't worry, this will pass, and I'll manage to post at about the same frequency my husband used to post, I'm sure.

Today, however, I'd like to rant about the public library system here in the United Kingdom. I should qualify this rant by some praise over the fact that I have been able to find quite a few books I wanted to read and can even reserve things online! This is quite an achievement for the UK. But that leads me to the following:

1) Online Reservations - I quite like the fact that I can do this. Unfortunately, it often takes a long time to get books that supposedly are on the shelves at one of the library branches around the Greater Manchester area. The longest amount of time I've waited for a book whose status said "check shelves" was 3 weeks. Now, I can manage to get myself all over town in no more than an hour, so why exactly does it take 3 weeks to transfer a book that is apparently available? This brings me to...

2) Check Shelves - I have checked the shelves for a book at the local library branch exactly twice. Both times the online catalog showed that I should "check shelves" at that specific branch. Exactly twice I found no such book. After asking the library volunteer about it and them checking the same shelves I had just checked (because obviously I cannot spell names or put them in alphabetical order, nor do I have the forsight to check the other fiction section), I was told on both occasions that they couldn't find the book. Interesting. This brings me back to online reservations. You see, this makes a loop...perhaps an infinite one.

3) Picking Up Reserved Books - Because it is apparent that I should not ever check the shelves for books at the library, I reserve them online, wait a ridiculous amount of time for them to come in, and go stand in line to pick them up. Standing in line is not a problem; I actually don't mind that part. What I do mind is the sheer inefficient way they apparently sort books that are on hold in the back. Instead of sorting them by the name of the person who reserved the books, they sort them by author name (and presumably their category, like Fiction, Non-Fiction, Historical, etc.). This wouldn't be such a problem for people who reserve one book, but I often reserve five or six. This means I stand there for 10 minutes waiting for them to find my books in the back while the queue behind me gets restless and wonders why I don't just "check shelves" like the rest of them.

4) Returns - Every library that I have ever been a patron of has had a return slot somewhere in the building, the kind you can walk up to, dump your books into, and leave. Not this one. I would bet none of the branches have a return slot. Instead, one must wait in line behind the person who's reserved six books while the library volunteer sorts through the reserves at the back by author name. This is why I make sure I return books and pick up new ones on the same go, because unlike libraries in the UK, I try to be efficient.

This leads me to some suggestions based on my experiences with the excellent library system in Fort Collins, CO. First, update the online catalog to reflect that actual current status of the books. (Note: This actually happened a couple of times in FC as well, so I can't really fault them on this, except that it's happened here every time I've looked for a book). Two, at least categorize the reserved books in the back by the name of the reservee. It will make things go a lot faster. Better yet, allow us to check a "reserves" shelf ourselves and tie your computer system to make sure that only that reservee can check out that particular book! And finally, have a book drop somewhere, anywhere. If you want to make sure the books aren't stolen, have the bookdrop on the side of the main counter, where the books are collected behind the counter.

And, this was long enough, I will end my rant by saying, that I do appreciate the library efforts here in the good ol' United Kingdom. And, I guess I shouldn't complain too much considering the number of books I have checked out for free lately. I'm just sayin'...

I'm Hijacking This Blog

This is Gavin's wife, Laura. I am hijacking this blog, because my husband is apparently not a blogger, and I couldn't be bothered to come up with a new blog name for myself. So, from now on, you'll find my posts, which will most likely not be as funny as Gavin's posts. In fact, I may try to make them as boring as possible. We'll see.

I randomly decided to start writing a blog when I realized that I have no one to talk to during the day and needed an outlet where I could bore anyone stupid enough to read my blog. So, you will now find that I'll be posting once a week--or more probably whenever I feel like it. I will be posting rants, musings, reflections, observations, and all those other words used to describe writing random crap.

Up first in random-land:

Writing fiction is tough. Seriously. Especially when you've been in the science mindset since birth. Actually, I used to write these really dumb stories about a princess who was always saved by her handsome prince. Of course, I was the princess and the prince was whichever boy I was obsessing over at the time. That was when I was about 10...yes, I've been boy-crazy for a long long time. It's finally tapering off. I only dream about 20 men other than my husband at any one time now, and by men I mean 20 year-old movie stars. <> If you are Gavin or any of Gavin's family reading this now...that was a joke. Seriously...I only dream about 10 other men.

Anyway, back to my musing. So, about four months ago when I had this odd desire to write something other than my dissertation, I was confused. I mean, I actually have an imagination? Then I realized, OF COURSE I HAVE AN IMAGINATION!!! I've been writing science and research-related papers for so long, one has to have a great imagination to believe those pieces mean anything! I knew then that I had a way to procrastinate, you know, other than Facebook and MySpace and TV and... But I didn't have anything to write about, until this one night when I had a dream about a boy and a girl in a meadow. Wait...that was Stephenie Meyer. No, I didn't have anything to write about.

It wasn't until I was talking to a friend about writing fiction that I said, "I want to write about some girl in high school who doesn't really have a lot of good friends and she's really into school and she's boy crazy and she's..." Then I realized I was talking about myself. Write what you know, right??? So, I started brainstorming some more, came up with a really ridiculous idea and started writing. I have around 3000 words written. 3000 words does not a novel make...not that I need to write a novel, but the story way too large and preposterous for a short story. But writing fiction is hard!