December 23, 2016

Holiday sugar cookies

I've never decorated sugar cookies with icing. I decided I wanted to do that and try a new recipe, too.

I chose Joanne Chang's holiday sugar cookies from her cookbook Flour. I've had great success with recipes from this book, and this one didn't disappoint, either.

They were very tasty! The cookies got rave reviews from my family.

I think I could've done a better job with the decorating, but it's not bad for my first try. I went with the icing in the recipe- not royal icing, which is the traditional sugar cookie icing. I did add a little vanilla extract, since there wasn't any and the flavor was a little boring without it.

The cookies themselves were much better than the recipe I used to use for sugar cookies. I'll definitely make these again.

December 20, 2016

Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks

This story is great! It really hurts my Whovian heart that six of the seven episodes are missing. I wish the BBC would animate this story like they've done for others.

The story starts with the Doctor and Jamie looking for the TARDIS, which has been stolen. If Admiral Ackbar had been there, he'd have told them it was a trap. Scientists Maxible and Waterfield were doing time travel experiments, and the Daleks showed up, took over, and took Waterfield's daughter Victoria hostage. So the Doctor and Jamie end up back in 1866 at Maxible's house, and there are the Daleks.

The Daleks keep getting beaten by humans, so they want to find out what that "human factor" is, distill it, inject it into themselves, and become invincible. This is logical in Dalek brains, I guess? The idea is that Jamie has to rescue Victoria and the Doctor will record his emotions as he goes along his quest. Again...we're stretching here, but this is still a fantastic story.

meeting Victoria
You know this isn't going to go well when Jamie shows mercy and the Daleks start yelling about human weakness. The Doctor pointed out that the person to whom Jamie showed mercy ended up saving Jamie's life moments later and became his ally in rescuing Victoria. The Daleks didn't really care about that.

The Doctor puts the "human factor" emotions into three experimental Daleks, gives them names, and teaches them that they're his friends. Then they all head to Skaro, with the Daleks thinking that this is brilliant and definitely not going to backfire at all.

It goes as expected when you put human emotions in a Dalek...they question orders and all hell breaks loose. The Doctor fools more Daleks into accepting good human emotions, and then they all start fighting each other and attacking the Emperor Dalek, which looks pretty crazy.

Emperor Dalek

Skaro is visited again and again in Doctor Who, and it always looks different...Anyway, the Doctor thinks this is the final end of the Daleks, but we know they keep popping up in the future. Victoria's father dies, so she joins them in the TARDIS at the end.

This is a terrific story. If it weren't almost completely missing, I think it would be a classic.


Doctor: Second
Companions: Jamie, Victoria
Episode: #36, "The Evil of the Daleks," seven parts
Adversary: the Daleks
Classic Lines: a Dalek, ordering Victoria not to feed the birds at the window: "You will not feed the flying pests outside."
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Daleks won't be seen again for another four years. They next face the 3rd Doctor in "Day of the Daleks."
Next Up: "Tomb of the Cybermen"

December 10, 2016

Easy skillet-braised chicken with mushrooms

I was in the mood for something new, so I pulled out The Food Lab cookbook and went for braised chicken.

I'm not the biggest fan of dark meat, but it was tasty! Like the name of the recipe says, it was easy. Shallots, garlic, chicken broth, white wine, mushroms, a tiny bit of heavy cream, yum- all cooked in my saute pan. Easy is good. One pan is good. This was good.

December 9, 2016

Classic Who on Retro TV

Classic episodes of Doctor Who can be hard to find on television. I recently discovered a channel that shows Classic Who almost every day. It's called Retro TV. I'm not sure when I got this channel, since I'm normally only looking at the HD channels in the guide. I discovered it by accident when I was searching for Doctor Who in the Tivo search. There it was, down in the low numbers, right near Create.

There's an hour of Doctor Who on every weeknight. Right now they're showing the 4th Doctor. On Saturdays, there's two hours! That's at the end of the 7th Doctor's era now. Check it out!

November 29, 2016

Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones

This story is six parts, but four of the episodes are missing from the BBC archives. That means watching reconstructions again. I had never seen this one, so I didn't know that...this is Polly and Ben's last story!

Polly, Jamie, Ben, and the Doctor
They arrive on the tarmac of Gatwick airport and alternately get separated and find their way back together. Polly is nabbed by the Chameleons after she sees them murder someone. Later when the Doctor and Jamie run into her, she claims she isn't Polly and doesn't know them. Something fishy is going on with Chameleon Tours, where Polly works now. Except we know it's not Polly, right? It's an alien. Yep, the aliens making doppelgangers are named Chameleons.

The aliens have a dastardly plot, and the Doctor and Jamie work to save Polly and Ben, who was also captured. Then Jamie gets captured, and the Doctor has to save everyone. Polly and Ben aren't on-screen much at all after the first two episodes. At the end of the final episode, they realize the current date is the day they left in the TARDIS, the beginning of their adventures with the Doctor. They're home, and they want to stay.

This story could've been improved by tightening it up a bit. It didn't need to be six parts. You could say that about a lot of the six-part stories, though. I like Polly and Ben, but I'm not sad to see them go. Their leaving makes room for great future companions- Victoria and then Zoe, who is one of my favorites.


Doctor: Second
Companions: Jamie, Polly, Ben
Episode: #35, "The Faceless Ones," six parts
Adversary: the Chameleons
Classic Lines: Jamie, on seeing a plane for the first time: "A flying beastie!"
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: This is Polly and Ben's last story.
Next Up: "The Evil of the Daleks"

October 31, 2016

Up close and personal with sea turtles

Dave and I met sea turtles a few weeks ago!

How did we get up close and personal with sea turtles? We did Adventure Aquarium's Sea Turtle Encounter. Dave loves turtles. We have four of them. So I set up this encounter as a very early birthday present. He looks like he's enjoying himself, right?

cute little hatchling

They have a limit of three people for each sea turtle encounter, but this day it was just the two of us. The encounter started with a short talk about sea turtles by our biologist guide. The aquarium has greens and one loggerhead. At the time, it also had a little hatchling that was soon to be returned to the wild. We started there and watched the little guy swim around and eat some shrimp.

me on the dock

Then we put on life vests and headed to a small dock suspended over the main tank. This is where we would feed the turtles.

Here they come!

The tank was large, but once they knew we had food, they came over to investigate.

We used tongs to first feed them lettuce, then fish. We held out the lettuce for them, and we just popped the fish right in their mouths.


Bob, the female loggerhead, was especially cool about that. She held her mouth open and waited for us to drop in the piece of fish!

Like the first photo in this post shows, we could touch the sea turtles, too. That was great!

I can't say enough about how much fun this encounter was, and the biologist leading it was fantastic. Dave and I checked out the rest of the aquarium while we were there, and of course Dave had to ride the sea turtle in the kids' area.

It was a great day. Now I just have to meet some penguins...

October 23, 2016

Meet Jedi!

I've been a little preoccupied lately. With this guy...

Meet Jedi! He's a 1 1/2-year-old beagle who Dave and I adopted from SOS Beagle Rescue. (We changed his name.) I struggled with a lot of feelings about getting another dog after losing Kenobi. But I didn't replace Kenobi. I just gave another dog who needed love the place he left behind.

Jedi's owner didn't want him anymore, but he's a sweetheart! He's friendly and loveable and snuggly and awesome and we love him already.

And unlike it seems in this photo, he is incredibly hyper! He still has some puppy in him. Welcome to the family, Jedi. You don't ever have to worry about not having a home again.

October 8, 2016

Hiking Mt. Tammany at Delaware Water Gap

I recently visited Delaware Water Gap for the first time. It's not far- I really have no excuse why it took so long. My first stop was the headquarters to get some maps...and to get my national parks passport stamped.

Once again, there was an incredibly friendly, knowledgeable park ranger that was very helpful! I had planned on hiking up Mt. Tammany, so he showed me how to get there and also pointed out some other great hikes I might like to try.

The ranger had mentioned that the red dot trail up to the summit was the most challenging in the park. So I figured I'd take the chance to do that while Dave wasn't with me because he probably wouldn't like that. I went up the red and down the blue and walked a bit of the Appalachian Trail, too.

The ranger wasn't kidding about strenuous. It was rocky and steep and heart pumping. This bit was one of the easier parts! It was a great hike.

There were some nice views of the gap along the way. Coming down the blue trail was a breeze after the red trail, but I enjoyed the whole loop. I'm looking forward to going back and exploring other places to hike at Delaware Water Gap. It's a beautiful place.

September 24, 2016

Hawk Mountain

I went to Hawk Mountain recently to go hiking and maybe see some birds.

It wasn't what I expected, but it was fun. Some of the trails are dirt, but some are rocky and steep and require hands free to help you climb or balance as you along. I got a workout I wasn't expecting! I made my way up to the north lookout and was rewarded with a beautiful view and some interesting birds.

That's an owl perched on that pole. He wouldn't move, even though a merlin repeatedly dive bombed him. It was a nice day and a place worth checking out.

September 10, 2016

Doctor Who: The Macra Terror

The Doctor, Jamie, Polly, and Ben land on a planet full of weirdos where everyone is freakishly happy and loves to work for the colony and obey.

Well, there's one guy who isn't, and he leads the Doctor to...

...the Macra! Let's look at them again.

The Macra are giant crabs. They are ridiculous and I love them. I'm so bummed that this is one of the stories that is missing all four of its episodes. The Macra are quintessential early Doctor Who silly villains. Oh, and the colonists are being mind-controlled while they sleep to forget that the Macra exist and to love working in the gas mines. This works on dumb Ben, but Jamie and Polly don't fall for it. Let's look at the Macra again.

So the Doctor figures out that they breathe the gas from the mines, gets the colonists to rebel, and sneaks out of there before they can put him in charge.

The Second Doctor's personality is really starting to come through. He's growing into the role and turning into the character who is tied for my favorite Doctor.


Doctor: Second
Companions: Jamie, Polly, Ben
Episode: #34, "The Macra Terror," four parts
Adversary: the Macra
Classic Lines: Jamie: "You don't send a lassie and an old man down to dig." the Doctor: "Old? What do you mean, old? I'm not old, Jamie!"
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Macra show up again in the new series episode Gridlock, in which they've devolved as a species into mindless predators. 
Next Up: "The Faceless Ones"

August 25, 2016

Doctor Who: The Moonbase

Next up for the Second Doctor and his three companions is an encounter with the Cybermen on the Moon. Two of the four parts of this story are lost, but the BBC released this on dvd with the two missing episodes animated.

Animated Polly, the Doctor, and Ben

The Doctor was trying to land on Mars, but ended up on the Moon instead. There's a base there that controls the weather on Earth. People at the base keep getting a mysterious disease and then disappear from their beds.

Ah, electricity hands!

The Cybermen are making them sick through the base's sugar supply and then stealing them. For conversion. Since when do Cybermen shoot electricity out of their hands to stun people? Hm. Anyway, Polly figures out how to get the Cybermen out of the base- spray their torsos with a chemical solvent. (Because they're plastic. I thought they were metal?) I guess the show hadn't decided yet that gold kills them.

They're on the Moon. Clearly.

There is still the problem of them lurking outside the base and generally being a menace. They want to destroy the Earth, after all. The Doctor sort of locally turns off gravity and flings them all out into space. Hooray! (They actually all "hooray" inside the base as the Cybermen float away.)

I wish more of the missing episodes were animated to complete the stories. There are so many missing, and the BBC isn't doing any more animations. It works really well.


Doctor: Second
Companions: Jamie, Polly, Ben
Episode: #33, "The Moonbase," four parts
Adversary: the Cybermen
Classic Lines: Cyberman: "Only stupid Earth brains like yours would have been fooled."
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Doctor said he learned from Joseph Lister.
Next Up: "The Macra Terror"

August 5, 2016

Birding in Brigantine

I went birding for the first time last month. I'm lucky enough to have a friend who is a birding master, and she invited me along with her to a national wildlife refuge in Brigantine to see the birds. I was hoping to see egrets, and of course, at least one great blue heron. We saw so many birds! There were birds that skimmed the water with their beaks as they flew by. There were a million egrets, both great and snowy. There were nesting ospreys and some ibises, and a rail, which my friend said was normally secretive. And then, there was the one I was looking for...

The great blue heron!! Woooooo!!! It was a fun day, and definitely not my last time birding.

July 24, 2016

Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace

The Doctor, Jamie, Polly, and Ben visit Atlantis.

They run into Professor Zaroff, who has convinced the people of Atlantis that he can raise it from the sea. You just need to hear the name "Zaroff" to know that he's the bad guy, right? In reality, he's going to crack open Earth's crust, let the ocean pour in, and blow the planet apart. His reason? Because it would be cool to see if he could do it.

Polly, Jamie, Ben, and the Doctor

So of course they have to stop him. Their plan involves the fish people.

Fish people!

I just wanted to mention the fish people so I had a good reason to show a picture of them. Check them out! Polly is uncharacteristically whiny and screaming in this episode. She's normally tough and kicks butt. It was a disappointing departure from her usual self. In the end, Atlantis is flooded. But at least Earth doesn't blow up.


Doctor: Second
Companions: Jamie, Polly, Ben
Episode: #32, "The Underwater Menace," four parts
Adversary: Professor Zaroff
Classic Lines: the Doctor, to Zaroff: "Just one small question...Why do you want to blow up the world?"
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: This is the first time Doctor Who shows the destruction of Atlantis...but not the last. In future episodes, two other explanations are given for its destruction!
Next Up: "The Moonbase"

July 19, 2016

Cheese and jalapeno quesadillas

It turns out quesadillas are the easiest food ever to make.

I had good intentions. I was going to put black beans in there. Didn't happen. I didn't even shred the three different kinds of cheese that went in: sharp cheddar, medium cheddar, and Monterey Jack. I used shredded cheese in a bag! A friend gave me some jalapenos from her garden, so I chopped those up and put them in there. You can see the green specks in the photo. I thought they might end up being too strong, but they gave the quesadillas a nice flavor. So good! I put it all together between two tortillas, heated it up in a skillet, flipped it over, and done! I had some hot salsa on the side to go with it. I think I'll keep experimenting with more things to add. Definitely beans next time.

July 6, 2016

Jen & Dave's Hawaiian adventure

I'm a procrastinator. That is why I haven't blogged about our trip to Hawaii, even though we went in January. And we got married there. And we didn't tell anyone we were getting married before we left. But I'll get to that...

Instead of going on and on about a two week vacation to Hawaii, I'll cover some highlights. We went to Maui and the Big Island. Maui was first. We stayed at the Grand Wailea, not far from where we got married.

Makena Cove
This photo was taken on the beach where we got married. It's a tiny little beach- rocky and beautiful. We got married at sunset the day after we arrived. I'm told there were whales hanging out offshore during the ceremony, but I didn't see any myself. We had a beautiful Hawaiian ceremony and even exchanged leis. It was perfect for us.


These are malasadas. They're only found in Hawaii. If you ever go to Hawaii, eat as many as you can. They taste like funnel cake filled with vanilla pudding. Not all malasadas are created equal. Some don't have any filling, while some have guava pudding filling or chocolate pudding filling. It's probably pastry cream and not pudding, to be honest. But they're soooooo good!!

Oneuli Beach

I really like black sand beaches and tried to see as many as I could while we were in Hawaii. This one had a sea turtle swimming right at the edge of the water. He was pretty cool. We saw a lot of old lava, too- on both the Big Island and Maui. La Perouse Bay is the site of the last volcanic eruption on Maui, and it looks like a moonscape in parts.

La Perouse Bay

Oh, we did actually go to the beach one day to swim. We went to Big Beach. The water was blue and beautiful, and the waves were huge. We also went walking over a giant hill and came across a nude beach by accident!

Big Beach
Of course we drove the twists and turns of the famous road to Hana, all the way to Hana. This is our go-to example for a winding road now when Dave and I are driving somewhere. "This is like the road to Hana!" One really cool place we stopped along the way was Keanae. The waves were enormous, and the sound of them crashing into the rocks was LOUD.

Keanae waves

That wasn't the only place we saw enormous waves. One part of the island had even bigger waves and was filled with surfers. We visited the extinct volcano, Haleakala. I loved Haleakala. Loved it. We drove up through the clouds and into a beautiful, otherworldly landscape. You can see the Big Island from Haleakala, which was pretty neat because then when we were at the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island, we could look back and see Maui.

I hiked down into the crater a bit while Dave took a nap in the car. I wish I could've gone farther, but I wanted to get back in time for sunset. And getting back up those steep hills in high altitude was more challenging than I expected...

Haleakala sunset
After the sun went down, the stars came out. And wow, were there a lot of stars. More than I have ever seen. I even saw the Milky Way! It wasn't the best time of year for the Milky Way, so I didn't see the biggest, brightest part. It was still cool.

Whale watching was the highlight of the trip (yes, I'm saying that even though I got married there) and one of the best experiences of my life. We were on a small pontoon boat with Maui Adventure Cruises, in the waters between Maui, Lanai, and Molokai. Dave and I sat on one of the pontoons, right by the water. There were whales everywhere, and they were breaching off in the distance and also right next to the boat! We even saw a mom and a baby whale breaching together a few times. The baby was trying to breach, and then the mom would do it right, as if she were trying to show her kid how. The sound when these humpbacks hit the water- and the splash- was extraordinary. It was amazing.

Yay, whales!!
Next up was the Big Island. We stayed in our own little cottage at the Volcano Rainforest Retreat. The Big Island was colder than Maui, and we needed the gas fireplace in our room at night. I originally wanted to go to the Big Island because I wanted to see lava. I don't mean old lava. I mean flowing, hot lava. I wanted to get right up next to it and feel the heat. I wanted to watch it pour into the sea, setting off clouds of steam. Guess what? There hasn't been active lava flow to the sea in years! And the current active lava flow is tiny and inaccessible to people. Sigh. It was still cool.

Kilauea at sunset

We went to Volcanoes National Park and saw the smoke billowing out of Kilauea and the lava glow. We couldn't see into the crater to see the lava, though. We drove around the park on Chain of Craters Road through a sea of old lava. You could even look down and see the path it took to the sea. We also saw nene! I was excited to see nene. They're endangered Hawaiian geese, and they really didn't care that we were there.


We saw a couple more black sand beaches on the Big Island; one had turtles basking in the sun. We also checked out Puuhonua O Honaunau National Park, which was an interesting place. Dave said it "looked like Hawaii."

Hawaiian sea turtles, or honu

We checked out the Imiloa Astronomy Center, which had interesting exhibits about navigating across the ocean using the stars, before we headed up to the summit of Mauna Kea, 14,000 feet up! The guide warned us to be careful and not move around too quickly because some people have a hard time adjusting to the altitude and pass out. Also, it was freezing up there!

me and Dave at the summit of Mauna Kea

You can see what we're wearing. It was windy and cold. I really enjoyed seeing observatories that I've seen in astronomy documentaries and tv shows! As the sun set, they were opening up to turn their telescopes to the sky.

I learned some cool things about the observatories and how important they are to the Big Island. The road up Mauna Kea from the information center to the summit is eight miles. The first half is gravel, but the last four miles are paved so dust isn't thrown up into the sky where it would cloud up the clear air the telescopes need. Also, the street lights on the Big Island are special yellow sodium lights that cut down on light pollution and are better for astronomy. Neat!

Once it was dark, we stayed on Mauna Kea but came down from the highest altitude to look through a telescope. It was the most powerful telescope I've ever used. We saw a whole bunch of cool stuff, like the Orion nebula, the Andromeda galaxy, and the moon. We also saw a bunch of shooting stars, including a long bright one. The guide said that shooting stars were common at that altitude- no special meteor shower necessary.

Relaxing after whale watching on Maui
I'm closing with a photo taken on Maui that I feel captures the trip. We sat at this table and had lunch after we went whale watching.

Hawaii was full of adventures but also relaxing. I could sit on the lanai of our room in Maui and look out at the ocean as I drank coffee in the morning or watched the sun set at night. Everywhere was beautiful. I kept saying to Dave, "It's so pretty!" We were never far from the soothing sound of the ocean. But there was also so much to do and see and explore. It was fantastic.
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