Bright Moments of 2020

We all know that 2020 sucked. Heck, for my birthday this year, my friends and I listed out the worst parts of the year and stuck them in a pinata for me to whack. But now that I’ve purged those memories, it’s time to remember the positive moments from this year. So in no particular order…

1. The JoCo Cruise

We flew home the day before Austin went into lockdown in March, so this week of sailing around the Caribbean was truly the last hurrah of pre-covid life. Despite horrible sea sickness, we had a lot of fun soaking up the sun and hanging out with lovely nerdy friends.

This “bohemian Lizzie Bennet” outfit won a costume award ūüėÄ

2. I rediscovered my love of reading hardback books.

I’ve read less than a handful of paper books since I graduated college, focusing completely on audiobooks, because they allowed me to multitask while reading. Sitting down to read a physical book was a luxury I told myself I couldn’t afford. Then I took a few books on our cruise and suddenly I’m reading again before bed every night.

Mostly, I’ve been going through all the books I was obsessed with as a teenager and re-reading them to see if they’re still worthy of keeping. Can I just say that middle-school me had excellent taste?

Avalon book cover
This series may have been ridiculously pink and glittery, but the storylines were solid.

3. Therapy

I didn’t start therapy because of Covid, but the timing certainly coincided nicely. I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life and started having prolonged panic attacks in the past two years. My therapist has given me some tools for managing my anxiety and understanding how my brain works. If you can afford it (many insurance plans will cover it!), I *highly* recommend that everyone try a year of therapy. Those of us in therapy are probably there because of someone in their lives who refused to go to therapy.

4. I got a promotion at work!

My team expanded and I was chosen to become a senior writer, which means I get to be partially in charge of a small pod of writers. I’ve really been enjoying the project management aspects of my new role and after a lifetime of assistant/entry level positions, it feels amazing to move up a rung on the ladder.

5 Playing Raft with my friends.

Has anyone else been longing for a change of scenery, desperately missing vacations and day trips? Well, the PC game Raft has been a soothing balm on these prickly feelings. Float around the ocean on your small platform of wood, collecting trash to craft a bigger platform of wood. You and your friends will start out scrambling to survive, but once you’ve figured out how to feed yourself, you can explore islands and collect goodies.

Raft screenshot
Exploring some caves in an island we found

My favorite part has been taking screenshots of our adventures. Just like a real vacation, I can snap pics of my friends striking goofy poses or capture a stunning sunrise. This game constantly astonishes me with its gorgeous scenery and my crew even has a shared photo album on Facebook for all our memories. We get a big kick of telling each other to “hoist the anchor” and saying, “land ho on the starboard side!”.

Raft screenshot
My friends are nice enough to indulge my requests like, “Hey, can you try jumping across that rivine? It’ll look so cool!”

6. Tabletop Simulator and BoardGameArena.com

When quarantine started, one of the first things we did was find a way to continue our board gaming hobby online. This has been my primary way of getting regular social interaction with my friends. Not much else to say except it’s been a lifesaver!

7. Learning how to knit hats with Ron

I’ve always enjoyed the kind of knitting that uses two needles, but was too lazy to develop my skills beyond simple rectangles (scarves, washcloths, blankets, etc.). When Ron told me he’d be willing to learn how to loom knit hats, I was excited to have a project that we could share. Having a buddy to work next to me while we both learned the skill from scratch made such a difference in keeping me motivated and excited. The togetherness of this project has just brought me a very special kind of happiness ūüôā

Knitted hat
One of the hats we knitted for our friend Shane (pic taken during Halloween, hence the bones)

So far we’ve made 8 hats for our friends and have 6 more in the works. Their enthusiasm has been so heartwarming and validating.

8. Fostering cats

Working from home meant that we could test how our senior cat Dantes would react to having another kitty around. Turns out, he’s a (mostly) friendly guy! We aren’t in the market to adopt another permanent cat, but we were able to give a short term home to two lovely kitties: Virgo and Zurg. We found them both forever homes within a month of their arrival. It was hard to say goodbye, but very fulfilling to be a part of their journey.

Virgo and Dantes sharing the sofa
It took several weeks, but Virgo and Dantes finally started sharing the sofa.
Zurg in a box of Christmas decorations
Zurg was always finding creative places to hang out.

9. Buying Christmas presents for kids at a toy store

I tried really hard to support local businesses for my Christmas shopping, which was mostly expensive and frustrating (shipping = ugggggghhhhhhhh). But it did lead me to Austin’s most famous toy shop: Terra Toys, which was absolutely delightful. Exploring the aisles shopping for toys for my favorite nieces and nephews made me feel like a kid again. I thought, “Maybe I should rethink this child-free lifestyle. If I had a kid, then I could shop for toys all year round! Wouldn’t that be magical?!”

Seriously, if you ever need recs for what toys/books to buy your kid, send me a text because I think I have a knack for this!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  1. The only movie I saw in theaters: The Personal History of David Copperfield. So much fun. A sparkling gem of a movie that I’m recommending to everyone because not enough people have heard of it.
  2. Going to a night-time corn maze.
  3. Biden winning the election. He wasn’t my first choice and I’m sure he’ll frustrate me plenty in the next four years, but I’m still so relieved to be putting our last president behind us. Time to roll up our sleeves and start repairing the damage!
  4. My two favorite songs to dance to this year:
  5. Discovering that I enjoy mustard and finding ways to cook with it. A real accomplishment for this picky eater!
  6. Attending my friend David’s wedding and dancing until my legs were jello.
  7. This skirt that I wore almost every day this summer and made me feel like a Studio Ghibli character.
Pockets!!!

PART 3: MY TERRIBLE PRETEEN STAR WARS FANFIC

ENTRY #21 – Valorum’s Room – 6/23/2000

so-bored-i-aged-this-much-todayThe book was long, but I could’ve finished within a day or two if I’d wanted, so I read out loud to slow the process. Qui-Gon comes around to torture me with lectures on how silly I am to be here, blah, blah, blah. What is his problem?

The Sith are said to be building an ultimate weapon to crush us. Don’t know what yet. Ummm…things are pretty low key right now. I’ve met all the Solos, Luke Skywalker, Coruscant, and Amidala. Other that that, things are very boring.

Blah,

Jezel K.

 

ENTRY #22 – Valorum’s Room – 6/30/2000

Okay, so I haven’t written in seven days, but things have been really boring! Finally, something has happened.

QG came in. I’m gonna tell you what his lectures sound like. He sighed. “Jezel. He’s not getting any better.”

I smiled to myself. “Liar! See, his skin is 4 pigments higher and his breathing is a couple more a minute.” I polished my nails on my t-shirt and tried to look bored. “What, you want the statistics?” I held up a clipboard scribbled with writing. “I have them, and others.”

He merely frowned at me and walked out.

After a while, I heard noises outside. I put my ear to the door.

“What do you want Rhea?” QG asked.

“Oh, nothing,” she replied. “Only know that I’m not leaving until I get what I came for…” she paused. “Blood.” I could hear the smile in her voice. “I’m not leaving this spot until I get it.”

I guess she meant it because I fell asleep waiting for her to leave.

ENTRY #23 – Valorum’s room – 6/31/2000*

I woke up to hear Rhea still talking to QG. I sensed danger through the force (I’m so proud of myself). I grabbed a gun that I found (a blaster, I think). I set it to stun and slipped out. I tried to do something Jedis call “cloaking”, but Obi-wan and I have only glanced at it briefly.

I knew my invisible force shield was shaky, but it was better than nothing. I crept up behind Rhea and squeezed the trigger. Rhea fell. I let my shield down.

“Jezel,” QG said. “What did you do?”

“I stunned her,” I replied cooley, tried not to show that I was so exhausted I wanted to faint. He stiffened. “Well, thanks…you may leave now.”

He picked up Rhea and left.

I went back to V’s room and collapsed in a chair, only getting 3 hours of rest before I went back to bed.

ENTRY #24 – Valorum’s room – 7/01/2000

I woke up to hear QG and OWK talking. I overheard them say:

OWK: “She did what?”

QG: “She cloaked herself and knocked her out.”

OWK: “Oh, boy, she’s more powerful than I thought.”

QG: “While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about her powerful¬†will.”

OWK: “What about it?”

QG: “Obi-wan, you have to get her to stop trying to help Valorum. It’s useless and you know it.”

OWK: “I do?”

QG: “Oh, never mind.”

 

Amidala visited today and told me some interesting news. Valorum is her father!! Nobody else knows and after V gets well or dies, she’ll announce it, but she wanted me to know first since I’ve been helping the most. She then left me to ponder this shocking news.

We’re getting ready to destroy the CAT and it’s pretty tense around here, all things considered.

SW Family Drama

ENTRY #25 – On an emotional high – 7/03/2000

Oh, yeah! I just humiliated Qui-gon Jinn!

He came into V’s room today and gave me “The Lecture”. Then the beeping monitor doohicki** went wild.

V blinked his eyes open and said, “Jezel, you stopped reading.”

The mouths of both QG and me dropped open. I finally stammered, “I…umm..finished the book.”

He barely nodded and fell asleep. I ran out the door to spread the news, but as I reached the hallway, I realized something too late: I hadn’t had anything to eat in days. I hadn’t even had 3 days of sleep in 2 weeks. As you can imagine, I collapsed in a heap. The next thing I knew, OWK was practically screaming at me to see if I was okay.

He helped me back to my room, where I kinda fainted into my bed.

ewan-mcgregor-star-wars-episode-i-the-phantom-menace-01-600x350

Despite what the movies show, I have ZERO chill!

ENTRY #26 – My room 0 7/04/2000

I’m learning how to catch things from all directions. OWK says that most people throw with their right hand, underhanded. People throw differently depending on how old they are.

OWK says I should learn how to get around the palace without the use of a cane or another person. It probably sounds easy to you, but of course, you’re not blind!

I miss home. I know it’s stupid. I’ve been away for over 7 years and now I say I’m homesick. I miss my mom and dad. I miss the ice rink and my house. I miss my cat Jasmine, and I miss England. But most of all. I miss Earth.

ENTRY #27 – In “The Rebellion” (Ken’s*** ship)

Well, PLOSS talked everyone into going up to destroy the CAT…again. We have a new plan this time. Our crew will land the ship on the CAT. They’ll create a diversion while OWK and I sneak to the engine room. I’ll tamper with it until it blows up. Simple, right?

I’m all for it as long as I don’t get caught or blown up. Coruscant is coming with us for her own personal reasons. Her father is the former Emperor Palpatine. He’s on the CAT now, working with the Sith council. Coruscant wants to bring him back and turn him good. Palpatine doesn’t even know she’s alive.

LATER…

Okay, I’m back in one piece! I went into the CAT and put a bomb in the catacombs****. I got back on our ship while Coruscant brought her father onto our ship and we raced away.

THE CAT IS GONE!!!!

When we got back, Coruscant took her father into her room to catch up. The rest of us did some sort of celebration. The Jedi don’t show extreme emotion.

im-han-solo

A Jedi party might just be Han showing off his dance moves (Click the pic for a video)

 

ENTRY #28 – Back on Alderaan

It’s been almost a week since the CAT was totalled, but things haven’t calmed down. A couple days ago, OWK took me to the swimming pool and helped me swim without bumping into the sides.

My eyesight has definitely improved, but not enough to actually do anything except walk around.

We’ve been getting weird reports about diseases on other planets. Everyone on the Enterprise is getting restless (not Spock, of course). I wonder if they’re planning on leaving. Anakin gave the Enterprise back, by the way. OWK has started me on a dueling schedule.

~Jezel

IMG_2737


*Apparently Alderaan’s Leap Day is observed in June instead of February?

**If Jezel had just checked WebMD beforehand, she’d know this specialized piece of equipment was spelled “doohickey”.

***Ken = A totally random expanded universe character.

****Lame pun acknowledged here so you don’t point it out in the comments.


MY 2020 REACTION

Thus ends the pink glitter notebook. There’s more to the story, of course. These entries only represent the first few months of a multi-year roleplaying game. Maybe I’ll see what else I can dig up, although I’m doubtful that anything will have quite the same level of unsophisticated hilarity.

Other memorable moments:

  1. The teenage capacity for boredom is boundless. Bloodthirsty bounty hunter outside your door? Yawn…whoops, fell asleep!
  2. Wow, Jezel. Your example of one of Qui-Gon’s painful lectures is one short sentence?!?
    • Although, I guess when you haven’t gone to school or lived with your parents in 10 years, your tolerance for lengthy explanations might be pretty low. I suppose everyone is pretty concise on first gen Star Trek.
  3. I facepalmed so hard at Jezel’s fake medical expertise with her ridiculous skin pigment chart.
  4. Jezel’s blindness might mean she needs help navigating around the perimeter of a pool, but she needs zero help shooting someone with a blaster, even though she’s clearly never used one before. How convenient!
  5. Nothing like watching a coma patient to exhaust you to the point of fainting.

One last fun tidbit. Here’s a pic of me with a Master Replicas saber I saved up for a year to buy. I was probably around 14 when this pic was taken.

Tahlia Lightsaber

Part 2: My Preteen Star Wars FanFic

Friends: If you enjoy reading these ridiculous stories, please let me know! The only reason I’m posting this 2nd installment is because a friend pinged me to tell me how much the first one made him laugh. Until he said something, I’d assumed my post had been a flop.

Wompa, this one is for you :-D. Thanks for the encouragement.


ENTRY #10 – Jedi Council with OWK (Obi-Wan) – 5/11/2000

Today we went to The Council on Coruscant to test me (I didn’t know this would be a big thing!). I hope he doesn’t make me call him “master” like I’m supposed to. After intros were made, they flashed pictures into my head. A lightsaber, a deck of cards, a flower, etc.

Anakin tested

Anyone else collect these cards as a kid?

They seemed iffy about my age! They actually thought I might be too old! After forever, they said I could be trained (I’d thought it was MY decision!).

After we left, OWK suggested that we talk to the Captain. I gave him a blank look. “To notify him that you’re permanently staying here,” he said.

“I am?” I said.

After he explained it to me, I surprised myself by saying, “I guess you should go tell Scottie. I’ll break the news to the Captain.”

-Jezel Kensington

ENTRY #11 – 5/16/2000

I’ve been learning all the basic stuff to become a Jedi. I can’t wait to get a saber! Everyone is getting serious about what to do about the C.A.T.¬† (the huge Sith ship/weapon). It should be easy to bring down, since we have an ally inside called Cantan*. He’s disguised as a stormtrooper.

PLOSS (Princess Leia Organa Skywalker Solo) suggested an idea that I personally think is crazy, but everyone else seems to like. She wants to create a black hole for the C.A.T to fly through into oblivion. I think that’s what we’re going to do since people voted and surprisingly the idea won.

I’ve been seeing quite a bit of QG lately. Even though he used to be OWK’s master, I don’t like him and the feeling is mutual. Oh, well.

ENTRY #12 – Millenium Falcon – 5/21/2000

When Han, PLOSS, OWK, QGJ, and I went up in the Falcon, we brought along Chancellor Valorum for political senate backup. When we got to the ideal location, we started creating the black hole (details that I won’t tell you).

Then something unexpected happened. The whole ship was catapulted** back into space. The next thing I knew, I was screaming for someone to help Valorum, who was lying unconscious on the floor. As you can imagine, we went back to Alderaan to get him medical help.

It looked like Valorum had a heart attack when he hit his head on the ground. He’s in a coma now and no one really knows what’s going to happen. I think the black hole will wait until he’s better.

Valorum2

For everyone who doesn’t know every minor Star Wars character, this is Chancellor Valorum.

ENTRY #13 – Falcon’s engine room – 5/23/2000

Okay, I was wrong. It’s two days after the Valorum incident and he isn’t any better. He is stable, though, so Leia asked us to try making the black hole again. I hear something up above. I’m going to go check it out…

The C.A.T. has caught us in its tractor beam. People are all crowded around the cockpit and Han says–

ENTRY #14 РIn my room Р6/08/2000 

Note: Coruscant is writing this entry for me.

When Han pulled the ship out of the tractor beam, it jerked so hard that I lost my balance. My temple hit a metal pole and I was knocked out. When I woke up, I found OWK hovering over me.

I reached up to touch my head and recoiled in pain. Things would be visible and then the world would go black. It was scary. My Jedi powers weren’t strong enough to sense who else was there.

I heard the doctor say things like¬†“retnia retina disorder…I’m surprised only her cornia cornea was damaged” (What’s a cornea?) and “She took a nasty beating to the lens”.

Finally, I just asked OWK straight out, “What happened?!?”

What I made out over all his mumbling was that my retina was damaged and I can’t focus the images that enter my eye. I could be permanently blind! And it sounds like there has never been a successfully blind Jedi yet!! He then told me to get some rest and my sight might return with time.

ENTRY #15 – In my room – 6/09/2000

C3PO_DCP_Sidekick-Tall1

Apparently Jezel’s doctor is C-3PO

Today, I am still blind. The doctor said my chances of recovery are 6,502 to 1. I’m disappointed in myself for being so naive to the danger on a ship.

Later, Qui-gon (of all people!) walked in to teach me how to use the force to see. It was so hard! I must have worked 3 hours and I still haven’t got it! I’m going to rest now since I’m tired.

 

ENTRY #16 – In my room – 6/10/2000

I had more lessons from QG today. He thinks I’m hopeless. Things are really dark and blurry and I’m always asking people for help. I go on daily walks around the palace with OWK. I’m surprised at the confidence he has in me. It’s like he sees something in me that no one else does. It’s kinda weird and amazing. I am afraid that no one will ever truly understand me.

ENTRY #17 – Still in my room – 6/12/2000

You probably noticed the handwriting in the journal has changed. That’s right! I’m writing by myself again. It has taken me over an hour to get this far, but I’ve done it! I’m so proud of myself.

Things are getting better. I can slightly distinguish shapes and colors. I have memorized footsteps and spaces between rooms. I’ll check on the Chancellor tomorrow, who is still in critical condition. People like to do the “how many fingers am I holding up” stunt and I always fail miserably.

ENTRY #18 – In the Chancellor’s room – 6/15/2000

QuiGon

“Blah, blah, discipline…blah, blah, survival…” Ugh, this guy is the worst!

QG came early today, and I mean early! He knocked on my door at 6 AM in the morning, just to teach me how to see. He said some gibberish about discipline and survival. Well, I was tired!

Anyway, Valorum is on the verge of death, but then again, he has been for a good two weeks. I’m not really worried. Queen Amidala is really fretting her feathers off, though. I don’t know why. It’s not like he’s related to her.

I guess I’ll just be bored and do nothing for a while. I wish I could read a book. I’d ask someone to read to me, but my pride has built a sign that says, “Don’t ask!”. Maybe I’ll listen to a CD.

 

ENTRY #19 – In Valorum’s room – 6/20/2000

IMG_2844

Proof of real-life cheesecake stain

Okay, first let me apologize for the cheesecake on you. Second, you have no idea how boring things have been. Same old thing every single day:

  1. Wake up and eat a light breakfast.
  2. Go around room and try not to bump into anything.
  3. Wait around until QG arrives. Get lectured until I tell him to shut up and get on with the lesson.

QG thinks staying here and “playing nurse” is a waste of time. Well, I’ll show him! He thinks there’s nothing I can do to help Valorum, but I’m out to prove him wrong. Watch out, Qui-Gon Jinn! Jezel is on the loose and will be your worst nightmare!

ENTRY #20 – Valorum’s room – 6/22/2000

I got a big whiteboard today so I can practice my lessons without QG. He said it was a “brilliant” idea. I told him I already knew that, so he stormed out. That gets rid of that problem.

Everyone was talking about this spy on the C.A.T, called Exar Keen*. Apparently he’s a stormtrooper who transmitted plans to us. We all gathered around a screen to see the message. I stayed close to OWK so I wouldn’t trip. The face of Kantaan* the trooper appeared. He talked about the urgency of the C.A.T’s destruction.

At the end he said, “I have a book for the blind Jedi”. He pushed it through a holo proj. It was a nice book, written in something like braille. I intend to read some tomorrow.

~Jezel Kensington


*This character’s name changes THREE times throughout the story. One of the flip flops even happens within the same paragraph. Fun fact: The name “Exar Keen” is a tweak on an expanded universe character name “Exar Kun“.

**My ability to unintentionally make puns started at an early age.


My 2020 reaction to this fanfic

Wild HeartsThe entirety of my eleven-year old understanding of blindness came from a movie¬†called¬†“Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”. It’s an excellent film based on a true story about a diving girl who loses her sight after an accident. However, it’s a far cry from doing actual research on the subject. The result is a poorly spelled list of buzzwords and a terribly ignorant misconception that you can automatically read braille after you become blind. Oof.

But at least we get the hilarious statement: “She took a nasty beating to the lens.”

Other noteworthy moments:

  • The cheesecake smudge may have been intentional. I may have been inspired by the “Amelia’s Notebook” series of books. They were illustrated to look like a scrapbook, with margin notes, stickers, smears of lip gloss, etc.
    • Now I’m craving cheesecake for breakfast. Dangit!
  • Jezel says she was naive about the dangers of a ship. I disagree! Nobody on Star Trek ever gets concussed from the ship’s jostling.
  • Why all the hate for Qui-Gon? These entries were written the year after Phantom Menace came out and while everyone was complaining about Jar-Jar, I had a major chip on my shoulder against this older Jedi master. I remember his seriousness making me so angry. He seemed like the ultimate authority figure to rebel against.
    • As an adult, I appreciate that QG defying the council’s wishes to train Anakin actually makes him quite wild, by Jedi standards. But in my preteen mind, he was boring and stuffy.

 

PLOSS’ TOP SECRET black hole recipe

  1. Scoop one Millennium Falcon into a medium sized ideal location.
  2. Combine with two tablespoons of political senate backup.
  3. Sprinkle in whatever random Jedi, smugglers, and princesses you can find in your pantry.
  4. Whip together until you form a hole. Make sure its black. Other colors won’t work for confidential reasons.
  5. Insert evil space station and serve.

 

Terrible Star Wars/Star Trek Fanfic I Wrote When I was 11

Brace yourselves, folks. I just dug up this monstrosity:

IMG_2737

From the cover, you might expect this notebook to contain obsessive details about cute boys, but my eleven-year-old self was far too absorbed with Star Wars to have any real-life crushes. So I filled these pages with my very first fanfic, inspired by the stories my best friend Sarah and I invented together.

Sarah was the Star Trek fan, by the way, so that’s why the story starts out with Captain Kirk’s crew traveling to Cloud City.

Scroll to the bottom for my reactions as I was re-reading what I wrote.

Note: I originally typed out the entire story exactly as it appeared in my notebook. I included every typo and run on sentence. However, it quickly became clear that the messiness made it unreadable. Plus, it was SO long and rambling that it became tedious. So in the interest of entertainment, I have lightly edited this piece.

IMG_2739

Mint green gel pen and cursive practice = OMG, whyyyyyy?

Entry #1: Enterprize* to Cloud City – April 29, 2000

I was working in my usual spot in the Enterprize’s engine room. I’ve worked on the Enterprize for six or seven years now. I thought about when I first joined the crew. How old had I been? Oh, yeah. I had been eleven when I left Earth to join the Enterprize and now I’m almost seventeen. Right now I’m in a totally different galaxy than my home. I’ve always worked in the engine room. It’s just what I’m good at. I was good, and always had been.

Captain Kirk’s steps echoed in the dark stairway. “What is it, Captain?” I said.

“We just got a distress call from another ship around here,” he said.

“So?” I replied.

The captain went on. “They want us to meet them in a place called Cloud City.”

“Hold on!” I pulled out my little 6 by 4 inch computer (it’s magenta!), and started typing. “It says here that it’s grown prosperous through gambling.” I smiled. “I can only guess why that ship is stranded. Oh, well. Let’s get going! Maybe it’s more interesting than it sounds.”

The captain merely said, “Thanks Jezel.” He walked up the stairway quickly. I smiled and wondered what would happen in the days ahead…

A few hours later, our ship docked in one of many landing pads. I figured I should get some rest, but then remembered that Mom had just sent me a new journal (you!) and decided to write in it. You happen to be my 10th journal. I’m really tired now so I’ll “signout.”

-Jezel

ENTRY #2: Cloud City – 4/30/2000

Before getting off ship I felt a tingle of excitement. The captain walked out of the ship and greeted six or seven people. They were all dressed strangely in robes (minus 2).

There was a serious looking man with a important look of authority (Qui-Gon). Next to him, a boy of 10 (Anikan Skywalker**). There was a gorgeous girl of 15 who was dressed like a princess (Amidala). Also a man who had dirty blonde hair like the boy and piercing blue eyes (Luke Skywalker).

The woman next to him looked like my older sister (I’m an only child). She had dark brown almost black hair, with pretty sea green eyes (Coruscant). Her hair was lying tidely down, almost to her waist. I, on the other hand, had my hair in a loose braid. I pushed a dirty wisp away with an equally dirty hand. There was only one other and he had on a white shirt and black vest. He carried himself like a king, but was obviously not (Han Solo).

Finally the captain said, “We got your distress call and came to help”.

I noticed the boy Anikan take two spheres out of his cloak and attach one to our ship. I gave him a curious smile. He walked over to the serious man (Qui-gon) and gave him a sphere. Qui-gon toyed with it a little then–POOF! The ship was gone! Before anyone could move, piercing-blue-eyed Luke said–

-Jezel

ENTRY #3: My Quarters in Cloud City – 4/30/2000

Really sorry about that. The captain basically opened the door and dragged me to an Enterprize meeting.  The meeting was about how to get the ship back.

The captain said that we would let fate decide who had to befriend Anikan and try to get the ship back by choosing lots. Guess who got the job? It was me! I’m going to try my hand at it tomorrow morning. Nothing happened today because the captain wanted us to rest. Well GTG (Got to Go).

-Jezel

 

ENTRY #4: Cloud City – Talking to Anikan – 5/1/2000

I walked towards Anikan who was toying with what looked liked a Rubix’s cube. I took a deep breath as I always do when I’m nervous, and said, “Hi, you’re Anikan, right?”

“Yes, that’s me alright. Who are you?”

“My name’s Jezel.” I replied. “What are you doing?”

“I’m trying to line up these colors and do it without pulling the cube apart.”

I smiled. I already knew this one. “Can I try?”

“Knock yourself out!” he said. “I’m tired of it already.” He tossed me the cube and I twisted it, making sure Anikan couldn’t see what I was doing…

“Presto!” I said, holding up the finished cube. All Anikan could say was, “Wow!”

BEEP beep went something right then. Anikan picked up a cylinder type thing. “Yeah?” He said. “Oh, but…okay, bye.” The cylinder clicked. “We’ll holoproj to to Allderaan*** tomorrow.”

“What?” I said.

“You know, the planet? See you then!” He skipped off.

What the heck is a holoproj? I guess I’ll find out tomorrow!

-Jezel

ENTRY #5: Allderaan – 5/5/2000

My alarm went off. 6:03 AM. Why was I…oh, of course!

  1. Get dressed etc.
  2. By that time it would be 8:00 so meet Anikan.
  3. I don’t remember.

I groaned. “Better get to work,” I said (Okay, I thought it!). As I went through my routine I thought, I wonder what Amy is doing right now? Oh, yes. Sleeping. (Amy is my best friend from home). Oh, silly me! I didn’t tell you…I’m from England.

Let’s get back to the point. I was going to be slightly late, but nobody’s perfect. I walked down to Docking 37 and found Anikan fiddling with a ship.

We talked until 11:00, when we were supposed to go to Allderaan. We walked to the main arena where a blue rectangle shone. Everyone was there. A woman on the other side spoke. “I am Mon Mothma. If you’d be so kind as to step through the holo and onto our ship, we can get to work.”

“I’ll not be going through that holo-whatsit for me life,” our Russian gunner Chekov said loudly. I knew what was coming, so I rushed through the crowd. Putting on my sweetest most pleading face, I said, “Please, Chekov! It’s important.” I tried to look as if I’d cry if he didn’t go.

ENTRY #6 – Allderaan – 5/3/2000

To make a long story short, Chekov went through the “holo-whatsit” onto Allderaan. We were taken to our rooms and we’re not allowed to come out. I got a call from the captain saying, “You’re assigned to getting our ship back from Anikan, understood?”

There was a knock at my door just then. I opened the door to see a man.

“My name is Obi-wan Kenobi, your hall keeper. Do you need to get out?”

I took a moment to process this info, then nodded. He looked behind him warily then held out a metal card to me. “This will get you where you want to go. Just be back by 11:00 tonight.”

“Thanks,” I said, and went looking for Anikan.

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ENTRY #7 – Allderaan – In my room (again) 5/4/2000

Yesterday went well. I talked to Anikan about Earth and the Sar-Waths galaxy (where we are now). It appears they have no knowledge of chocolate or soda here :(. Oh, well.

Today I got a call from Chekov. He was very scared so I went over and consoled him. As I was walking back, I bumped into Obi-wan. He smiled lightly and said, “Jezel, you know who Coruscant is, right?” I nodded. “I was just at a meeting and I noticed she wasn’t there. Can you find out why?”

“Okay fine.” I ran off. I finally found the room marked “Coruscant” and knocked. Coruscant opened the door and smiled. “You’re Jezel, right? I need to know something: Do we look like each other or am I just dreaming?”

I smiled and said, “I guess we do, although I don’t know why.”

After a moment, Coruscant asked, “Well, what did you want?”

“Oh, yeah! Obi-wan wants to know why you didn’t go to the meeting today?”

Coruscant explained that she didn’t want to go, which surprised me very much. We kept on talking about things, then I left.

-Jezel

ENTRY #8 – Allderaan – with Coruscant

Okay, to make things short, I’ll tell you what I found: Coruscant is the daughter of the Emperor. She’s engaged to Luke Skywalker. Her mother is dead (her father killed her). She’s a jedi too.

I went to look for Anikan and on the way met Han Solo, or rather, he met me. He passed me in the hall then called back, “Hey, kid! You’re Jezel, right?”

I turned. “How’d you know that?”

“Word gets around fast. Hey, I’m Han Solo. As Leia would say, ‘Pleased to meet ya!’. Well, I’ve got to run. See you!”

I blinked and thought, Well that was some intro!

-Jezel

ENTRY #9 – With Obi-wan – 5/9/2000

I haven’t written in four days, but now I have something VERY important to write about.

Today I was looking for Anikan when I bumped into Obi-wan (again!). He offered to take me to find Anikan, and showed me to a training room for the jedi. As I went into the room, I found it empty! I realized I’d been tricked! I heard the door lock. Obi-wan stepped in front of me and said, “I’ve been watching you, Jezel, and I’d like to see something. You don’t have to be alarmed.”

He ignite his weapon and the bright blue blade shimmered. “Here, take it.”

I took it in one hand and was surprised that it gyrated in my hand. I tried to steady it, to no avail. Stepping behind me, he placed his hands over mine and the saber steadied. I felt a jolt of pain and briefly loosened my grip, but I was determined to steady the weapon, even if it did hurt a little.

I made a critical error in that moment. I tried so hard to steady it that I was knocked into him. I instantly cried out with half-surprise, half-pain and hurriedly hit the button to turn it off.

Obi-wan brushed himself off, then helped me up. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I should have explained thing before.”

“Let’s say you do that now,” I replied.

He explained tons and tons of info to me about the force and Jedis. After that, he said, “You know, if you wanted to, I could train you.”

I paused then said, “Okay, why not? It could be fun!”

 


*This typo was too funny to correct. I think I bruised my forehead from facepalming so hard.

**Okay, in defense of my 11 year old self, Anakin’s nickname is “Ani” in the prequels, so I think that’s why I got this wrong.

***Nice try, but not quite, younger Tahlia. At least you got “Coruscant” right.


 

The story continues for many more pages and doesn’t have a proper ending. Leave a comment if you have any interest in reading more of my ramblings.

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Four different colors in one entry? Wow, we were feeling REALLY fancy that day!

My 2020 Reaction To My Fanfic

Okay, so I think we can all agree that meshing a sci-fi setting with the whole “Dear Diary” format is insufferably cutesy, but it actually had purpose behind it. Even as a kid, I found lots of sci-fi to be grim and serious, and I wanted to find ways make it more fun.

I remember wanting my character Jezel to be boldly casual compared to the formal culture of the Jedis. But, ummm, sometimes it’s just laughable. (Replying with “So?” when Captain Kirk tells her about the distress signal = Taking the sassy heroine trope a bit far).

Other “lol” moments for me:

  • Jezel being from England. I guarantee I made this decision because I was obsessed with the 1998 Parent Trap¬†movie, and one of the characters is British.
  • This is also why there’s a random Star Wars character named Coruscant who looks just like my protagonist (they end up being identical cousins, btw. What???? You act like you don’t have an identical cousin!)
  • I cringed so hard at the Captain Kirk drawing lots to assign someone to rescuing the ship, but wouldn’t it be funny if that’s how all decisions were made in Star Trek
    • Crew: “Captain! The Klingons are firing on us! Should we fire back?”
    • Captain: “Hmmm, let’s flip a coin to decide. Oh, and everyone stick your names in a hat to see who gets to be gunner this time!”
  • You heard it here first, folks! If you want to impress a Jedi, solve a Rubix’s cube in front of them. It will blow their minds.
  • Breaking news: Why didn’t Coruscant go to the meeting? Because she didn’t want to! Bet you never saw that plot twist coming!
  • Okay, so I am so confused. Why did I think that lightsaber hilts spun around in your hand? I read so many Star Wars books as a kid, there’s no logical explanation for how this bizarre notion entered my brain.

 

 

Funny Message in my Spam Folder

Okay, spam folder, I’ll admit it: I’m curious…

AntiAging Spam

 

On This Day in 16-Year Me’s Diary: “It sort of helps, but I still feel chubby…”

I was 16 and in the middle of 9th grade at a private Christian school. This is what I wrote in my journal on March 27, 2004 *:

The cover of my 2003 – 2005 journal (Purple, of course).

 

So much time has passed! I feel slightly less depressed than last I wrote. My face is so much clearer now that I’m back on my dual medication. I had to pay for the last container of pills, but I really felt like they were helping me so I shelled out the $10 willingly. It’s not like I’m totally clear, but for two weeks now, I have gotten very few zits. I pray that this is permanent bc it gives me a tremendous boost in confidence. My mother wants me to go off all my treatments and just use plain soap and water on my face! I can’t get her to realize that that would be a total disaster!

The inside cover of my journal. The girl in the sticker was wearing booty shorts with a lot of butt crack, so like a good Christian girl, I cut them out.

 

Last week I had H over for a sleepover, at my mom’s persistence. It went O.K. The girl has no opinion about anything though! Reminds me of ML.

Maybe she just wants really bad to not do anything wrong and offend me since she’s an 8th grader. It was just kind of irritating. She’s really nice though and a good listener. We played with each other’s hair most of the time bc it was hard to find stuff to talk about. We both love cats. We both thought Mrs. Lord was the greatest–she takes it more personally though. She’s a single child–if only I were. (I have a single child attitude!) We both like Anne of Green Gables, Christy, and Little Women. I just didn’t feel an easy click with her though. (I hate writing ‘though’–it’s such a stupid word!)

I’ve been doing 1 minutes of situps a night and 30 sec of crunches. It sort of helps, but I still feel/look chubby. I want to get a new pair of khakis that fit more tightly. The ones I have don’t show off my body enough.

They’re all baggy. I hate shopping for pants, but I suppose I’ll have to be put through it sooner or later.¬†

I’m going to try to change my showering time from night to morning. That means I’ll have to get up at 6:15 and go to bed at 9:30! Ugh!

Mrs. M wants us all to memorize a Romeo & Juliet monologue and recite it for the class. For extra credit, she’s offering to do a presentation/play for the parents of excerpts from R&J. She decided to do the feast scene–where R&J first kiss (no idea how she’s going to have two 9th graders stage that!) and another scene with lots of characters in it. She also opted to rent costumes for it! I was instantly hooked. Being on stage is good, but being on stage in a really pretty dress and reciting a dramatic monologue is tops! I signed up for the feast scene and crossed my fingers. Mrs. M said we’d know on Thursday and we had to memorize the part for Monday (not impossible, but still a rather high expectation).

I knew I had a good chance of a Juliet part since she would have 2 Juliets, I was a favorite of hers, and I sort of look like the Juliet on the video. (All my friends said so.) I was nervous about K, though. She was awfully determined to get Juliet too and I really wanted the feast scene over the other one.

I had a really bad feeling that if I couldn’t get a Juliet part, then I wouldn’t ever be able to get any other part in a play that I wanted.

I teetered between sureness there was no way I could not get a J. part and self doubt. Thurs. morning we (K and I) hunted down Mrs. M. “Wait ’till the end of first period.” She said. Gotta make this short. Anyway, I got the other Juliet part! K got the one I wanted.¬†

 

 

*I’ve kept as much of the original horrendous punctuation/shorthand as I could, but have added paragraph breaks and bolding for readability. I’ve also removed full names unless everything I say is positive.

My handwriting is not much better these days.

My thoughts at age 31

  1. I don’t remember being self-conscious about my figure as a teenager! I’ve been told my entire life that I’m a tiny twig, and I thought I’d always accepted that as truth. Now that I read this, I vaguely remember doing sit-ups for a while, but if you ever asked me if I was self-conscious as a teenager, I would have said “No, I’ve always been pretty confident”. Well, apparently, that wasn’t quite true!
  2. I totally chuckled at the tight khaki line. So I feel chubby, but I want tighter pants? *Shrugs*
  3. Let’s not tell poor teenage Tahlia that her skin will never stop giving her trouble :(. This was probably around when I started using makeup. I don’t understand what I’m talking about with the whole buying my own acne meds. I’m pretty sure my parents bought all my meds at that age *shrugs*.
  4. Oh, yeah, this was back when I was considering an acting career. Glad I changed my mind about that!

A Totally Serious Ranking of Fireplace Simulators (Updated 12/24/2018)

It’s nearly Christmas, which means that families all over the world are getting their holly jolly on. This is our first year with a television, which allows me to finally participate in one of my family’s oldest traditions: Enjoying a cozy festive blaze without the hassle of actually owning a fireplace. Some may scoff at our facade of flames as it burns merrily in an infinite loop, but really, wouldn’t it be even more absurd if we Austinites had the real deal in our apartment?

For those who join us in our devotion to an digital hearth (or are considering adding some cheery LCD embers to your¬† own home), I have taken it upon myself to review all the free options I could find on the internet…well, okay, more like the ones I could find with 30 minutes of searching.¬† I will act as a modern Prometheus, bringing light into your living room to keep the predators away at night. You might not be able to toast marshmallows on these fires, but you also can’t burn your house down, so merry Christmas!

 

MesquiteFireplace

1. Mesquite Fireplace–Quiet Fireplace (Amazon Prime):

This is a nice all-purpose blaze, with enough crackling to be noticed without dominating your living room’s ambient noise. However, I have my suspicions that their claim of “mesquite” might be false advertising. I’m no expert, but the fireplace looks like gas, not real wood to me. I also have to dock them points for being pretentious enough to have a trailer listed for their video.

 

2. Christmas Fireplace for your home with crackling sounds (Amazon Prime):

The lack of proper capitalization in the title says it all. This isn’t your traditional fireplace loop where your television serves as the frame for your fire. Instead, this is a video of a living room with a Christmas tree on the left and a fire on the right, only taking up a quarter of the screen. They didn’t even dim the lights. The subtitles claim that there is music playing, but if there is, it’s¬† thankfully very faint. Bottom line remains the same: This isn’t what I want from a fireplace simulator.

ChristmasFireplace

 

3. Fireplace: The Magic of Fire (Amazon Prime):

Magic of Fire

The description defends the sound of the fan in this video as a normal part of most fireplaces. But c’mon, we’re watching a fire on a screen. We don’t want realistic! We want festive! And the white noise totally overshadows the fire’s crackling. Plus, the logs are just big black shadows in this version. Extra points deducted for the track only being 7 minutes long. I’m paying good money for–oh, wait, forgot these are all free for a second. Well, free or not, I demand at least an hour of looping flickering before having to press start again!).¬† Bottom line: Sorry, but not much magic here.

4. Fireplace for your home – Birchwood Edition (Netflix):

Ah, now this is more like it!¬†BirchwoodFireReal wood, gentle crackling. The flames start out small and grow into a proper blaze. The logs even char as time progresses. Are we sure those pixels aren’t emanating heat because I swear I feel warmer watching this beautiful glow.

 

 

 

 

5. Fireplace for your home Classic Edition (Netflix):

ClassicFire

Wow, so these are a whole series? The only real difference between this and the Birchwood one is that this one has chopped wooden blocks for kindling instead of logs. I’m still totally into it. This fire can roast my chestnuts any day.

6. Fireplace for your home (Netflix):

A similar setup as the Classic Edition, but this one has tepid Christmas music playing in the background. I’ll pass, thanks

7. A Home Fireplace, Bright Edition (Netflix):

BrightFire

And now for something completely different! This is a fantasy riff on the cozy fireplace genre that we’ve been exploring. Based off the Netflix show,¬†Bright, this features an urban backdrop for the mystical fire that changes colors every few minutes. Keep an eye out for a befuddled fairy that occasionally flits across the screen!

 

 

 

My choice for the month will be the Birchwood Edition, but leave a comment below with your favorite.

7. Darth Vader Yule Log  (Youtube):

This display is perfect for those of us who are celebrating Life Day instead of Christmas. While you watch Vader eternally burn on his funeral pyre, you’ll find yourself transported to the lush planet of Endor by the gentle chirping of space-crickets in the background. To quote a brilliant commenter on this video, “This should be called ‘Harth Vader Yule Log’!”. I couldn’t agree more! Given the choice between watching this and the Star Wars¬†Holiday Special,¬†this is clearly the better option.

Vader-funeral-pire

 

EXTRA CREDIT BONUS:

8. “The Girl in the Fireplace” (Dr. Who, 2005): A total disappointment. The titular star of the show is only seen in a few scenes and gets completely upstaged by the personality of its owner and the fireplace inspector. Interviews lacked any interesting content due to constant interruptions by various other cast members. It appears the BBC is incorporating more elements of reality tv into their documentaries, celebrating the sensational and controversial at the cost of providing any actual historical substance. I was left with more questions that answers: What type of wood was traditionally burned in 18th century French palaces? How many fireplaces did Versailles contain? Who was the architect that designed the facade of the fireplace?

True fans of fireplaces shouldn’t waste their time with this nonsense.

drwhogirlinthefireplace8

My Non-spoilery Thoughts on Last Jedi:

Last-Jedi-Poster
My non-spoilery thoughts on Last Jedi:
 
Overall, I liked it better than Force Awakens because it took more risks. This new trilogy will never be *my* Star Wars, but I still watch them with interest.
 
1. The movie has a weird self-awareness that I’m conflicted about. There are moments that feel like the actors are winking at the camera. In particular, Luke’s scenes all seem to have a certain sarcastic swagger to them. It made the movie fun, but it also made it feel less authentic, imo.
 
2. I thought FA had a lot of humor, but WOW was there more in LJ. It was sometimes a bit much. Some of it was brilliant, but other times I groaned out loud at the heavy handedness. This ties into the self-awareness mentioned above. As for the porgs, I felt like they were basically furry Minions from Despicable Me.
 
3. Adam Driver delivers the emotive performance I wish Lucas had demanded from Hayden Christiansen. Every irrational decision Kylo makes is 100% believable and I cannot wait to see more of him in the next movie.
 
4. I wish Rian Johnson had the same dedication to practical effects vs CGI as JJ Abrams. Although, Abrams is the guy who added by biggest pet peeve of this whole new trilogy, which is the sapphire blue hyperspace. Every time I see it, I cringe. It’s just so flashy and fake looking. Ugh, it’s silly, but I hate it sooooo much. Is this Dr. Who or Star Wars?

hyperspace.0

Falcon or TARDIS?

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Old School

My Cooking Tips For People Who Never Cook

Despite growing up with a stay-at-home mom who cooked amazing meals for us every night, I rarely lifted a finger in the kitchen as a kid. I mean, I sometimes followed directions (ie, stir this, fetch that, don’t stand on the counter), but never actually stored the information to my mental hard drive.¬†Cooking was a¬†chore adults had to do, so I would avoid it as long as possible.

Like so many of us, that all changed when I got married. Now, of course, there’s no rule that says marriage = cooking. But luckily for me, I landed a guy with some restaurant experience, so we equally divide the burden of weeknight dinners. After three years, I’ve gone from an apathetic rookie in the kitchen to an apathetic-but-competent cook.

I don’t love cooking, but I am proud of my accomplishments. So for anyone who feels completely awkward around a stove, here are some practical tips that might give you an edge.

NOTE: There’s lots of common advice for beginners that I’m gonna skip. Common advice includes learning how to menu plan, using¬†basic spices, and investing in a good set of knives.

1. Don’t start with Bon Appetit recipes.

Pie For Dinner, Bon Appetit Magazine, February 2015, Volume 60 Number 2

Maybe when I’m retired, I’ll have time to braid a pie crust…

While a few of their recipes are simple, many of their dishes are best attempted once you’ve mastered the basics. Almost every Bon Appetit recipe I’ve made has used terminology I’ve had to google (example: bain-marie) and¬†required me to buy a random ingredient I will likely never use again (looking at you, poppy-seeds gathering dust on my spicerack).

Plus, their advice tends to¬†use a lot of “ALWAYS” and “NEVER”, which can be intimidating to beginners who don’t realize that their meringue¬†probably won’t be ruined just because they didn’t use room temperature eggs. Bon Appetit is a great resource, but better for intermediates, in my opinion.

May I suggest Food Network in the meantime?

2. Water takes forever to boil

Question: You are making chicken nuggets and box macaroni and cheese (it’s been a rough week). The nuggets take 14 minutes in the oven and the macaroni needs 7.30 minutes in boiling water (the Kraft box is very precise). Which should you start first?

Image result for water boiling in potAnswer: Always put the pot of water on the stove first. For some reason, water takes a ridiculously long time to boil, so by handling it first, you’ll probably end up having both foods ready at the same time.

If you’re in a rush,¬†spend an extra ten seconds waiting for the tap water to get hot before filling up your pot. You’ll shave minutes off your time.

3. What ingredients are your instant recipe killers/winners?

For us, we tried a bunch of casseroles¬†with sour cream and never¬†really enjoyed the results, so now we just avoid those recipes. On the other hand, we’ve discovered a fondness for sauces with cream cheese.

4. Cornstarch can make you cry

Image result for cornstarch

Cornstarch is often used as a thickener for gravy because it’s faster than alternate methods. However, this is one shortcut that has backfired on me MANY times. Sometimes the moment I add the cornstarch into my gravy, it seizes up into large lumpy flakes. It’s scary and once it has happened, there isn’t much you can do to salvage it except spend 15 minutes spooning out the lumps.

Experienced chefs will probably tell you, “Oh, just mix your cornstarch with cold water before dumping it into the sauce”, but even after lots of practice, my gravy still seizes up 50% of the time. Don’t avoid this ingredient forever, but until you’re more advanced, stick with the old butter/flour technique (called making a “roux”)

5. Your oven (not you!) might be the problem

There’s a good chance¬†your oven heats unevenly. This means that some spots are hotter than others. To test it, try baking a box cake mix. If you have some sections that are burnt and others that are raw, that’s your oven’s fault, not yours!

One way to help this problem: Fill a baking dish or tray with water and put it in your oven to preheat. Then put your cake pan in the warm water bath (also called a “bain marie”) if you’re feeling fancy). This will help create a more even heat around your food. It won’t fix severely uneven ovens, but it can help.

6. Trying new recipes is expensive & will take extra time

We’ve always noticed that our grocery bill seems to increase significantly on weeks when we’re cooking a new recipe. This is because we usually have to buy ingredients that aren’t in the pantry already. Sometimes it’s a fancy cheese (looking at you, edam!) that we use the first time and then later substitute for a cheaper alternative. Other times, it’s because the recipe wants you to use 3 lbs of chicken and you didn’t realize that will feed like 8 people and you only have 2. The next time you make the recipe, you’ll cut it in half and save money.

I probably don’t need to explain why it takes double the time to make a new recipe, so my advice is to do your experimenting on the weekends when you have plenty of time to read each line four times. Eventually, you’ll get the process streamlined and you’ll be breezing through a casserole on a weeknight, but give yourself time the first go ’round.

A Few of My Favorite Starter Recipes:

 

  • Easy Meatballs by The SpruceMeatballs: Add 1/3 cup parmesan inside the meatballs to make these SO much¬†better. I love it because it’s literally dump everything together in a bowl and roll balls. So easy and you can use them for leftovers in sandwiches, spaghetti, or Swedish meatballs.¬†https://www.thespruce.com/easy-meatballs-480711

If you have an HEB grocery store near you, this is our favorite brand of crumbs (the

garlic flavor is addictively amazing).

Breadcrumbs.jpg

We put them in everything from meatballs to mac and cheese. Speaking of mac and cheese…

  • Quick Mac & Cheese: The recipe claims this is like Kraft mac, which hasn’t been my experience…although, I never have been able to find noodles in that very specific shape. Even though it’s not Kraft-like, it’s still delicious. Top with breadcrumbs for extra yumminess. https://www.thenest.com/content/homemade-mac-and-cheese-recipe

homemade mac and cheese recipe

Actual results will probably NOT look like this, but don’t worry ūüôā

  • Ham & Cheese Bread Pudding: Breakfast for dinner = the best thing ever. This recipe won’t work for a weeknight because it has to bake for an hour, but everything else about it is a breeze (cut stuff, beat eggs, dump it all together, stick in the oven, bam, you’re done). Plus, it’s one of the few recipes that will turn out Pinterest-perfect on your first attempt. Easy peasy and great for impressing guests.¬†http://www.theworktop.com/breakfast-brunch-recipes/savory-bread-pudding-ham-cheese/

 

 

  • INTERMEDIATE — Chicken & Bacon Pasta: Don’t forget to cook the bacon while the pasta water heats so it’s ready in time–or make the bacon ahead of time. Also, we usually substitute ground beef instead of chicken because we already have a TON of chicken recipes. Lastly, we tend to favor bow tie pasta instead of penne for this one, but it works well with both.):¬†http://www.plainchicken.com/2011/05/chicken-bacon-pasta.html

Chicken Bacon Pasta - grilled chicken and bacon served over a creamy cheese sauce - The BEST pasta I have ever had. Seriously better than you'll find in any restaurant. You can make the chicken ahead and reheat it.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

 

 

Super Important: Most Supplements Don’t Contain ANY of the Listed Ingredients.

This isn’t remotely related to the topics I normally cover, but it’s something we need to spread the word about. I first heard about this back in 2015, but since the information hasn’t spread to the general public yet, I want to give it a signal boost. This is stuff you NEED to know so you can make informed choices.

 

Summary:

A study was conducted of a bunch of herbal supplements from big name drug stores like Target/Walgreens/GNC. Scientists tested the DNA of the pills and concluded that 4 out of 5 of the bottles contained ZERO traces of the ingredients listed. For example, a bottle of “Ginseng” would be tested and they’d find it full of random fillers like rice powder or asparagus (researchers also noted that wheat would be found in products advertised as “wheat free” — yikes!).

How is this possible? Well, it’s because there are laws in place that prevent the FDA from regulating supplements (see John Oliver sketch for more info). Normally, it would be illegal for food companies to participate in false advertising, but on the FDA’s website, it states very clearly that the FDA isn’t allowed to regulate the advertising of supplements. Scary, huh?

FDA

John Oliver presents a more entertaining version of what I’ve been discussing:

Now, I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a hypocrite. I still take a multi-vitamin every day, even though I really wonder if it’s a waste of money. And I know many people who have anecdotal evidence that their Fill-In-The-Blank has improved since taking XYZ. That’s fine–I’m not judging you or trying to tell you how to live your life. Just because¬†many of these products are fraudulent, doesn’t mean you haven’t found a good one. But be careful out there and realize that you can’t always trust the label of those supplements you’re buying.

More links about this topic (Including the good news that GNC pledged to improve their standards and will even submit reports to the NY attorney general to prove it!):

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