occultatio: (coyote)
(sung rapidly)

The view from above has a start and an end,
from the dragon your enemy, eagle your friend,
and that distance is traveled again and again
by that greatest of all the gods, Ratatosk!

The Aesir and Vanir, the Jotuns and trolls,
the heroes of men and their epics so bold,
and all of the battles the Seeress foretold
play a weak second fiddle to Ratatosk!

For the keepers of secrets are cruelly perverse,
like the giants who bargain and witches who curse,
and the stories they share are unhelpfully terse
when compared to the epics of Ratatosk!

So stand, noble supplicant, stand and be awed
by a song of adventure, of lovers abroad,
full of action! Excitement! And told by the god
who is Lord of the Universe, Ratatosk!
occultatio: (coyote)
We now have an ice cream maker, thanks to an unexpected and early wedding gift! I am fabulously excited about this.

First, I tried making green tea ice cream, also (or at least formerly) known as "the best" ice cream. The recipe I found involved boiling milk and cream and stuff on a stove, which is a type of ice cream base I had never used before. With my parents' old machine, back in high school, I primarily worked out of their Ben & Jerry's recipe book, which called for unheated sweet cream bases for all recipes. But hey, new and unfamiliar territory is cool!

And but so anyway, we now have in our freezer a quart of ice cream in what I call "burnt milk" flavor. There's a lovely green tea-ish aftertaste, though! If you look for it. I still have a lot of matcha powder, though, so I'll probably try again soon and keep a closer eye on the pot.


Another flavor on my list of things to attempt is Irish Breakfast ice cream, for which I plan to adapt a recipe for the (slightly) more common Earl Grey flavor. While searching for said recipe, I came across Mac & Cheese, a food blog. Underneath its recipe, it recommended other, related dishes in which I might be interested:

Thai Tea Ice Cream

So! Today, we went on an expedition to the surprisingly numerous[1] Asian grocery stores in and near our neighborhood. In the second of these, which was seriously a supermarket, not just a grocery store, we not only found a nice big bag of Thai tea but (among other things) frozen, steam-at-home lotus bao. So that was exciting.

Tonight, following the blog's recipe, I successfully made Thai tea ice cream, and I swear to god it is the most amazing substance ever. It's, like, a Thai iced tea, but ice cream! I know that sounds stupidly obvious, but I just don't know how to better convey the sheer delight that is the synthesis of these two concepts.

Meanwhile, of course, we now have most of an enormous bag of tea left over, and so I'm planning to make a big batch of regular old iced tea for the (future) in-laws this weekend.

Okay! That's my food story of the week. Next: more puppy pictures!

[1] Not really that surprising, actually, once you get past the initially surprising number of Hmong immigrants in the Twin Cities.

A fragment

Feb. 5th, 2010 08:44 pm
occultatio: (coyote)
(sung rapidly)

The view from above has a start and an end,
from the dragon your enemy, eagle your friend,
and that distance is traveled again and again
by that greatest of all the gods, Ratatosk!

The Aesir and Vanir, the Jotuns and trolls,
the heroes of men and their epics so bold,
and all of the battles the Seeress foretold
play a weak second fiddle to Ratatosk!


Nov. 19th, 2009 10:15 pm
occultatio: (coyote)
A few weeks ago, I gather, my parents were invited to this function at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I don't know the details, or why it was there in particular, but apparently there was a meal and presentation by the head chef at Boulevard, a really fancy and expensive San Francisco restaurant (I looked it up -- we're talking $40-a-plate entrees). Also, for some reason, they were *each* given a signed copy of the Boulevard cookbook, a coffee-table sized, full-color brick. Since they were unlikely to use even one fully, Mom sent one of their copies to me.

It arrived this morning. I spent the next solid hour or so leafing through it, drooling. We're talking recipes like "Braised Chestnut Soup with Apple Cream and Crispy Duck Confit," "Buttermilk-Brined Cornish Game Hen," "Endive and Heirloom Apple Salad," and "Warm Medjool Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese, with Blood Oranges, Pistachios, Pomegranate, Bitter Greens and Blood Orange Vinaigrette." Not to mention "Manjari Chocolate Truffle Tart with Salted Caramel Ice Cream." And, of course, full-page spreads of more or less every recipe, as plated in the restaurant.

Mouth watering yet?

The hell of it is, the instructions are excellent. Everything is broken down into small, easy-to-understand and -follow steps. Some of the recipes are still impractical, just because they assume you will somehow use the rest of some very expensive ingredient, or just happen to have a gallon of dark chicken stock or double corn stock to hand in your walk-in fridge, but the vast majority seem genuinely usable even in a private kitchen. I fully intend, in a few weeks, to tackle "Duck Breast Stuffed with Apples and Chestnuts and Roasted in Bacon, with Celery Root Puree and Calvados Sauce" -- there's a full-page pictoral on how to properly stuff and roll the duck breast. I'm also looking forward to trying out their recipes for mashed potato and "Cream Biscuits."

Tonight, though, we tried what they admittedly acknowledge is the "simplest" recipe in the book: Cauliflower Soup. (Well, technically, their recipe is for Cauliflower Soup with Maine Lobster, but, you know.)

It was magnificent. Astoundingly rich, savory and creamy, particularly given how easy it was to make.

In fact, it was so easy, I want to share the recipe so you can try it too. It seriously took under half an hour to prepare from start to finish, and we accompanied it with some chicken sausage for protein and had a really great meal. Try it, and let me know what you think!

Boulevard's Cauliflower Soup )
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What happens when you put a single letter into Firefox's url bar and see what the first autocompletion it suggests is?

You get an A To Z for the Internet Age!

A is for Amazon
B is for Bed Bath and Beyond
C is for Cake Wrecks
D is for "Farewell to 'Modern Bride'" (really funny article, but I don't know why it's under "D")
E is for The Escapist: Zero Punctuation
F is for Facebook
G is for gmail
H is for HRSFANS.org
I is for iPowerWeb
J is for craigslist: Minneapolis (??)
K is for Virtual Keyboard
L is for The Let's Play Archive
M is for maps.google.com
N is for Netflix
O is for Oglaf (Awesome, but very NWS)
P is for Hamline Piperline
Q is for Questionable Content
R is for rot13.com (I have no idea -- I used this site, like, once)
S is for Stuff Christian Culture Likes
T is for Target
U is for the University of Minnesota Libraries
V is also for Virtual Keyboard, for some reason
W is for Waffleimages
X is for xkcd
Y is for Yelp
Z is for Zipcar

What's your alphabet?
occultatio: (coyote)
As I've said several times to [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 tonight, I cannot believe how few trick-or-treaters we got! Particularly after all the effort we spent putting fake cobwebs up on our trees, installing blacklights next to our door, hanging up a giant fake spider and even mounting a red sheet behind our window, illuminated from below from a lamp -- what I'm saying is that our house looks kind of awesome -- we only got five, maybe six groups all night long! Even after that one kid tried to literally grab an entire handful from the bowl, we now have way too much candy left over.

Seriously, we were so excited to finally be living somewhere trick-or-treating appropriate, but there was basically nobody! Sucks.
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After reading a philosophy-heavy post I made (in character) on the new Paradise Towers online roleplay forum, [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 disappeared downstairs for a minute, and then came back and handed me a book, Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee. "You need to read this," she said, and so, three days later, I have. The book, I think, is fundamentally unsuccessful, but fairly good for all that. Certainly, I want to talk about it, but I can't really *recommend* it to anybody. Thus, the below has plot spoilers, if that's likely to bother you.

Biting the Sun is set in a fantastic, hedonistic future utopia (it's ocassionaly hinted at but never made clear that it's on Earth itself) where humans live forever in domed cities, never need to work and thus dedicate themselves solely to pleasure. Drugs and other sense-expanding experiences are omnipresent, people can and do switch bodies and sexes at the drop of a hat, and if your wait period between bodies is too long for your taste, you can just commit suicide and your consciousness will be automatically transfered into a new one.

This system is run by benevolent androids (called "quasi-robots" or QRs) and powered, in a curious bit of sci-fi thinking, by emotions. When you want to buy something in a store, you simply step into a booth and, often aided with stimulants, literally weep and scream with thanks. Our nameless narrator likes to steal, an odd choice given the utter lack of real cost in "paying" properly.

Our narrator, of course, is growing discontented with this utopia, though it takes her quite some time to put a name to her restlessness. First, she tries on a variety of the different social roles available to members of the society, but none fit quite right. At last, after spending over a decade buried in the historical archives, she basically reinvents the ideas of dueling and, subsequently, murder. The QRs who run the society don't know what to do with her -- the idea of crime hasn't been around for centuries -- and so they eventually offer her the choice between suicide, followed by complete personality wipe and rebirth into a new body in three hundred years, and solitary exile into the vast desert that covers most of the planet (with essential nutrients and shelter to be provided by the city for the remainder of her natural lifespan). She chooses the latter, and, with a "water mixer" the city provides her, waters the dunes until they bloom with latent plant life. She nurtures her Garden for a year, after which it is finally noticed and a number of other people voluntarily exile themselves in order to join her. Disturbed, the QRs try to sabotage her project to force her to commit suicide, but the attempt fails and the book closes on the little community looking into the sunset, the narrator and her friend already pregnant.

The book is trying, very hard, to make a point about the real meaning and worth of accomplishments and personal expression, but that aspect of the narrative falls very flat. The problem is that there is never any real, meaningful danger, and so even the narrator's accomplishments at the end, raising the garden from the desert, fails to feel at all significant. Though she may have helped dig irrigation trenches by hand, the vegetation arose simply from the artificial rainfall provided by the water mixer machine, which in turn was powered and fueled by a literally infinitely refillable source. Though the community was moving towards self-sufficiency at the end in terms of food, their shelter (and life-preserving "oxygen pills") were all gifts from the city that cast them out. The entire little enterprise is really only on the society's sufferance -- in order to discourage more runaways, the best threat they can come up with is that the only food the exiles will be allowed is basic, flavorless gruel. Oh, no!

People in this society are in a state of more-or-less constant adolescence, and despite everything the narrator never really grows out of that. Her bold defiance of tradition and subsequent exile comes across less as a young heroine leaving behind all she knows to make a new life in the wilderness and more like a young girl misbehaving and getting sent by her parents to a boarding school -- an adolescent rebellion, not a mature one. The only thing she really loses by her displacement is the infinite youth that would be her birthright in the cities, but since she was tired of city life that doesn't even register as a cost to her or us.

What I found particularly frustrating was that there were several other far more interesting bits of plot and worldbuilding that were left inefficiently (if not totally) unexplored. For a simple example, at one point the narrator faints (an unprecedented event) right after saying the phrase "Oh God." Nobody has ever heard this word before, including her, and nobody knows where it came from, why she said it or what it means. It's a mystery! The book refers to it several more times, including one exchange in which saying it basically sends a computer into a bizarre logic loop, but never even begins to offer an explanation. Even the computer eventually deals with the problem by erasing its memory of the word and installing an input filter to avoid hearing it again.

More interesting is the idea that in each human there is a "spark of life." This spark is what is kept alive between death and rebirth in a new body, and is the constant element throughout Personality Dissolution, the ego-wiping process offered to people who finally grow tired of life. QRs don't have it, we are told several times -- the narrator wonders whether they are jealous of humans because of it -- but it's never totally clear what impact that lack has. Would a QR with a spark be able to revolt against its programming?

At one point during her exploration of social roles, the narrator attempts to "make" a child (there are no pregnancies or live births). We are told that only a male and a female, together, can create a new spark of life, but this is not explored: the narrator simply says that scientists had "thrown up their hands" at the curious circumstance. The narrator donates an egg, but, unable to find any suitable friends currently male in her social circle, changes sex herself and donates her/his sperm. However, when the QRs attempt to fertilize the egg, "the two life-sparks explode the moment they touch and return into vacuum."

Uh, what? That implies some really serious metaphysical points about the nature of life and the human soul! To be fair, this book was written in 1977, decades before cloning became a reality, but regardless of scientific facts there are some incredibly significant implications in this bit of science fiction. Hell, you could get an entire short story just out of exploring that one concept, but Biting the Sun never really returns to it.

What this book does very well is capture, at great length, the sensation of adolescent frustration and ennui. Its focus at all times is on the narrator's emotional state, and it really does paint a very rich and believable picture. The imagination behind the worldbuilding is also really creative, enough that many of the visuals and other sensory images come across powerfully, even though Tanith Lee's actual descriptive language is workmanlike at best and painfully stilted at worst (the opening few pages were particularly bad). Biting the Sun also has a large number of really interesting ideas at work in it -- beyond the ones I mentioned, there's a fair bit of exploration of the nature of creativity, love for the self vs. love for others, artificial intelligence, appearance vs. inner nature, and maturity.

Unfortunately, none of those explorations are taken far enough to be satisfying. More than anything, the book feels unfinished: I want to hear more about what happens twenty, fifty years down the line, when for instance the narrator finally has to confront the physical reality of aging and impending death rather than youthfully spitting in the face of those abstract concepts. Her journey has really only begun: what would happen if her little society suddenly lost all connection with and supplies from the city? A lot of stuff has been set up, but the book is really only an exploration of that setting-up process.

oh my god

Oct. 22nd, 2009 08:32 am
occultatio: (Default)
someone actually did it in REAL LIFE.


MORE THAN ONE theoretically reality-based group has, actually, used the name "Project Icarus."

MIT, you're supposed to be smarter than that!

Beyond those, I'm actually surprised to see how few examples TV Tropes has come up with: an orbital mirror system from a James Bond film (falls), not one but two ships from a sci-fi B-movie called Sunshine (destroyed by literally getting too close to the sun), the ship which carried Sheridan's wife to Z'ha'dum on Babylon 5 (captured, all aboard dead or suborned), and a project name from Stargate Universe (literally blows up). Of course, I know they're missing the X-Files reference, so the list is obviously incomplete.

If I ever make a sci-fi film, I'm totally naming a ship "Balder." It will be captained by Agamemnon Q. Icarus. And then it will go through the entire movie utterly unmolested.
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Attention, scriptwriters:

DO NOT NAME ANYTHING, EVER, "THE ICARUS PROJECT." I think the worst part is that scientists are always involved, and you think that ONE of them would be literate enough to go, "hey, guys, that's a really bad name for ANYTHING WE WANT TO SUCCEED."

I wonder how many fictional projects/other things have been named after Icarus. This may be one of my least favorite tropes.

Edit: unrelatedly, it turns out that the cousin of one of my classmates in my teaching program owned our house directly before us. Just, so you know.
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1. It is SNOWING outside and it has been SNOWING for at least the past four hours and a while before that since there were several inches of SNOW on the roof when we woke up this morning and it is OCTOBER and not even late October but it should be FALL what the FUCK Minnesota.

2. Oatmeal. Oatmeal and hot cocoa.

3. When Books Could Change Your Life: Why What We Pore Over at 12 May Be The Most Important Reading We Ever Do is a good, short essay. It's not saying anything wildly new, but I like the way it's said here. Tim Kreider is a solid, though not brilliant writer, but his political (and other) cartoons are excellent and also worth checking out.

4. Yesterday, [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 and I went to Fallcon, the (very) local comics convention. It's actually located in the State Fairgrounds, which we walked to many times during the Fair itself, but since it was THIRTY FUCKING DEGREES OUT IN OCTOBER yesterday we drove instead. I ended up spending much more money than I had originally intended to -- I found the only trade paperback of Impulse which was ever published (it was a dumb, silly superhero comic, but a good dumb, silly superhero comic) for $3, and then we found the entire run of GTO, all 25 volumes, for $45. GTO has always been a series we wanted to own, but its length made collection cost-prohibitive, so we jumped on the opportunity. Now we a) own all of it, yay! and b) have had to reorganize the manga bookshelf to have some series stacked vertically, a la Congery's setup.

That would have been fine, but then I ran into several webcomic artists whose work I like, and I always feel obligated to support webcomics where I can. Thus, I ended up buying a minicomic of The Intrepid Girlbot (which is adorable and you should read), which the artist actually spent several minutes drawing a really nice sketch in the back of while we chatted about comics and David Lynch and whatnot. Then, I was more or less shamed and wheedled into buying (at a discount!) a complete set of the Templar, Arizona books, which the artist also signed and sketched for me while we chatted about random online/Something Awful-related bullshit. I'm slightly more hesitant to recommend Templar, because it's much weirder and really needs to be digested in large chunks (books, in other words), but it is very creative and well-written, to the point where the artist said that people have described the comic as "Chekhov's Arsenal."

Oh, and then afterwards we went to our regular comics shop, armed with the special discount coupon from their booth at the con, to discover not only the newest volume of Pluto but TWO new volumes of Black Jack, which made us both very happy. I also bought the first issue of The Unwritten, the new Vertigo series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (the writer and primary artist of Lucifer). It seems pretty good so far, but it's all about the Power of Narrative to Shape Reality, which has the danger of setting off basically every alarm in my old and disused Folk & Myth brain.

5. We went to see the new Coen Brothers movie, A Serious Man, last night with [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360's parents. It was just about the best possible encapsulation of the particularly Jewish/Yiddish/Russian philosophy of life I could have imagined, and I just can't find any other words to describe it appropriately. It is not for everyone, but if you understand the meaning/proper usage of the word "nu?" then you absolutely must see it. If you don't, you would probably still find its individual scenes really funny, but I suspect the movie as a whole would be either disturbing or just confusing. Very well made!

6. Now I have to write an essay about My Philosophy of Teaching, in which however I suspect it would be inappropriate to quote Foucault. I will, somehow, make do.

7. WHAT THE FUCK SNOW IN OCTOBER. Also I have finished my oatmeal.
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Judge to Prop. 8 backers: Turn over your papers

"A federal judge has ordered sponsors of California's Proposition 8 to release campaign strategy documents that opponents believe could show that backers of the same-sex marriage ban were motivated by prejudice against gays.


If the courts find that the ballot measure was motivated by discrimination, they could strike it down without having to decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry."


"Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for the Prop. 8 sponsors, said Friday it was unprecedented to allow "the losing side of a campaign to pry into the most intimate strategy discussions of the winning side."

"This will make any citizen group think twice before attempting a ballot initiative," Pugno said."

At first, I was overjoyed: I never even thought of that as a possible route to overturning the damn thing! The more I consider the implications and possible precedent this could set, however, the more worried I become. On the one hand, Prop 8 was motivated by bigotry, everybody involved damn well knows that, and the federal goverment at least has made it very clear how it feels about bigotry-motivated (or interpreted) laws.

On the other hand... this was a citizen group, and the very last thing we want is for citizens to be held accountable for their thoughts and motivations. Major free speech red flag, there.

On the other other hand, a citizen's motivation is called into question vis a vis criminal trials, yes? Intent being the primary distinction between murder and manslaughter, and critical to assigning the term "hate crime?" I'm not sure quite how that would apply here, unless Prop 8 is being discussed as, literally, a "criminal act."

On the other^3 hand, and unrelatedly to everything else, it would actually be awesome if political campaigns were forced to share what passes for their "strategy," in a general sense. It's disgusting how much politics today is indistinguishable from marketing, and one of the effects of that is the victor is generally the party with the better "strategy," regardless of how the population actually feels about the issues at stake. Forcing strategy documents to be made public after the fact could possibly do a lot to level the playing field.

Thoughts? How stupid and/or naive am I being?
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This weekend, for Erev Yom Kippur, I baked challah for the first time. It was a lot of fun -- I did a six-strand braid, which came out looking really gorgeous -- but only mildly successful. The good side is that it tasted phenomenal, but I was disappointed at how little it rose. It rose enough to be tasty and edible, but it was still very heavy for challah.

I suspect that the biggest problem was somewhere around the kneading process. Per instructions, I mixed all the ingredients together in the mixing bowl, and then turned the dough out onto a well-floured surface. I floured my hands thoroughly as well, and then plunged them... directly into the dough. And when I pulled out, I took half the dough with me.

In other words, it was astoundingly sticky still, and got all over my hands nearly beyond my ability to remove. I eventually salvaged most of it, but only through the application of a LOT more flour. The recipe's advice was to only add "as much flour as aboslutely necessary," but I don't know whether the amount I needed was standard or whether I messed something else up earlier.

Does anybody with any experience in baking bread have any thoughts on this? I'm sure that I followed the recipe carefully until that point; should I have kept it in the mixer for longer, perhaps? Would that have made any difference? I want to try again, but I'd love to have a game plan for this issue if possible.

Mashup Corner

I've got well over 100 of these, so I figure that I'll toss in some links to other really good ones. Today's goes in the category of "How the hell does that work?" -- though it may not do much for anybody not previously familiar with both of the component songs. It's a mind warp if you are, though.

"Wicked Wedding"
Billy Idol - "White Wedding"
Chris Isaak - "Wicked Game"
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So, for whatever reason, I spent basically the entirety of this past Saturday trolling for new and clever mashups. I must have listened to the first 30 seconds, at least, of well over 2-300 songs, much to [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360's eventual exasperation, and from those I found over 25 compositions that were genuinely clever, cool or generally mind-warping.

(For those unfamiliar: a mashup is when you take the vocals from one song, sans instrumentation, and put them on top of the instrumentation, sans vocals, of a totally different song. A really good mashup is basically a musical joke, and an astoundingly good mashup can even be better than both its original components.)

Well, anyway, some of these are nifty enough that I wanted to share, especially since almost all mashups are available for free download. Check them out!

Clever Juxtapositions

"Monty Python's Killer Queen"
Theme from Monty Python's Flying Circus
Queen - "Killer Queen"

"If I Were a Free Fallin' Boy"
Beyonce - "If I Were a Boy"
Tom Petty - "Free Fallin'"
I'd never heard the Beyonce song, either. It's not important to "getting" or enjoying this mashup.

"Don't Cha Want Me"
Pussycat Dolls - "Don't Cha"
Human League - "Don't You Want Me"

"From the Heart of Glass"
Blondie - "Heart of Glass"
Philip Glass - "Glassworks" (combination of Opening and Closing)

Wow, That's Really Cool / How the Hell Does That Work?

"Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up"
Rick Astley - "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
video available here

"Black Butterfly Busters"
Ram Jam - "Black Betty"
Smashing Pumpkins - "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"
Ray Parker Jr. - "Ghostbusters"
The Pumpkins song is the "rat in a cage" one -- you probably know it, if not its title.

"Mia Freaky Mamma (On a Leash)"
Korn - "Freak on a Leash"
Abba - "Mamma Mia"
This one, in particular, is hysterically funny.

Just Plain Awesome

"Hotel California Must Go On"
The Eagles - "Hotel California"
Queen - "The Show Must Go On"

"Toxic Starlight"
Britney Spears - "Toxic"
Supermen Lovers - "Starlight"
Give this one a try even -- or even especially -- if you can't stand the Britney Spears original. The new background completely harmonically recontextualizes the song.

Pure, Jaw-Dropping Magnificence

System of a Down - "Toxicity"
Coldplay - "Fix You"
SoaD is a scream-into-the-microphone-while-playing-heavily-distorted-chords metal band. "Fix You" is one of Coldplay's slower, more boring songs, and that's saying something. The intersection between them is nothing short of epic, in all the senses of that word.
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(I've felt like this has been hanging over my head, to the point where I've been feeling guilty about posting to LJ about anything else, and I need a break from work, so here's the final installment.)

Time on road: 5 hours
Distance covered: 270 miles

Total driving time: 37 hours
Total distance: 1880 miles*

I'm torn about this entry. On the one hand, the rest of the House on the Rock was absolutely spectacular and one of the most awesome places I've ever been. If I wanted to, I could describe the treasures and oddities and marvels within for pages.

On the other hand, part of what made everything so amazing is how unexpected it all was. It has rarely been more literally true that, when you turn a corner in the House, you have absolutely no idea what awaits you on the other side. Even pictures wouldn't begin to cover it: there are some rooms that are pure sensory overload, and you simply have to experience it for yourself.

So, this is all I'm going to say, and please understand that I am not exaggerating or putting on a show: if you're one of the people reading this journal, you will love the House on the Rock. You owe it to yourself to see it sometime. And, if you come to visit us in Minnesota, I will take you. You should allow for an extra day in your trip, on which we can get up early, drive the four hours to Spring Green, Wisconsin, see the House, and drive home. It will be worth both your time and mine.

Anyway, the last two parts of the House took us about four or five hours to get through, including a stop for lunch in their cafe (which was itself, of course, a fascinating room). Afterwards, we each got a souvenier, and then had clear and gorgeous weather for the drive to Minneapolis. The Garmin did its best to make up for the previous night, taking us (instead of along more of I90) for the first several hours of the drive through more stunningly beautiful farm country roads, up and down hills and through tiny, adorable little towns. We were both sad to eventually rejoin the interstate, but we even got to get back off it before too long and take a slightly more pastoral state route into the Twin Cities.

Without much more trouble (thanks in part to Alexa's dad calling to warn us about highway closures), we reached her parents' house in Edina in the early evening, had dinner with them and unloaded the minivan fully at last.

It would be another week before we could move into the new house, which we spent primarily shopping for the things we would need, but then the day after the official transfer, I flew back to Boston to meet my family for another trip, seven days sailing around the British Virgin Islands. But that's a whole other triplog.

*The discrepancy with regard to the previous post is because, for all the other updates, I was getting our mileage from google maps, but since this was the end of the trip I simply checked the odometer. Essentially, we drove an extra 21 miles beyond the most efficient possible route over the course of the trip.
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Time on road: 7.5 hours
Distance covered: 330 miles

Total driving time: 32 hours
Total distance: 1589 miles

Another bright and early start found us trying to get to Millenium Park at about 8:30 in the morning, right during rush hour traffic. We had some extensive disagreements with our GPS, which insisted that it would be faster to take a side road than sit on the slow-moving highway but later proved to be completely incapable of taking delays on such side roads into account. Delays like, for instance, traffic lights.

So at about 9:15 we finally got there, and then spent another quarter hour searching for parking that cost under $19 (the official Millenium Garage had a reasonable half-hour rate, but an 8-hour minimum). We were told to look for metered parking on Columbus Ave, but this was tricky inasmuch as several blocks of this street were closed off for the Chicago Blues Festival, starting that afternoon. We both agreed that the festival looked cool, but insufficiently so for us to change our travel plans, and so we settled with parking a ten-minute walk away from Millenium Park and hiking it.

Once there, we saw everything that we had been instructed to not miss, including the fountains with the faces and the giant chrome jelly bean, which was in fact amazingly trippy (when you stand directly underneath it and look straight up, you see your reflection through what looks like a tall tunnel, only it's not mirror-reversed.) We were duly appreciative, and then hustled back to the car before the meter ran out of time.

Next: back onto I-90! What followed was either the worst or the second-worst driving conditions on the trip to date; I'm still not sure. For about twenty miles, we were stuck in slow-moving traffic, with trucks instructed to use the left lane, slow idiots not realizing that they should also, therefore, be in the left lane, our car keeping pace with a convoy of about three trucks which took turns passing us, narrow shoulders and an enormous, dusty construction zone along the right side of the highway. For TWENTY MILES.

Oh, also, Illinois's approach to a "toll road" turns out to be having everybody pay a tiny, incremental toll every 30 miles or so. Cars paying cash, over to the far right side, please.

So anyway we spied an outlet mall by the side of the road and, reasoning that where there are outlet malls, there is food, we pulled off. We bought some swimsuits for the Dells later on, and got lunch in the food court. I was sad about effectively breaking my "no chain restaurants" streak, but the stall I went up to was at least a chain I had never heard of before -- it appeared to be a Vienna Sausage branded hot dog stand. The guy behind the counter was really friendly, and tried to shame me into having my hot dog "Chicago style" (which includes mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle and like five other things of which plain old ketchup is not one). I eventually persuaded him into giving me a dog with ketchup by agreeing to also take it with tomatos and keep the pickle on the side, and in the final preparation he insisted on adding a sprinkling of celery salt. Somewhere during these negotiations, I asked whether this was, in fact, a chain, and he proudly responded that it was no such thing, just his own little restaurant. So: the streak is still alive! The hot dogs were pretty good, too.

Afterwards, we had clear sailing to the House on the Rock, our next stop of the day. The House on the Rock turns out to be literally an hour away from ANYWHERE else in Wisconsin. This means that it takes a while to get to, but fortunately the roads on the way there are absolutely beautiful. We passed through twenty miles of farm country amidst rolling green hills, and it was the perfect antidote to the cramped conditions earlier.

The House itself actually proved to be exactly as crazy and awesome as advertised, beginning with the 10-foot tall giant copper urns covered with dozens of flower boxes and enormous copper lizards which lined the entry drive. The House has three segments, and we only did the first of them, taking us through the Gatehouse, the Original House and the Infinity Room. The two former locations are... I really have no idea how to describe them. Imagine a house built by tunnelling wombats and decorated by an insane Japanese emperor stuck in a time warp to the 60s, and you might have some idea. It was dark, cramped, lit by crazy blue lights from behind intricate carved wooden screens, carpeted on all surfaces including the ceiling and filled with uncountable numbers of Tiffany lamps, statues and busts of the Buddha, lacquered cabinets and mechanical orchestras playing jaunty tunes to visitors.

Alexa has pictures -- this is one of those places that words simply cannot do justice to. For instance, there's the Infinity Room, a long, windowed corridor jutting out 50 feet into empty space, where the end of the corridor narrows to a point in such a precise way as to give the illusion that it goes on forever. There's also a window in the floor at the far end, through which you can look down and see the treetops many meters below. I lasted until we started hearing the wood creak, at which point vertigo kicked in.

We stopped at this point, saving the other two parts of the tour for the next day, and headed off towards Wisconsin Dells, the Waterpark Capital of the World. They have something like 22 different water parks, many of them indoors so that tourism can continue through the winter. We were headed to the Kalahari, on the theory that it was open later than anything else and also had a special evening-only rate. We stopped just outside House on the Rock to secure a motel room for the night, and then proceeded to utterly fail to find the goddamn resort.

There were billboards for it, with no address or instructions. It was not on either of the two main roads through town. When we stopped briefly to pick up the official Wisconsin Dells tourism magazine, we discovered that its full page advertisement contained no useful information. When we called the toll-free reservations number listed in that ad, the lady gave us the wrong address. We called Alexa's dad, who was pretty sure that you could see the resort from the interstate that ran outside town, and so we spent fifteen minutes driving up and down, and failed to see it.

At long last, at about the point where I was starting to be rude to people on the phone out of frustration, we officially gave up and decided to just park in downtown Wisconsin Dells and walk around the main street. The main street was functionally identical to five hundred other tourist towns -- fudge shops, t-shirt shops, ice cream parlors, souvenier shops, a Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum -- but the weather was gorgeous and we were able to relax and decompress. It took until the fourth fudge shop for Alexa to find a place that would sell her only a quarter pound, and I got some fairly disappointing soft-serve, but by the time we got back to the car an hour later we were both in much better moods.

(As an aside: the one unusual type of store in Wis Dells was for moccasins, of which there were about six. Is this some Thing of which I was unaware, that Wisconsin is famous for moccasins, or is it utterly random? It made me wonder whether the Chamber of Commerce didn't just get together one day and decide, okay, the new thing is moccasins. We will open up seven million shops advertising moccassns, and all the tourists will assume that, when one goes to Wisconsin Dells, one purchases moccasins.)

(Also: how can a quarter-mile strip of land support four different "old-timey photographs of yourself" stores?)

Once filled up with the Dells, we drove back to our motel, passing OF COURSE the goddamn Kalahari resort within, literally, five minutes.

Actually, wait: here is the thing you need to know about our GPS. Our GPS is a Garmin Nuvi, a birthday gift from my parents. It operates by a simple algorithm, in which it lays out a straight line from your current location to your destination, and then finds the best fit along streets, regardless of highway/road division or any sort of efficiency. For instance, on the way up from Chicago it had us get in an exit lane from the highway, and then keep left to get right back on the highway 300 feet later, because the exit lane was straight while the highway curved in a gentle arc.

The next thing you need to know is that Spring Green, where the House on the Rock and our motel were, is IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.

The last thing you need to know is that, about ten minutes after we left Wisconsin Dells, it began to rain hard.

Result: driving down obscure, twisty country back roads, in pitch black save for our headlights, while our wipers made a mess of the windshield. Every ten minutes or so, a car would pass us going the other way, and the glare from their lights would be so bad that we would have to slow down to basically nothing until they passed and we could see again. Also, at some particularly privileged spots along State Route 60, the road would be slightly warmer, and so mist would be hovering in solid-looking wisps about five feet above the surface until we drove through them and they bent around our car EXACTLY like mournful ghosts. It was the sort of drive where, being a young couple, if we had pulled over we would have been killed by an ax murderer. Alexa confessed some surprise, afterwards, that we didn't see a hitchhiker. It sucked, in other words, but after about an hour we finally made it back to the motel and turned in for the night.
occultatio: (Default)
Time on road: 9 hours
Distance covered: 485 miles

Total driving time: 24.5 hours
Total distance: 1259 miles

This was a big driving day, as the numbers indicate: our goal was to power through as much of the boring parts of the trip as possible in a single go, giving us more time for the fun stuff in Wisconsin. We drove from Erie to Cleveland first thing in the morning, arriving at about 10:30 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tickets were expensive at $22 each, and they slowed down the line by making everybody pose for photos with an electric guitar before buying them, but the museum itself was pretty neat. There were a whole lot of "famous outfits used on stage" by big stars, and a metric ton of neat memorabilia. Probably the coolest single item was Billy Joel's notebook in which he composed "We Didn't Start the Fire," from which I learned that the lyrics are actually divided into different years at regular intervals, and not just a random collection of historical name-dropping moving generally forward in time.

The museum was also advertising a special exhibit on Bruce Springsteen, which confused me inasmuch as his whole image is as the anti-rock-star, a songwriter in a t-shirt and blue jeans, and I had no idea what would be on display. Turns out: not that much. A bunch of pages from his journals, a bunch of concert posters, and, like, a totally ordinary chair and desk "at which many of his songs were written."

Afterwards, we attempted to find lunch in downtown Cleveland, which involved on the whole far too much walking through downtown Cleveland until we found a little noodle place billing itself as one of those "healthy lunch" alternatives for corporate shirts. It probably was healthy, really, but the ambiance was thrown completely off by their use of heavy styrofoam cups for all their drinks. Still: rice noodles in peanut sauce with a glass (/styrofoam) of limeade = a much better lunch than we expected to find in Cleveland.

(Checklist, for those playing along at home: we saw the poor people all wait for buses, a guy with at least two DUIs and the thing they think is art. We did not see, despite keeping an avid eye out the window, the river that catches on fire or a statue of Moses Cleveland (the guy who invented Cleveland). It was also gray and rainy, as promised. We noticed the irony, as we were leaving, that those videos had actually served as genuine tourism videos in the end.)

Next came the marathon drive to Chicago. Armed with the address of a pizza place/gelateria highly recommended on Yelp, we set out at about 1:30, Eastern time, and arrived just before 7 PM, Central time, after 6 1/2 hours on the road, the last hour of which was spent traversing the last 15 or so miles from the highway to the restaurant. What the Yelp page didn't mention, or at least mention where I had seen it, was that the restaurant (which turned out to actually be a small Italian grocery store) closed at 7, a fact we discovered ourselves when the owner locked the door behind us as we entered, so that nobody else could come in.

Thus, we ended up eating at another Italian restaurant that Alexa had spotted a half mile away, which had an ambiance I can only describe as "like one of those places your grandparents took you when you were younger." It was called, for instance, "Al's." The lack of a double possessive was refreshing, the portions were huge and the quality was totally fine, especially the melted mozzarella which was basically troweled on top of my chicken parmesan. We ate until we were full, and then Alexa observed that we both desperately needed fruit, inasmuch as she felt totally stuffed but was still attempting to eat her tomato sauce.

This was accomplished by finding what turned out to be a Mexican supermarket a few blocks away, where we got a whole bunch of very cheap and not very good plums, along with a 12-pack of Pineapple Crush soda, because wtf. (The rationale was actually: "If it sucks, we can save it and drag it out at parties and make people drink it!") Finally, we found a Motel 6 a few miles away from the city center, and stopped for the night
occultatio: (Default)
Time on road: 6 hours
Distance covered: 300 miles

Total driving time: 15.5 hours
Total distance: 774 miles

We woke up at 8 again, and then failed to actually leave the house until 9:30. This turned out to be okay, though, as we only ended up needing to spend about an hour and a half at Watkins Glen State Park. Watkins Glen is a place that I went a few times when I was like 9 or 10 or so and [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 had never been; it's a huge water-carved gorge that still has a little river running through it, and as you hike up you follow the river through both pools and cataracts, even getting to go directly behind a 20-foot waterfall at one point (you can stick your hand out into it, or just stare through the rushing water, which is a trip in and of itself). We hiked up past most of the waterfalls, and then went back along the south ridge of the gorge, on an utterly unpopulated trail. There was a pond at one point where we saw several dragonflies and surprised a frog, as well as a suspension bridge that ran probably 75 feet above the canyon.

Afterwards, we met my grandparents for one last lunch at Seneca Harbor, a restaurant literally on the southern shore of Lake Seneca. They explained that it was the sort of place where, during full-on tourist season, you wouldn't be able to find a seat, but for now it was nice and mostly empty.

Moving on towards Niagara Falls, we once again deliberately ignored our GPS so that we could go up north on Route 14, which runs directly alongside the west shore of the lake. I was hoping to pass a soft-serve stand (in my memory, upstate New York has really good soft-serve ice cream), but instead we got basically nothing but wineries for 40 miles. Still, the countryside was beautiful and the views across the lake abundant, so we both rated it a worthwhile detour. Especially since, immediately afterwards, we got on I-90, and had nothing but boring fields for most of the rest of the way.

We arrived in Niagara Falls around 4 PM, and headed straight to the state park, where thanks to our parking stub from Watkins Glen earlier that day we got in for free (apparently it's buy admission to one NY State Park, buy admission to all of them, and WG was half the price of NF). We had been advised both to see the falls from the Canadian side and to spend the money for the boat tour, and so upon determining that the latter was identical regardless of which shore you boarded from, we bought tickets aboard the Maid of the Mist.

To anybody else thinking of going: this is, in fact, totally worth the price. We got to go way up close to the Canadian falls, where the curtain of mist was so thick that we couldn't even see the top of the falls the whole way around. Those definitely won for most impressive waterfall of the day, but I frankly liked the American falls much more on an aesthetic level, as they tumbled down onto a huge bed of rocks, and you could see the water dancing down across the moss-covered boulders. Many pictures were taken, and Alexa discovered that her camera is at least labeled "all weather."

It was about 5 when we finished, and we set about trying to find somewhere to eat. I've made it something of a goal for this trip, or at least a bonus achievement, to entirely avoid eating at chain restaurants, and so we wanted to find a restaurant somewhere in downtown the city of Niagara Falls. First, we tried the Seneca Niagara Casino, on the basis that a brochure claimed it contained several restaurants. This turned out to be true, but it also turned out that it was legal (and frequently practiced) to smoke inside the casino, and so our collective coughing drove us out rapidly.

Next, we thought, we'd try driving around the city until we found a restaurant that looked okay. Problem: pretty much everything in Niagara Falls that isn't the falls themselves looks like a shithole. We nearly gave up until we saw an archway over an intersection declaring one identical-looking stretch of road to be "Little Italy," and figured that there must be okay restaurants in there, surely. Thus, we found Lou's Pete's Market House, a really nifty little neighborhood restaurant with lots of totally okay food for totally okay prices. This was the kind of place where, for instance, the people at the table next to ours seemed to know about half the other tables in the restaurant -- as Alexa put it, it was the exact sort of place you hope to find on a trip like this one.

Afterwards, we wanted to get a couple hours' more driving in towards Cleveland before stopping for the night, and so we drove around beautiful Buffalo. The route took us through a really unpleasant industrial district, but about a mile before we hit I-90 again it turned unexpectedly into a much nicer neighborhood, and shortly afterwards we spotted (at last!) a soft-serve ice cream stand by the side of the road. It was everything I was hoping for and more, and even had some nice picnic tables out back by a big field, where we sat and ate. When we finished (which did not equal eating everything they served us), we got back on the road for another couple of hours, eventually stopping at a La Quinta in Erie, where we learned that the room rates advertised on GIGANTIC GLOWING SIGNS outside the hotel are not, necessarily, the rates which are actually available inside the hotel. Ah, well -- we have two more nights to put this new knowledge to use.
occultatio: (Default)
Time on road: 5 hours
Distance covered: 250 miles

Total driving time: 9.5 hours
Total distance: 474 miles

We woke up bright and early at 8:00 and headed over to the Museum of Natural History, where we arrived 40 minutes before the door opened. This was fine, as we had nothing much else to do with that time, and meant that we were one of the first hundred or so people inside the building. The thing was, everybody in front of us crowded into the main ticket line, while we just kind of stared at the utterly unused row of ticket self-serve kiosks, wondering whether they were broken or something. They weren't, which meant that we were one of the very first people to actually get tickets, and thus had the whole of the Hall of Asian Mammals completely to ourselves for several minutes, which was seriously cool.

We only had about two hours at the museum, meaning there's a lot of stuff we didn't get to see, but we did see the exhibits on the dawn of civilization and creation of tools/writing, the Hall of African Mammals (with the elephant herd in the middle), the Marine Life exhibit (with life-sized blue whale) and the dinosaur skeletons/evolution of vertebrates exhibit.

Afterwards, we met up with Michael and Kristen and walked through Central Park on the way to ramen at Menkui Tei, the awesome little shop that Ada discovered a while back. [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 said that she prefered the ramen at Sapporo better overall, but that the gyoza and curry rice were both spectacular. New Yorkers: go, if you haven't before!

After the brief, obligatory stop at Rice to Riches, we were off by midafternoon en route to Elmira. We had some fun with the GPS, here, as it desperately wanted us to drive through Manhattan. It took getting all the way north out of the city until the Tappan Zee bridge before it relented and let us drive through the absolutely gorgeous Catskill country instead. We took Route 17 nearly all the way there: the road was open, the scenery was beautiful, and the lighting was unearthly with sections of the sky blacked out by rainclouds as the sun shone through thinner clouds on the horizon, backlighting the rolling hills. A long drive, but a lot of fun.

We arrived in Elmira around 8, and had dinner with my grandparents, which was really wonderful, and then after a few hours of conversation went to bed in their guest room.
occultatio: (Default)
Total Driving time: 4.5 hours
Total Distance: 224 miles

We dropped off Mom at the airport, and then took off in our giant leviathan of a minivan (Dodge GRAND Caravan, what up). [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 took the wheel, and we actually made it to NYC in a single go, in just under 4 hours.

There we met a whole bunch of awesome people at [livejournal.com profile] khyros's apartment, including [livejournal.com profile] mikevonkorff, [livejournal.com profile] zezy_daemon, Bill, M.A., Kristen and Justin. We went (on [livejournal.com profile] khyros's recommendation) to an Argentian steakhouse, which served seriously the most amazing steak ever. [livejournal.com profile] zezy_daemon explained that this was because they just used much fattier cuts of meats than I was used to, but whatever. The restaurant was also playing a selection of particularly trippy music videos, which was hysterical since the last thing we had done before going to eat was watch Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version. The night ended with a game or two of Botticelli and falling gently into food comas. It was an excellent party, and [livejournal.com profile] khyros totally has my endorsement as a superb host/party planner, no matter how slow the service in the restaurant was!
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