Photodump: The Tail End of 2013

Well well well, if it isn’t 2014. I haven’t dumped photos for quite some time, so here are some things that I saw in the tail end of 2013.

turkey cake

My cube neighbor at work has a late November birthday, and 2013 was one of the years where that birthday fell on Thanksgiving day. So I tried my hand at making a cake with marshmallow fondant. I’d made it once before, but several years ago. (Overall, I judge it as pretty easy, but really time-consuming. And really delicious.) I was going to make the turkey golden-brown cooked color, but as I added the food coloring bit by bit, I came out with this flesh-tone before I got to brown, and figured I’d stick with it. Because it has more … character.

Scott's warty foot

Scott had some plantar warts. The podiatrist put acid on them, repeatedly. The entire affair was fascinating. The best part was when he’d go in two weeks after the acid treatment, and they’d carve away all of the dead skin, then sand him down with a Dremel tool. To celebrate the final acid treatment (which happened a few weeks ago), we’re going for pedicures. I will try to convince him to go for nail polish, but I will most likely fail.

Holiday Doodles art

My little Holiday Doodles continue to be a delightful project. My phone is chock full of pictures of the drawings, because it’s easier to take pictures than to try to use our printer/scanner. Half the time, it won’t connect wirelessly. Then half of the time it does connect, the scanner doesn’t want to work. I don’t know if we’ve EVER had a printer that’s worked seamlessly; for some reason, they’re always twitchy and buggy for us.

The Doodles also premiered on GoComics this last month, which is totally awesome. I’m tickled to be a part of the same family as Dilbert, Garfield, and Basic Instructions.

Queen of Cakes

I’ve also been dabbling into other artsy projects. I got a box of blank playing cards, and a package of fine-point Sharpies; here’s the “Queen of Cakes” card I made for my friend Jen.

Personalized plates

I’ve started playing a little game, in which I give backstories to people with personalized license plates. For example, here’s TOY LNDR. Lots of options when you throw in vowels, but I think he’s a Toy Lender. He owns a small company that will rent you whatever toy you desire, rare or common, from Tickle Me Elmo to Tomagotchi to the Barbie Dream House, so for an hour or two you can enjoy a return to your childhood.

Yesterday on my way to work, I was behind WAGG1R1 for a short while. It felt like she probably meant “Wag Girl”, and is probably just a huge fan of dogs. I, however, took the double use of the number 1s to both be analogues for the letter I. She is, then, The Great Waggiri, a world-famous magician with a dog-specific act.

naptime cats

Our new cat, Cheddar (ooh, I should do a post introducing her) is getting along quite well with Trouble. They’re not snuggle buddies, but they are usually within a few feet of each other when they’re lounging around. They definitely both like naps, and were patiently waiting for me to get my butt into bed on this particular lazy afternoon. (They also like to wake us up at 5 or 6 in the morning, so they’re totally to blame for the need for an afternoon nap.)

Scott would like me to point out here that HE’S THERE, NAPPING. One Scott, no waiting. Curl right up. And yet they’re both waiting for me. Poor guy.

Edward James Olmos

Last but not least, I love where I work. It’s not every workplace where Edward James Olmos (who I’m convinced is one of the nicest guys on the planet) stops by your office holiday potluck.


Comrade Meyer, 1998-2013

Comrade Meyer, 1998-2013

For those who haven’t heard yet, we had to put our wonderful cat Commie to sleep on November 22nd.

He’d been losing weight at an alarming rate, going from 16 pounds down to a little over 8; we did a bunch of tests at the vet, and he passed almost all of them with flying colors. It wasn’t one of the usual suspects: diabetes, thyroid issues, kidney, or liver. He did have a bit of protein in his urine, and evidence of a bacterial infection. We gave him kitty antibiotics, and planned on taking him back in for a new urine test when those were done, to figure out the cause of the protein.

Scott tried to take him in for the test a couple of times, but Commie got really good at having a pee at 5 or 6 in the morning before we got up, that sneaky little fellow. We figured we’d give it another chance on Friday.

For a few days, he’d been breathing a little heavier than usual. But on Friday (a day when he peed before we got up again, so devious), his breathing got heavier, and he started open-mouth panting. While dogs pant with their mouths open to cool down, when a cat pants it’s usually a pretty bad sign. Scott took him in to the vet that afternoon, and I met up with them there after work; they were just finishing up taking x-rays, so we could get a better idea of what was going on.

The x-rays showed that his chest was full of fluid. The vet talked us through the possibilities, but it was clear to all of us that he was in pain, and any type of diagnostic testing would cause him even more pain. And of the two big problems it could be (congestive heart failure or feline infectious peritonitis), neither could be cured. So we made the painful, difficult choice to have him put to sleep.

We had a great 15 years with Commie; it was sheer luck that the day we went to the Humane Society was the same day he’d just been released from quarantine, having been removed from a seized Russian fishing vessel off the Washington coast. The crew was deported, and a half-dozen animals went for adoption. We took little Commie, less than a year old, into the little visiting room, and he climbed straight onto Scott’s lap and curled up for a nap. From that very first day, he was a sweet, cuddly, wonderful lap cat with a great personality. My friend Allison referred to him as a gentleman, and that’s absolutely what he was.

We thought we were going to lose him three years ago, when he had a tumor in his eye socket; it didn’t react to steroids, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medication, but after we made the decision to not torment him with more hopeless treatment and just enjoy our last few weeks with him, the tumor spontaneously went away. The vet referred to him as a miracle cat. So we ended up getting three bonus years of him. Which, of course, wasn’t enough.

It’s interesting to note that he passed on Humane Society Day. It’s thanks to them that we had 15 amazing years with one of the sweetest cats I’ll ever know.

Commie on the Laundry


Weird Holidays = Holiday Doodles

A few months back, I posted about the daily doodles I was doing at work. And more than one person said that I should be putting them online somewhere, or make a daily calendar, or something.

The calendar thing would be a challenge, only because at this point, I’d have to start researching and drawing 2015. Because that’s how the calendar business rolls. But I did finally build a site where these will be online!

The daily doodles are now at holidaydoodles.com, and I’ve even bumped from 5 days a week up to 7. So now there’s a doodle for every darned day.

The archives are a work in progress, since I’m now colorizing everything in the computer, and a lot of the old ones were colored in with crayon or pencil. So let me show you how I’m building the archives (and the new holidays are done in a very similar way).

copying the archives

I figured that a light table to trace my old stuff on would be prohibitively expensive. But I was wrong! Yes, the big fancy light tables cost hundreds of dollars. But did you know that the magnificent folks at Crayola make a light-up tracing pad for a mere twenty bucks? It fits an 8.5×11 sheet of paper, runs on three AA batteries, and is plenty bright for my needs.

Tracing pad in hand, I started putting five or six drawings on a sheet of paper. I’d copy them over in pencil, then re-draw with my pen of choice: the classic (and cheap) Paper Mate Flair. (I use these at work, too, in a variety of colors.) Bolder than ball-point, not as fat and runny as Sharpie, the Flair rocks my little socks.

photographing the archives

Next, getting the new drawings into the computer. Yes, we have a scanner. It’s part of the printer/scanner/copier device we have. And like all printers, it chooses not to work correctly approximately 42% of the time. Instead, what I’m doing is taking pictures of the drawings with my phone. As long as I’m connected to wi-fi, they upload immediately to my DropBox space, and they’re automatically available on my computer. Much faster than scanning.

computer tracing the archives

In Adobe Illustrator, I run a process called “Live Trace” over the drawings. It takes them from plain old JPGs and turns them into vector art, which can be sized as small or large as you want without a change in quality. Sometimes it takes some tickling in the Live Trace settings, to get things just how I want them, but it’s pretty quick. By the way, this is the same process that Scott uses on his characters, as I showed in my Basic Instructions: Behind the Scenes exposé.

Finally, I color in the drawings using the plain old paint bucket tool. I only learned this week that Illustrator has a huge bunch of patterns that you can paint bucket with, as well as solid colors. You can probably see some of the patterns I’ve added to my bucket fill library there on the right. Haven’t found a reason to use any of them yet, but now I have them at the ready.

before and after

I save the colorized versions, upload them to the Holiday Doodles site, add in a brief commentary, and set them free.

For upcoming days, I’m doing them seven at a time on the weekend, then scheduling them so they post at 12:01 AM Eastern time every day. And I’m learning my lessons about researching before drawing — I had Tom Cruise Day ready to go for October 5, drawn up and everything, then learned that it’s actually October 6. Or maybe October 10, but I’m rolling with the 6th. I try for a minimum of two holidays per day, but I’m happy when it’s three or more. I have a five-holiday day coming up this week, which delights me.


Experiments in Wine: A Bunch of Red Bottles

A variety of red wine options

Slowly but surely, I’m trying this and that, these and those, and figuring out what I really like.

Rex-Goliath Free Range Red ($8) – They have this at BOTH local grocery chains, so it must be really popular. But as far as red blends go, I found it to be a little bit too bitter for my tastes. Which is a shame, because the bottle has an awesome crazy story about a 47-pound rooster. (Though it wasn’t as awesome crazy as the label on anything made by Dr. Bronner.)

The Little Penguin Pinot Noir ($7) – Another sad disappointment. Not very fruity or juicy, just kind of bitter and harsh.

Yellow Tail Sweet Red Roo ($7) – This wasn’t a bad cheap sweet red, but for the same price I can get the Barefoot Sweet Red, which remains one of my top cheap sweet reds. This wine was like Disney’s California Adventure theme park — anywhere else, it’d be really awesome. But next to Disneyland, it just can’t compare.

Yosemite Road Red Blend ($4.99) – This is the house wine of 7-Eleven, people. They made it to compete with Trader Joe’s Three-Buck Chuck. I guess this stuff is $3.99 in every state except Florida, where we pay an extra dollar. Because reasons. Anyhoo, it was shockingly decent for being a five dollar bottle of wine. Not too sharp, plenty tasty with the fruit notes. I’ll be getting another bottle of this stuff (and I’ll be paying peanuts).

La Di Da Sweet Red Wine ($9) – I got both of the bottles on the right side at the same time, and I felt like a real froo-froo girl, what with all of the flowers and pretty colors on the labels. This was a pretty good red blend, and I just might get it again. After I get more of that 7-Eleven wine.

Petals Sweet Red Dornfelder ($10) – I was given the recommendation of German wines made from Dornfelder grapes, because I clearly lean toward the sweet and fruity wines. And holy balls, y’all, this stuff is good. It probably helps that it only has 9.5% alcohol (as opposed to the 11%-14% of a lot of table wines out there. There’s practically no bitterness, no dryness from tannins — it’s smooth as a baby’s bottom and soft as velvet. Really mild, really fruity, and really tasty. I’ll definitely be checking out more Dornfelders.


Experiments in Wine: Joining Club W

Onward I go, in my new red wine adventures. I was pointed toward a mail-order service called Club W, wherein you get three bottles of wine a month. You can either select your own, or they’ll pick three for you based on a palate profile. The normal cost is $13 per bottle, plus $6 shipping for the 3-bottle case, but if you click that link you’ll get one bottle free in your first order. Which is what I got, so with tax and all, it came out to just over $30 for my first shipment. (Sorry, international readers; at this time, Club W is USA-only.)

The first part of signing up is profiling your palate. The site gives you six questions, such as:

Club W - Palate Profile

You can see my selected answer. Coffee? Heck naw. The profiler also asks how you feel about salt, citrus, berries, earthy flavors (like mushrooms or truffles), and how adventurous you are in general. Then it offers you a selection of wines they feel will suit your palate.

I picked three of the recommended wines — a Pinot Noir, a red blend, and a Malbec. Club W does a pretty tight job of curating their wines, so you’re likely to only find one bottle in any given style. But that’s OK — there were two styles I knew I’d probably like, and I’ve heard good things about Malbecs. And since I got a bottle for free, I figured if I didn’t like the Malbec, that could be the free one. :)

The Club W site is very simple; perhaps a bit too simple for some. It took some figuring out (and a chat with support) to really understand how they do things; if you get promotional items for free (such as the free bottle when signing up with an affiliate link, like my one above) you get a number of credits in your account equal to the dollar value — so if you get a free bottle, you’ll get 13 credits in your account. Nowhere on the site does it state that a credit equals a dollar, and in this world of things like Xbox Points and such (What kind of exchange rate is 80 Xbox points to the dollar, anyway?) you never really know what a credit means.

Anyhoo, I got my 13 credits, placed my order, the credits were applied, and a week later my order shipped. All told, it took about two weeks to get the wine — I ordered on the 14th, my order shipped on the 20th, and it arrived on the 27th. It appears that they process orders twice a month, on the 1st and the 15th, so I just got in under the wire for the processing on the 15th. It takes a little longer because they ship climate-controlled, which is nice. I’ll take the longer ship time to avoid boiling my wine here in Florida.

If you need to skip a month, they make that easy. There’s a big “Skip a Month” button on your account page.

Onward, to the shipment and the wines!

Club W Wine Suitcase

My order arrived in a really nice box with a handle — easy-peasy to carry. There’s a huge sticker on the side that you need someone 21 or over to sign for the package; since we weren’t home, it was delivered to the office at our complex, so all was good. They’re all 21 there.

Club W Packaging

Everything was packed tightly and securely, in custom-molded cardboard. No bottles touched each other, and they were all a goodly distance from the outside of the box. You can see my three wines here — Score Red Blend, Loca Linda x Bluebird Malbec, and One Hope Pinot Noir. The One Hope also came with one of those rubbery support bracelets, for the ASPCA. (Half of the proceeds of One Hope go toward animal charities, which delights me.)

So, how were the wines? Well, let me tell you:

One Hope Pinot Noir (2011, California) – This was a really good Pinot Noir. Not quite as good as the MacMurray, but good enough to rate a close second. I’d definitely buy another bottle.

Had a little trouble getting the cork out of the One Hope, sadly. But I didn’t have to fish too many crumbs out of the bottle:

One Hope Cork

Loca Linda x Bluebird Malbec (2012, Argentina) – My first Malbec, and I really, really liked it. It was soft and fruity enough that I’d compare it more to the red blends. There’s only one glass left in the bottle right now as I write, and that makes me really sad. But now I know that there’s a whole new world of Malbec out there to try.

Score Red Blend (2011, California) – The Club W site advertises this one as “a jelly doughnut in a glass”. It isn’t the smoothest of all of the red blends I’ve tried, but it’s still pretty tasty. Maybe just a splash too heavy on the tannins, but totally drinkable — I’ll give it 4 stars on the Club W site.

Overall, I’m glad I joined, and I’ll be getting more wine from Club W. Although I may only go every other month, and then supplement with cheaper stuff from the grocery store or Total Wine in between. They have a lot of good things going for them — quality wines, the palate profiler, an easy ordering system, and really nice support people.

The cons? Well, the big rub is that you likely won’t be able to find the wines you like anywhere else. Now that I’m almost done with this bottle of Malbec, I’ve looked online to see where I can find it … and it’s just not available anywhere near me. It was a limited run. So you do run the chance of falling in love with a wine, then never being able to get it again. Although the other two wines from my box, One Hope and Score, are still available through Club W, so I could stock up on extra bottles of those.

Still, it’s free to sign up and poke around and take the palate profile, so why not head over and see what they’re all about?


In Search of the Perfect Hatchback

We’ve been car shopping this last month, Scott and I. Our cars were both the same make and model — Ford Focus 2-door hatchback. Mine was from 2007, and Scott’s was from 2001. The 12-year-old Focus just wasn’t driving that great anymore; it was grumbly and growly and needed some work done again, so we decided to go ahead and trade it in for something new.

Scott thought we should get something new for me, and he’d take over the 2007 Focus, since I drive a lot more than he does. I wasn’t about to complain.

So, we checked out all of the little hatchbacks currently available. We opted for a hatch for a couple of reasons — since we have no kids, and rarely chauffeur anyone else around, we only need two seats. We’re big fans of good gas mileage. And hatches are, for the most part, really cute.

So first off, let’s talk about the models we didn’t bother to test drive:

Mini Cooper

Mini Cooper: I have friends who own Mini Coopers, and seem to like them just fine. But the price point is kind of a shock — they’re a good 5 to 10 thousand dollars more than most of the other hatchbacks out there. And I suspect you’re not getting all that much more car for the money. Also, for me personally, Mini is kind of in the same category as Apple products or Harley-Davidson motorcycles or Vespa scooters — they cost more than other brands, because you’re getting a certain feel of status that you like. But the product itself might not be as great, and may in fact require a lot more repair. (I’m not saying that’s the case with Mini, but it certainly is with Apple and Harley and Vespa, in my experience.)

Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta: We would have loved to test-drive a 2-door Ford. We’ve been very happy with our two Focuses, as well as the old Ford Escort I used to own. But sadly, the Fiesta is Ford’s smallest car in the USA right now. We might have considered it, except for two reasons: one, it looks like the modern-day equivalent of a station wagon (I’m also looking at you, Honda Fit), which is the last thing a non-mom wants; and two, my parents rented a Fiesta when they visited us in Florida, and it felt really cheap. Sad trombone, Ford. Sad trombone.

Smart ForTwo

Smart ForTwo: We didn’t test-drive the Smart this time around because we’d test-driven one a couple of years ago. It was plenty cute, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t stand the transmission. It was a sort of automatic/manual hybrid; you could let the car itself do all of the shifting, but there were also paddles behind the steering wheel with which you could manually shift. But no matter which mode you chose, the car was sluggish to respond. It was as if the gear changed, and the car had to think about things for a second, then it finally realized, “Oh, the gear changed,” then it would accelerate again.

So those are cars we considered, then didn’t consider. Now, onward to the cars I actually drove:

200-yaris

Toyota Yaris: For the last couple of years, we figured that this would be the car we’d get. It’s small, it’s cute, no unnecessary back doors, comes in a huge rainbow of colors. But when I went to the dealership, I found out that most of the unique colors aren’t carried anymore. It was pretty much the standard black, white, silver, and red (none of which I wanted), and a blue that was tolerable.

I test-drove an automatic, because that was all the dealership had on hand. It was decent, but nothing phenomenal. The automatic felt a little sluggish, but I figured a manual might have a little more pep. I asked if they were expecting any to arrive with a manual transmission, and after some searching, the dealer told me that not only were no manual transmission Yarises on the way, but out of the 180 dealerships across the southeast that they could get cars from, there wasn’t a single manual Yaris to be had. Because very few cars are made in manual transmission anymore, they said. For safety, they said. I would have to special-order one from the factory. And, despite me repeating that there was no way I was buying that day, they tried to get me to order a car that day.

Scion IQ

Scion IQ: Also at the Toyota dealership, I drove the Scion IQ. Also an automatic transmission, although when we drove it, I was assured that it could be had in a manual. Turned out that the guy who took me for the test drive was wrong — the Scion IQ only comes with “continuous variable transmission”, some sort of proprietary automatic transmission that makes the car feel slow and sluggish and way heavier than it really is. When the dealer was showing off the features of the car, he proudly showed me that it doesn’t have a glove compartment — instead, there’s a sort of plastic bin/drawer under the passenger seat. Also, it feels as small on the inside as it looks on the outside. Not an impressive car.

The Toyota dealership guys tried to get me to check out several other models, to try and be “flexible” (one of the most grating words a car dealer can ever use with me). They wanted to get me into a Prius (looks like a doorstop, plus it’s really long, I said), a Scion XD (the back makes it look like a hearse, I said), and a Corolla (after I specifically told them I would never consider a 4-door sedan). If I’m ever in the market for a Toyota in the future, I’ll try a different dealership.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500: We had a challenging time finding the dealership in downtown Orlando, because downtown Orlando can be a little confusing, and the main drag was closed for several blocks due to some sort of festival. But we eventually found the showroom, which was more like a motorcycle/scooter dealership than a car dealership, because all of the cars were inside the building. I guess that’s what you can do when all you sell is tiny 2-door hatchbacks.

We were able to test-drive a manual transmission, because a good half of their cars were manual. We drove the base model, called the Pop, which had all of the features we needed and then some (base model Pop comes standard with A/C, power windows, power doors, cruise control, bluetooth, and a bunch of other little bells and whistles). It was a great test drive — the car was peppy and responsive, we actually got to go on the freeway instead of a plodding trip around the neighborhood, and the salesman was really knowledgeable about the cars. I guess that’s what happens when you specialize in one model.

We didn’t get a hard push to buy that day, which was refreshing after the Toyota guys. At that point, the Fiat 500 was the car to beat.

Mazda 2

Mazda 2: It looks like Mazda used to make the 2 in a 2-door version, but it’s all 4 doors now. Still, it was a fairly small car, not much different in size from the Ford Focus, so we gave it a ride. We actually managed to test-drive one with a manual transmission, in this very same cool green color. Sadly, the color was the best part about it. Even with a stick shift, the car was really sluggish.

Our dealership experience was a weird one. The salesman seemed sleepy or something. He strolled us out to the far corner of the lot to look at his Mazda 2 selection, then when we expressed an interest in giving one a test-drive, he sauntered back all the way across the lot to get the keys, then meandered back in a leisurely fashion. Am I expressing well enough how slowly he moved? Let me add that there was very little shade, and it was June in Florida. We were quite sweaty when we finally got a chance to get in the car. So I guess the car suited the salesman, and vice versa.

He sent a follow-up email the next day (I learned after the Toyota guys, only give an email address, not a phone number, because those dudes called the next day and wanted to give another try to getting me one of their special deals on Corollas). The email asked for more detail about what we were looking for, so he could tailor an offer to us. I wrote back that we were really detailed already: small hatchback, manual transmission, and the Mazda 2 was the only model of theirs we’d consider. Yeesh.

Chevrolet Spark

Chevy Spark: Chevy has two smallish cars right now, the Spark and the Sonic, with the Spark being the smallest. And yet, despite its size, it’s still a 4-door. We went to the second-closest Chevy dealership, because according to their website, they had the Spark with a manual transmission. When we got there, however, we found out that they only had automatics on hand. Still, we test-drove the Spark. The car itself was adequate — about on par with the Yaris. Not as peppy as the Fiat, and the color choices were really weird — a pink that was more of a silvery-pink, and a yellow that was more like cream. I don’t even know what you would call this green color. (Chevy calls it “jalapeno”, which is totally wrong; jalapenos are much darker. This is more of a metallic guacamole.)

The worst part of the Chevy Spark was the dealership. From the beginning, we told our salesman that (1) the car was for me, and (2) we weren’t buying that day — we’d be ready to buy in a month. For the rest of the time there, most questions and answers were aimed at Scott, and I felt a bit invisible. Despite the fact that I was the only one driving the car. When I did get a direct answer, such as the one to the question, “You WILL take this giant sticker with the dealership name off of the back, right?” it felt kind of eye-rolly and oh-ladies-want-the-cutest-thingsy. Gross.

Then we asked for a brochure and his business card to take away, because again, we weren’t buying that day. We went into the showroom and the guy immediately snagged a manager, told the manager that “she’s settled on the Spark,” and the manager started into asking what he could do to get us in a car today. We told him we weren’t buying today, we just wanted a brochure and business card. “Hear me out, we have some great deals today,” he said. Scott was awesome, and told the manager, “Look, one of two things can happen here. Either you can get us a brochure and business card, or we’ll just leave.” The manager gave a nice condescending smile and started in with, “Just let me finish, because we have some great deals,” to which Scott and I turned on our heels and left. Behind us, I heard the salesman call out, “See you in a month!”

The best part was his follow-up email the next day. Despite the fact that my first name is in the email address, he addressed it “Dear Scott.” Then it was a form letter about how they hoped we had a great experience, and to let them know if we had any questions. I had a great time responding to that email! Addressing it to someone who isn’t the buyer, treating a woman like she’s invisible, refusing to give us a brochure … it felt quite refreshing.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 (again): By that point, we were settled on the Fiat. We decided to visit the other dealership in town, to see what their inventory looked like. Unfortunately, they were much more like a standard car dealership than the one downtown. We got a salesperson who was borrowed from the GMC/Dodge dealership across the street, so it was her first time in a Fiat and she couldn’t really answer any questions we had. They didn’t have a color combo I liked (I don’t need white upholstery [seriously, who does] but probably 80% of their cars had it), but we test-drove one anyway, just as a reminder of how peppy and fun it was. The one we drove was this same minty green color in the picture, which I could have settled for, I guess, but it wasn’t my favorite color by far.

After driving, they wanted to (of course) get me to take that minty green one home today. Even after I told them it wasn’t my favorite color, and we weren’t buying that day. And the price they offered us was almost $2000 higher than the prices listed on their website. Sad.

My Fiat 500

So we visited our bank and applied for a car loan, getting a letter from them with a great rate we could take to any dealership, and thus avoid the hassle of dealer financing, and back we went to the downtown Fiat dealership (Fields Fiat in downtown Orlando, for the record).

They took our 2001 Focus in trade, gave us a great deal on the new car, had the exact color combination I wanted in stock, and we even got to have some free gelato while they processed paperwork, filled up the tank, and gave it a quick wash. The license plates from the Focus got moved over to the Fiat, which made licensing fees way cheaper than expected. No hard selling, no pushy attitudes. Our sales guy was delighted that we came back; apparently most people who say they’ll be back never return, because they get so frustrated with the car-buying experience, after 4 or 5 dealerships, they just buy the last thing they look at because they just don’t want to go through the hassle anymore.

The color is “rame”, which I guess is Italian for “copper”. This picture makes it look more on the red side, but it’s actually a pretty solid coppery orange. My first week of commuting in it to work was great — I feel really visible, it’s terribly comfortable, and I’m pretty sure I have the cutest car on the road.


Experiments in Wine: Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir wines

So the two varieties of red I’m trying are Pinot Noir and red blends. I covered red blends a couple of days ago, so here are the Pinot Noirs I’ve tried out. As always, your recommendations are welcome!

Ecco Domani: Got this one at the Target grocery store. It was decent, but uneventful. Not the best, not the worst, just somewhere in the drinkable-but-not-exceptional middle ground. $9.

A by Acacia: I got this at the Costco, so it was a bit better price than at other stores (Costco seems to excel at getting mid-level items at lower-then-usual prices). Like the Ecco Domani, it was good without being great. Not something I’d buy again, but I’d drink it if it were offered. $10.

Mark West: I’m baffled by the online reviews for this wine, because people seem to love it. Heck, at the Texas de Brazil (where they have tons of fancy wines), this is one of the two Pinot Noirs they sell by the glass. Which must mean that’s good, right? But it isn’t. For me, anyway, it was TERRIBLE. The flavor was bland, and the tannins so strong, it was like trying to drink paint thinner. Not that I’ve ever consumed paint thinner, but it sounds like it’d taste like Mark West. This was the first and only bottle that’s gone down the drain, because there was no possible way I could drink it. $10.

Cupcake: I wasn’t a huge fan of the Red Velvet red blend from Cupcake, but the Pinot Noir wasn’t bad. It was up there with the Ecco Domani as a good choice, but not fantastic. My biggest disappointment is that with a name like Cupcake, I’d expect a more fun label. $9.

Yellow Tail: These wines are all over the grocery stores, so you’d think they wouldn’t be very good. But for the price, this was a decent wine. Definitely way better than Mark West, but everything’s better than Mark West (including paint thinner). This was the first wine I got at the Target, and now I’m thinking I should get another. The brand also has two red blends (Sweet Red Roo and Big Bold Red) that I should try. Especially because the price is so right. (The one thing that puzzles me is that it’s a Pinot Noir, but it’s in the red blend bottle shape. Funky!) $6.

MacMurray Ranch (Central Coast): I get this from the Costco, and my fourth bottle is in the house right now. It’s the first Pinot Noir I bought on my own, and it’s still the high point to beat. Great flavor, not too dry, not harsh at all. I see that it’s $17 at the Total Wine, but the Costco price brings it down closer to the rest of the stuff I’ve been trying. And for those extra couple of bucks, it’s definitely worth upgrading. $12.


Experiments in Wine: Red Blends

red wine blends

As previously mentioned, I’m starting to experiment with red wines. The two styles I’m trying the most are Pinot Noir, and plain old red blends. It appears that for the most part, red blends are more mild, lower in tannins, more “juicy” and “fruity”, and generally easier to drink on their own.

As advised by some folks, I’ve acquired actual wine glasses (SVALKA glasses, from IKEA, which were 6 for $4.79) and a Vacu Vin wine saver set (this one came with 4 stoppers, all for ten bucks), which has proven handy at letting me have more than one bottle open at a time without any of them getting that tinge of vinegar.

So, here are my thoughts on six red wine blends:

Radius Red Blend: I got this at the Total Wine, on the recommendation of one of their wine know-it-alls. It’s from Washington, so how could I not give it a shot? It was decent, tasty, but a wee bit too sharp for me. Still, if it were the only wine offered, I’d take a glass. $10.

Sexy Wine Bomb: Got this at the same time as the Radius, and I liked it a little better. And no, not just because of the packaging. It was a little more fruity, a little less tanniny. A pretty good choice for me for the price. $10.

Fancy Pants Red Wine: I can’t find a good link on the internets for this wine, but that’s OK. I got it at Target (we have Target grocery stores down here in Florida, which blew my mind when we moved from Seattle), and it’s just not that great. I suppose some people like it, but it wasn’t as flavorful as other red blends, and had more of that sharp tangy sting of tannin. Quite a disappointment, since I dig the name. $9.

Barefoot Sweet Red: This wine is unlike any of the others. It’s almost more like a mix between wine and fruit punch. I have to wonder if this is kind of what sangria is like, since I’ve never had sangria. Anyway, it’s fairly decent and tasty, as long as you’re not looking for the specific taste of red wine. And for the price, it’s a great bottle of boozy fruit juice. What puzzles me the most is that it’s a clear glass bottle, not the green I’ve seen from everyone else. $6.

Cupcake Red Velvet: A number of friends recommended this one, so I grabbed a bottle. And I have to say, what a disappointment. Not terribly fruity, and I don’t get the chocolate notes they advertise on the label. Plus, there’s a really funky aftertaste, almost a plastic flavor. It’s hard to explain, and likewise hard to enjoy. I’m in the middle of the bottle right now, but the rest might eventually end up down the drain. $9.

Colby Red: I got this at Walgreen’s, which if you don’t have Walgreen’s, is a drug store chain. Yes, the drug stores in Florida have full liquor store attached. And what a surprise, it’s my favorite of the red blends so far. Nice and fruity, full of flavor, and practically none of that puckering dry feeling from tannins. It was a great balance for me, and I’m definitely getting another bottle. $13 ($10 with my Walgreen’s discount card).


Weird Holidays, aka #weirdholidays

Back in September, I changed desks at work for a couple of months. We all have whiteboards at our cubicles and offices to let people know where we are, and this new desk had an extra-large whiteboard, prominently placed on the outside of the cube. (My current cube has its smaller whiteboard up on a cupboard behind my chair, so it’s not as easy to see.)

I figured I should do something with the whiteboard, so I decided to start doing doodles for all weird, unusual, or just plain cool holidays. For example, this last Saturday, May 25th, was both Geek Pride Day and Towel Day. So sad that I couldn’t do a doodle at work.

After my two months at that desk were up, and I came back to my current desk, the doodles were already popular enough (and I was having enough fun with them) that I knew I’d have to carry on with them. So I got a cool little picture frame (the TOLSBY frame from IKEA, for a whopping 99¢), a package of 4×6 notecards, and some crayons, and carried on with the daily doodles.

Sometime earlier this year I changed from a heavier felt-tip pen to a lighter Flair. And I don’t always color them in; some of the details can be lost if they’re colored in crayon. I’ve kept all of the note cards, and I take a picture of each one. So here are some of my favorites.

The number of holidays I combine depends on how many there are on a given day, and how creative I’m feeling about combining them. So far my record is four holidays in one doodle. It’s kind of surprising how many oddball holidays there are out there. I put my list together from several sources, including BrownieLocks, Holiday Insights, and Days of the Year.

If you’re on the Twitters, I try to post them every work day with the hashtag #weirdholidays. I used to use Instagram to put them up, but since Twitter and Instagram don’t like each other so much anymore, now I use a nice little service called Streamzoo.


In Vino Veritas

I’ve never been a wine drinker. Many times I’ve tried, and many times I’ve failed to enjoy it. But through the years, I’ve made it to the point where I can drink a glass of Champagne (or other non-Frenchy sparkling celebration wine) without trouble.

But still, wine eluded me.

That is, until we went to Texas de Brazil, our favorite churrascaria in the world, with a wine drinker. He ordered a bottle of red wine (I had no idea what variety) and offered me some. I decided, why not, I’ll try a splash.

AND IT WAS GREAT!

(This picture of my trip to the Texas de Brazil salad bar reminds me that Scott still has his birthday coupon for a free dinner. I think it expires in a week and a half. Which means we may have to go have a meat festival in the very near future.)

Maybe it was the combination of red wine with all of those delicious meaty foods. Or maybe it was just the right kind of red wine. Turns out it was an Oregon pinot noir from King Estates. And immediately, I was on the hunt for other (less pricey) red wines that I might enjoy.

I’ve tried a number of things so far, and pinot noir is definitely one of the styles that’s up my alley. I’ve tried bolder wine, but can’t handle the tannins (which has always been my problem in the past) — that sharp bite that makes my tongue want to curl up and die, and makes my mouth suddenly feel dry as a desert.

I visited our local Total Wine superstore, where they also pointed me toward a variety of red wine blends. They’re meant to be lighter, fruitier, “juicier” (as the lady at Total Wine said, which is kind of disturbing), and generally meant for casual drinking without having to pair them with any particular food.

So far, my favorite is from Costco — the MacMurray Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir, 2010. (That’s MacMurray as in Fred MacMurray, actor from days of yore.) But I also enjoyed Sexy Wine Bomb, one of the red blends. I’m in the middle of Ecco Domani’s pinot noir right now, and have blends from Barefoot and Fancy Pants (as well as a fresh bottle of Fred MacMurray) waiting in the wings. I got the Fancy Pants pretty much for the name, although the description on the back sounds good.

It’s cheaper for me than even cheap beer (and I like the cheap beer) — I can make a $10 bottle last two weeks, because I only have a half-glass or so at a time. And since our room temperature here is usually 76 to 78, and red is apparently meant to be consumed at cellar temperature (more in the 58-65 range), I drop in a couple of those plastic reusable ice cubes and it chills perfectly.

(I still haven’t bought wineglasses, and I doubt I’m going to. I just use our regular glassware (Old Fashioned size) from IKEA. I believe the product name is GODIS.)

So let me know, one and all — any red wines to recommend? Especially if they clock in at under ten bucks.