Friday, March 27, 2009

The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse


I just finished reading 'The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse' by Keith Hartman and I loved it.

From amazon:
Every once in a while one finds a book that is genuinely surprising. 'The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse' is a tale that manages to break every rule and still be not just a great first novel, but a great piece of detective fiction, period. The setting is Atlanta in 2025, a city divided along religious and sexual preference lines. Magic works and shamans coexist with high technology. Fundamentalists have their own political party and television shows are available in several grades of sex and violence. Fortunately for the reader, people still murder each other.

The first victim was already dead - for several months. The desecrated remains are found in a graveyard, crucified upside-down, with signs of a magical ritual all about. Detective Megan Strand finds herself in the midst of an ugly crime with the Baptist News Network screaming about a Satanic plot to take over the world. But the next crimes are murders, one after the other. And each has the overtones of witchcraft and Satanism. The large fundamentalist segment of Atlanta seethes with rumor and panic.

If Wiccans are suspects, they are also victims, and several members of a coven turn up dead or missing. One of these is Jen Gray, who is the partner of P.I. Drew Parker. Parker begins to investigate and finds a trail that leads to the hit religious singer Justin Weir. It also leads the P.I. into the hands of Ice-in-Summer, a Cherokee Shaman who has some very strange plans for the detective. Fleeing through this chaos are two teenagers, Benji Danvers and Summer Jacobs, one a Baptist and the other a Wiccan. Benji has somehow drawn the attention of an unidentified group of agents (Men In Black Suits) and Summer helps to keep him one step ahead of an unknown fate.

Lest I forget, the primary cast also includes a mad artist, a senator with dubious ethics, the aforementioned singer, and a news witch. For Hartman these are not just players on a stage, but active participants. Each takes turn after turn at first person narrative and it can truly be said that this is a novel with no main character. For all that I dislike this kind of shifting viewpoint, Keith Hartmann manages to make a great success of it, rarely allowing the possibility of narrative confusion. Here the technique creates a baroque plot that is in perpetual motion and still manages to create a great deal of connection with the characters. This tale is a great success, whatever its genre is, and I am anxious to read the sequel.

Pros: The story line was superb. Even though there were so many character point of views, the story wasn’t bogged down by it.

I also loved the general idea of the book. Even though some of the societal views were extreme and radical (zero tolerance toward anything different), they felt completely plausible with the right set of circumstances.

Favorite passage:
“Daniel has never managed to fall in love.

And I don’t want to be the first. I don’t want to be the one who ruins the fantasy for him. I don’t want to be the one who can’t live up to all the impossible twenty-two-year-old expectations of love.

In his overly dramatic way, Daniel once told me that while his body might have racked up the mileage, his heart was still virgin territory. But I don’t want a virgin. I want someone who has been hurt, and stepped on, and had every last illusion shattered. Someone who comes to me cautiously, knowing the falling in love is easy and staying in love is hard, that passion dies and most relationships are doomed before they start. Someone I can love and an equal, not a student.”
Cons: The book left us with some loose story lines. We started with the gumshoe and I felt like we should have ended with him. Instead were left with almost as many questions as answers.

Overall: I recommend it to everyone. It was a great story and a refreshing change from other authors in the urban fantasy genera.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mexican Chicken Chili Soup


I want to share one of my favorite new recipes. It’s for Mexican Chicken Chili Soup and it is amazing.

Like super amazing.

The first time I made this, I followed the recipe exactly. Even though it turned out perfectly (and was super delicious), I’m not a big soup fan so I’ve changed the recipe to be more of a regular chili or thick stew.

Even though it looks like a lot of ingredients, you will have most on hand and the rest are inexpensive. Also, don't let the long cook time unnerve you. All you have to do it stir it every once in awhile.

Mexican Chicken Chili Soup
3-3½ hours 30 min prep

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast
2 cans chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce (I use El Pato since it's spicy and super tasty)
3-4 potatoes, peeled & chopped (use more if using the smaller red potatoes)
1 small onion, diced
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 carrot, sliced (I hate cooked carrots so I left it out)
1 cup of celery, diced
1 cup canned diced tomato
1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans, plus liquid (I use 2 cans)
1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained
1/4 cup diced canned pimento (I just use the small jar at my grocery store)
1 jalapeno, diced (if you have some jarred on hand just use that)
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 dash cayenne pepper
1 dash basil
1 dash oregano

3-4 cups of water (depending on the size of your pan)

On the side:
sour cream
1 pinch chopped Italian parsley
grated cheddar cheese (optional)

Directions:

Add everything to the pot and turn heat to high. Once it starts to boil, reduce heat to a little over low and simmer for a few hours.

That's pretty much it. Super simple.







I add the chicken breasts uncooked and let them simmer for about an hour before pulling them out and shredding the meat.









Once all the ingredients are added, this is what it should look like:



After I pulled out the chicken and let it cool, I shredded it and tossed it back in the pot.





You can see how much it thickens over time and it's easy to tell when it's done just by looking at it.



viola:



I like to add some cheese and eat it with a tortilla, but Ryan likes tortilla chips one top of his so feel free to mix it up.

(It's so good and the left overs are even better. I use it in quesadillas and to top tostadas. It's also really good on top of rice. mmmm....)

So try it either way (for soup version just follow the link below), I promise you won't disappointed. :)

-Adapted from the Top Secret Recipes version of The Soup Nazi's Mexican Chicken Chili. Original can be found here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Look

I'm still not doing too great with posting regularly, but I do have a few projects ready and waiting to be posted.

I'm excited for a project I'm in the middle of right now involving mirrors and silhouettes actually.

I hope to post it soon. :)

Anyhoo, I am excited to say that we finally painted the living room. I still have to paint all the trim and the light switch cover thingamabobs, but for the most part we're done.

Some pics:



Holden being shy:



What NOT to do:



(I already repainted the t.v. stand and scraped all the paint off the bookcases. Now I just need to find a way to get the primer out of the carpet...)

Ta Da:



Like a thousand times better right?

The paint is a little more blue then I was expecting, but it works alright with the green and orange I have in the house.

We also framed out my painting in the living room and it looks great.



It feels so much more like a real painting this way instead of a piece of cardboard I fiddled around with in my basement.

(And would it kill my couch cushions to sit straight?)

So that's it for today. I've been a busy bee this weekend and I should have a new project posted in a couple days. :)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Earring Display DIY


I wanted to share this easy earring display project that I did over the weekend.

I had been meaning to do this for a while and it's so simple I can't believe it took me so long to do.

The pictures pretty much tell you all you need to know, but here are some directions anyways.

What you'll need:

Picture frame
a piece of screen
hot glue gun and/or staple gun (depending if your picture frame is wood or plastic)
spray paint
sawtooth hangers
Xacto knife

Click on any image to make it larger.

1. Find a picture frame you really like. I found mine at the thrift store for only $3 dollars. I wanted to find a really ornate frame, but even though I had looked around for a while I had no luck.



I picked my screen up at Lowes for less then $7 dollars. I choose the cheapest one they had and I was able to cut through the vinyl with regular scissors.



2. Take the back off the frame and set aside the glass for another use.



3. Cut a piece of screen larger then the frame. Then glue (or staple) the screen in place on the back of the frame. Make sure you cut off all the excess.





4. Now spray paint the earring holder and color you like. (You're gonna want to make sure you paint the back of the screen as well. Otherwise you might see the original black from certain angles.)



5. Once the paint is dry, glue the sawtooth hanger onto the back with some hot glue. I found mine for less then a dollar at the craft store.



Once the glue is dry you're done.



Not too bad right? :)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sunburst DIY

I really needed something to go above my television in the living room and I thought a sunburst mirror would be perfect.

You’d be shocked how easy this project was. A glue gun is the only “tool” used in this project so there is no excuse for you not to make one of your own.

I found all of the materials at Wal-Mart and it cost a little over $10 dollars to make.

What you’ll need:

Scissors
Scrap Cardboard (or pretty much anything)
A pen
Hot glue gun (plenty of glue sticks)
Metallic spray paint (already had)
16 Kabob skewers (I bought a huge bunch for 97 cents at Wal-Mart)
16 wooden dowels (again, less then a buck)
Craft mirrors in different sizes
A convex auto mirror ($1.97 in the automotive department of Wal-Mart)
Mounting hardware (less then a buck)

(Click on any image to make it larger.)

1. The first thing you need to do is trace your convex mirror onto the card board and cut out the circle. This is what you’re gonna glue everything to. (Make sure the circle is a little smaller then the mirror before you start gluing otherwise you might have overhang and the overall project won’t look at nice.)





2. The next step is to glue down the wooden dowels.



The easiest way to do this is to glue a cross. Then another cross. And then another.



3. Then glue the skewers in the spaces in between. I didn't bother cutting off the pointed end so you don't need to either unless you want to.

You will have to glue them closer to the middle then the dowels, but this is actually what you want since it will make a staggered effect. (I went a little crazy with the glue.)



4. Then you need to paint the whole thing silver (both sides). I used spray paint, but you can use any method you prefer.

5. Once the paint is dry, you can start gluing on mirrors.



6. I started with the large. Since I had 20, I put one on the end of each dowel and then spread the 4 out among the skewers. This part is totally up to you though.

Keep in mind the glue will drip so you don't want to go to heavy on it. You'll be able to reinforce the hold when you flip it over to glue the hanging hardware on.



7. then the medium. I just glued them on however I thought would like nice.



8. Once the glue has dried, the next step is to flip the whole thing over and glue on the hanging hardware. (By gluing the mirror on top of the dowels all the mess is hidden and the back is perfectly flat for the hanging hardware.)

I used a regular sawtooth hanger. The overall weight of the sun burst isn't any more then a standard picture frame so it doesn't really require anything more substantial.

At this point I also went around and added another bead of hot glue to the back of all the mirrors for extra hold.



9. After the glue has dried, flip the project over so it's right side up and glue on the convex automotive mirror. I recommend taking the black plastic backing off, but you don't have to if you don't want to (it became my glue catcher lol).



Glue it in place and you're done.



I couldn't find any more than two sizes of mirrors at the store so I glued on some clear gems randomly to add to the finish. It's totally up to you what you want to add (or not add) to embellish the project.



And there you have it. I think it turned out great and it helps distract from that awful wood wall I'm not allowed to paint (grrr...I hate that wall).

*Alternative option.*

I saw this picture when I was looking for inspiration and it made me how realize how easily this project could be made into a clock.

The only real change it requires is a plastic plexiglass mirror instead of the convex one. I know my craft store sells a small (I think its 6" by 4") sheet for around $6 dollars. You would then be able to drill a hole through the mirror and cardboard with little trouble.

After that, really all you need is a clock kit and you can find that at the craft store as well.

Personally, I love the idea of a mirror clock and will probably make one myself for some room in my house and I wanted to throw the idea out there.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Coming Soon - Mirrored Sunburst DIY



I really loved the sunburst mirrior in this picture so I decided to make my own.

I'm pretty astonished at how well it turned out for such little effort. I have just a few more touches I want to add, but I will post pictures and directions as soon as I'm finished.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Don't be afraid to paint your furniture

When we went looking for an affordable stand to hold our television (our t.v. sat on the coffee table for almost a year) we decided to use a kitchen hutch as an alternative and less expensive option.

I never took a picture, but it looked kind of like the one on the right (only ours doesn't sit on the floor).

We found the hutch on craigslist for only $75 dollars. Since we have an old beat up Honda, we did have to rent a truck from Uhaul (a regular ford F150 is only $20 dollars for one day) but overall it only cost us about $100 dollars. Not bad considering we also gained extra shelving (from the top) in the basement to hold the serving dishes I don't use regularly.

Keep in mind: the hutch you pick needs to be deep enough to hold your television, the top needs to easily detach, and I recommend it having legs. Otherwise you might end up with a dresser like t.v. stand.

Once we found one that fit the bill, the only problem was the color. This weekend (about a year and a half later lol) I finally got around to painting it black and I am happy to say it turned out as lovely as I thought it would.

Originally I wasn't sure what color I wanted to paint it, but after I bought some cheap black bookcases from walmart (about $15 dollars a piece), I decided it would be easier to paint the one piece black instead of all three pieces some other color.

It was definitely the right choice.

I didn't take a proper before picture, but you can see part of the t.v. and one of the book cases behind Holden (we were finger painting, hence how messy he is).




Amazing what a little paint will do huh? Before my books just made the whole thing look cluttered and busy, but now it looks tied together and cohesive.

And really all I did to the bottom of the hutch was buy a $3 dollar can of spray paint, three new $2 dollar knobs, and viola...Awesomeness.



Once I painted the t.v. stand I knew I wanted to do something to the back of the book cases. Not only because they were obviously cheap and plain, but to help camouflage that horrible wood wall my landlord won't let me paint.

Fabric just seemed like the easiest solution.


I was originally looking for something white with hints of green and maybe blue, but I knew this was the right fabric when I saw it. Not only was it well within my price range ($6 dollars a yard) but it matched our dining room chairs we got from Ikea.

The most difficult part of this whole project was measuring and cutting cardboard to fit the back since I'm a totally dweeb and threw away the original backing that came with the book cases.

A little spray glue, some duct tape on the back, and a few nails later was all it took to transform the book cases. It's also really amazing how much more stable the book cases are with just the addition of some backing (we also added a L bracket to middle of each case for extra stability).

So for less than $150 dollars I have a pretty kick ass entertainment center. Just another prime example of why not to be afraid to paint your furniture.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chili

So I had a pretty eventful weekend. Usually I am super lazy, but I finally finished a few projects I had been putting off. Woohoo for that. :)

I also tried to make that deer head from the previous post and it was no easy task. Do you know how hard it is to cut through foam core with an exacto blade? Pretty freggin hard. I gave up halfway into the first, of six, piece. I’m stubborn enough to finish eventually; it’s just going to take a while.

Grrrr...

My friends and I decided to get together and have a pot luck on Saturday. Since I’m the one who likes to cook, I make the main dish and this time I made a big pot of chili. There are ton of chili recipes out there, but this one is by far my favorite. It’s easy, chunky, spicy, and serves a whole crowd.

Here’s my chili recipe (adapted from Food Network):
Ingredients:

1 pound EACH spicy and regular Italian sausage (you can substitute the pound of sweet Italian sausage with pretty much anything else, like ground chicken. The spicy sausage is a must though.)
1 medium onion, diced
2 green bell pepper diced
2 cups chopped celery
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes (optional)
1 Tablespoon Ground cumin
1 Tablespoon Chili powder
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can pinto beans (liquid and all)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can black beans (liquid and all)
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can kidney beans (liquid and all)
1 package chili seasoning mix (use the regular packet if you like it really spicy, otherwise mild works great)
Shredded cheddar, sour cream, chopped green onions, for garnish

Directions:

1. The first step is to brown the sausage over medium to medium high heat. You can do this in a skillet if you like, but I just use my big chili pot. I don’t see the point in dirtying two pans. Once browned, drain any excessive grease and put aside. Chop onion, bell pepper, and celery during this step.





2. On medium heat, spray your large pot with nonstick cooking spray and add the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Sauté briefly just to soften the veggies a little (about 5 minutes).
3. Stir in the cans of tomatoes and the cumin and chili powder. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes.




4. Add the beans (with their liquid), chili seasoning, and meat into the pot and stir to combine.


5. Cover and cook on low for 3 to 4 hours. Stir occasionally and serve with whatever toppings you prefer: Cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions, rolls, bread bowls. Personally, I always have crostini with mine since our grocery store bakery makes the most delicious ones I’ve found. Plus, I love a little crunch to my chili.

I forgot to take a final picture and it was eaten so fast that I had to settle for taking a picture of my sons bowl. The picture’s not as pretty as I would’ve liked to have made it, but it’s super tasty. I promise.