Caffeine Levels to Maximum!

Remember my recent coffeemaker containment breach? Well, as I stated, my replacement coffeemaker was to be a Cuisinart. And I promised to write a review once I took it for a spin around the quadrant a few times.

I’m a wolf of my word, denizens.

I ended up going with the Cuisinart DCC-1200 Brew Central 12-cup programmable coffeemaker. I chose the black matte finish because I don’t understand the concept of getting appliances in strange colors or stainless steel (especially when those things cost significantly more than the plain version). I don’t need it to look pretty; I need it to do its job. Besides, the black matte doesn’t show fingerprints or smudges. This is highly important to someone with anal-retentive cleaning habits (coughcough me coughcough).

Even without the bells and whistles exterior, it’s quite a handsome machine:

It also makes, to quote Agent Dale Cooper, “a damn fine cup of coffee. And hot!” Let’s have a closer look at the control panel, shall we?

Here’s the breakdown of what this beauty can do. The “1-4” button alerts the machine if you’re making a smaller pot of coffee. It then switches into “double heat” mode to compensate for the shorter brew time, which doesn’t allow most coffeemakers to heat the water to the same temperature as if you were making a full pot. I’m going to be honest and say I haven’t tested this option yet. Why would I ever not make a full pot of coffee?

The first knob is for programming the time and the functions that are controlled by the time such as when the coffeemaker turns itself on and how long before it turns itself off.

The second knob controls the temperature of the warming plate on which the carafe rests. This is kind of nice, since it takes into consideration those people who like to use a lot of milk or cream in their coffee. Or freaks who sometimes like their coffee black and screaming hot (coughcough me coughcough). The warming plate includes a small sensor that helps to maintain whatever level of heat you choose.

The last button is for self clean. Self explanatory.

I love several things about this control panel. First, I haven’t had a programmable coffeemaker in years, so to have one again is quite a delight. Also, I love the intuitiveness of the options provided by this machine. People who know and love a good cup of coffee made this coffeemaker, and it shows. I’ve tested it with pre-ground coffee (like the Trader Joe’s seasonal pumpkin spice blend you see in the first photo) and I’ve tested it with whole beans that I have ground to various consistencies. It has yet to fail me with its level of tastiness.

It doesn’t even take that much longer to brew a pot of coffee than my “instant gratification” Bunn machine (plus, it has the added “brew pause” feature that allows you to remove the carafe while the machine is still in brew mode so you can get your fix without waiting). Also, I’ve noticed that it makes a hotter pot of coffee than the Bunn did, and the coffee actually tastes fresher. This might be attributable to the fact that the machine includes a slot for a charcoal filter (and I also use filtered water to begin with). I also think, though, that after a while, the build-up within the Bunn’s reserve tank begins to filter into the coffee and taints its flavor.


All that aside, though, one of the things I love most? The knobs and the on/off toggle switch. I know it’s silly, but I love their vintage kitsch feel. They make me feel like Tom Paris designing the control board for the Delta Flyer.

Wow. Of all the Voyager characters, I never thought I’d be comparing myself to Tom Paris. Of course, we all know who I’m most like, what with this worrisome coffee obsession of mine:


Oh, but I do love Captain Janeway. That transformation you see her go through as she takes in that first swallow of coffee? I know that transformation very well.

So, there you go. This is a wonderful coffeemaker. It’s not fancy or high-end, but it’s solid and has impressed me so far as a reliable machine that I hope will last me for many years.

Oh, and since I’m in such a rare non-surly mood at the moment, I’d like to also give a little praise to Renata Mastroti Pottery. See that gorgeous mug waiting for me to fill it with a fresh cup of coffee? I purchased it recently from a local craft fair at which Ms. Mastroti was selling her creations. It is a stunning piece, isn’t it? It’s beautiful and sturdy; the glaze is a soothing blue mottled through with the reddish undertones of the clay; and the band around the center is actually unglazed, carved clay that she somehow embedded around the mug. It’s one of the most delightful purchases I’ve ever made at this craft fair and, as you can see from her Web site, she offers quite a lovely selection of mugs and other stoneware.

Finally, the can of beans right next to the Cuisinart is Cattail, the dark roast blend offered by the Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. I discovered this hometown brand while wandering in a lost, overwhelmed stupor at Whole Paycheck Foods recently and decided to give it a go. Last night was the inaugural pot, and it was amazing.

See? We’re not always surly and grumbly at the lair. We just need to be properly caffeinated 🙂

Here Goes…Porter!

I lead a rather compartmentalized life at times. I like it that way. It gives me a sense of order (and probably a false sense of control). Order is comforting. I can write whole reams of paper on the placebo palliative of order. But that can wait for another post.

Back to compartmentalization. I tend to keep the various streams of my life from crossing. Work stays at work. Personal life stays out of my office. Even in my online living, I tend to keep barriers between my Internet PersonalitiesTM. Somewhat. I do cross streams a bit, but it’s somewhat one-sided. It’s kind of like how Tom Jackman tries to keep his life and family a secret from Mr. Hyde. Which doesn’t always work out…but the Bionic EastEnder is there to keep things sorted for the most part, so it’s all good.

What the hell was I talking about?!

Oh, yeah. Compartmentalization. Here, then, is a rare moment when I’m letting Dr. Jekyll’s and Mr. Hyde’s lives mix it up a little bit…for a beery good cause. So there’s a podcast I’ve been listening to for a while now called Here Goes Nothing. It’s a show about…nothing. And everything. It’s whatever you want it to be, really…movies, music, beer reviews, rants, ramblings…the whole nine yards, the kitchen sink, and a partridge in a pear tree. What makes it a gem is it’s hosted by two of the most amazing blokes you’ll ever hear. Not only do I find Boz and Casey to be two of the hands-down funniest people to populate this planet, but I’m very proud to consider them both to be my friends.

Sadly, life has roadblocked their ability to continue to record Here Goes Nothing. All I can say to this is a very loud FUCK CANCER. So, to honor (and honour even) their efforts, their humor, their rants, their chemistry, and their all-around awesomeness, I named my very first attempt at home-brewed beer after their show. I even designed a label just for them:

I was trying to make it a label somewhat akin to the grunge-effect labels used by their favorite brewery, Brew Dog (WOOF CLANG), but with deep, bold colors and a strong “heavy metal” font for my heavy metal dudes. And, of course, we here at LobaBlanca Brewing Co. made sure to include the proper paraphrase of a popular Here Goes Nothing truism (“Now That’s Metal!”)for this particular beer’s quote: “Now That’s Porter.” Here’s what the labels looked like applied to my three bottles:

And now, in that fine Here Goes Nothing tradition…

Loba’s Beer Review: Here Goes Nothing Chocolate Maple Porter

As I already wrote, my cousin did very well in her beer selection for the home brewing kit she gave me, because I love nothing more than a nice dark beer. And how much more black could this lovely porter be?

And the answer is none, none more black.

I cracked open my first bottle and was very pleased to hear the hiss of carbonation. One of my biggest worries was that I didn’t add enough yeast to the brew or that I didn’t activate it enough. It’s not quite as frothy as it could/should be (you can see from the photo that there was no head whatsoever when I poured). However, porters tend to not be as frothy as lighter beers anyway, and I’ve also come close to perfecting a headless pour (do with that statement what you will), so that doesn’t really bother me all that much.

I know very little about descriptive qualities of beer smell other than to say this brew has a decidedly strong, malty, and familiar scent. The smell has the rich quality of a professionally brewed porter…another positive sign.

As for the taste, the first sip was a bit…sedimenty. That would be completely my bad. I ended up siphoning too low into the brew jug and I pulled in some less-than-appealing sediment that I couldn’t then completely strain out. However, I let the glass stand for about 10 minutes and returned for a second sip…which was a mouthful of happy.

Deliciously robust with deep malty undertones and the slightest bite of tanginess at the end is how I would describe this beer. I modified the recipe slightly by adding a cup of black coffee, so I’m not sure what effect that might have had…maybe the tang? I don’t necessarily taste the maple sweetness, but overall, this is a solid, hearty porter. And with a 6.5 percent ABV, it leaves you with a nice, happy buzzy feeling.

I know already where I made mistakes in the process and what I need to do to fix them, but this is definitely something I can see myself doing again. In fact, Brooklyn Brew Shop has released a holiday Gingerbread Ale that sounds too delicious to resist…

And there you have it: My first foray into home brewing. A success? Mostly. Amazing birthday present? Absolutely. Suitable tribute to the awesomeness of Here Goes Nothing? I hope so.

And You Thought the Comedy Was Only at the Beginning of the Evening…

Gather closer, denizens. Loba has a story to tell you all.

You might have noticed that I’ve done a fair amount of writing here at the lair about driving. I’ve told tales of bizarre fender benders, run-ins with police pettiness…I’ve even told you about how Sammy and I once closed down 95 South (I’ve also explained a little about why I have a car with a name; maybe one day I’ll try to explain why it’s “Sammy”).

Well, here comes another driving tale. Only this time, I was merely a passenger on this particular excursion.

So Saturday evening we had tickets to see Wanda Sykes. This might be the only time when this particular detail will ever be classified as incidental to the main story. We get to the venue a little early, find our way to our seats, and then I wander off in search of coffee. I find a wine bar instead. I’d already been drinking wine that afternoon at another social event (yes, sometimes even the solitary Loba makes exceptions and wanders out for social interaction), so I was still carrying a mellow wine happy inside from that time. I paid for my $8 plastic cup of wine and wandered back to my seat to imbibe whilst waiting for the show to begin. By the end of my cup, I was in an extremely happy mellow zone. The show starts, Wanda’s hilarious, the show ends, we scurry to the parking lot, end up beating most of the traffic trying to get out as well. Bonus.

Back on the main road, we retrace our path, find the exit that we need to get back onto the Beltway and…discover that the exits on both sides of the road for north-bound 495 are closed. Why, you might ask? Oh…we’ll get to that in a moment. We hang a U-bie (something that should be a part of the driving test for all new drivers learning how to navigate traffic in this area) and take the south-bound exit, content to simply get off at the next exit, loop around and get back on the north side that way.

First problem: The next exit is going to take us into the heart of the beast itself…the Springfield Mixing Bowl.

And now, a bit of a tangent. The State of Virginia is actually not a state. It likes to call itself the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fine. Whatever. What they then should do is give another name to its northern half: The Clusterfuckery of Northern Virginia. I hate Northern Virginia. I’m convinced that it’s the only tangible proof I have ever discovered that there might actually be a place called Hell and this is its infrastructure. The Springfield Mixing Bowl is a huge part of this horror. It’s like a monstrous earth-trapped Cthulhu, its tentacles stretched across the landscape in on-ramps, off-ramps, flyover ramps, damp ramps, camp ramps, vamp ramps….whatever kind of ramp you can imagine, it’s there. Simply put, it’s a hot rampy mess.

I will say this: Now that the nearly decade-long reconstruction is finished, the Springfield Interchange is much more navigable than it once was. It can still be confusing as hell, though, if you’re either not used to it or you’re slightly wine mellow. Yes, meet the players in your now rapidly unfolding comedy of errors: “Not Used To It,” who shall henceforth be referred to as “NUTI,” and “Wine Mellow.” Needless to say, NUTI and Wine Mellow end up taking the wrong flyover. Looking back in hindsight, I know precisely what error we made; it’s an error that I’ve nearly made several times before when completely sober, so no wonder I didn’t catch it on this night with about half a bottle of wine rolling around in my system.

Oh, by the way, note to hindsight: You’re about as useful as tits on a snake. Thanks.

We head in the wrong direction for about 5 miles before Wine Mellow starts to realize that the exits are for roads we shouldn’t be passing. Enter another off-ramp/loop around maneuver and we’re once more back onto the right side of the Beltway, heading in the right direction. Zipping along at a nice steady pace and all is once more right with the world. Quick check of the clock and we see that we’ve only lost about 20 minutes of time from when we first hit the Beltway.

You know what’s the worst possible thing you can see at 11 on a Saturday night on the Beltway? The red glare of a million taillights. Now, I’m not talking about a few slowed cars. I’m talking a glowing red snake of brake lights stretching as far as the horizon will allow us to see. Behind us? Headlights are quickly multiplying. Traffic is worse than weekday rush hour. We’re at a solid stand-still with no sign of relief.

Know what’s worse than sitting in totally stopped traffic at 11 on a Saturday night? Looking down at your console and realizing that your temperature gauge is on the rise. Oh, yes, denizens, we’re talking a notch every 10 seconds and closing in quickly on the red danger zone. We’re talking console lights are starting to flicker and the engine is beginning to shudder and make unhappy noises. We’re talking ohshitpullovernowandturnthisfuckeroffbeforeweexplode.

Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but still highly unnerving. We pull over and turn off the car. Maybe letting it cool down while we wait for traffic to break and move will be the answer?

Second problem: There is no break in traffic. Cars just keep idling in place. Headlights keep multiplying behind us. Taillights keep glaring their furious red stare back toward us. After about 10 minutes, we start the car and see what happens anyway. Not even 5 minutes later the temperature gauge is once more on the shift, this time faster than before. Lights start to flicker and dim and the shuddering seems more pronounced. And now there’s a slight chemical smell seeping through the vents. Mmm, tasty. Leaves me thinking there might be something going on with the coolant system, but I’m not a mechanic and it’s now close to midnight and I’m getting sleepy and I’m still riding the waves of that happy wine mellow. NUTI is definitely not a mechanic. She is, however, a masterful number dialer. Out comes the AAA card. We’ll get a tow.

Third problem: We’re stuck in an area with which neither of us is at all familiar, at the apex of two bits of highway coming together to form this particular stretch of the Beltway. There’s a road to our right, which we can’t see because there’s a Jersey wall right next to us. There’s a flyover ramp to our left, barrels all around us, traffic at a stand-still, and we can’t see any mile markers to help the AAA dispatcher pinpoint our location.

But, Loba, don’t you have a GPS? Yes, I do. Fourth problem: While trying to get us back on track when we were tumbling around the Mixing Bowl, I pulled out my handy little GPS, which was saving the day quite nicely…until it died. The battery just doesn’t hold its charge anymore. I do have a car charger for it. But that was in Sammy. Back at home. Parked in his spot. Dreaming happy Sammy dreams. Not really much help. So rather than having a GPS, at this point I had a lovely shiny doorstop.

The dispatcher finally gets enough information out of us that she thinks she’s pinpointed us. She sends a tow truck our way, but because traffic is as it is, she says rather apologetically that he might not get there for an hour. Okay, fine, we understand. So we sit. And sit. And sit. All the while, I’m trying to ignore the fact that my wine mellow is slowly turning into wine-induced bladder discomfort. However, I’m not going to lie to you, denizens. I was beginning to seriously entertain several different ways to set up a privacy barrier if it came down to it.

After about an hour, NUTI points out the window and says, “Hey, isn’t that a tow truck from the company they said was coming to get us?” Why, yes. Yes, it is. And it’s all the way in the far left lane. And there it goes.

We quickly call AAA back and explain that we think we just saw the truck pass us. They confirm that, yes, the truck did pass us, didn’t see us, will turn around at the next off-ramp and come back.

Almost another hour later, he makes it back. He loads the Jetta of Shame onto his flatbed, we all climb into his cab, and we’re off.

Okay, here’s another tangent. Dear Volkswagen, your NAFTA-built VWs are shit. You should be ashamed. I’d make a Hitler joke here…but you do that every time one of these abominations rolls off the assembly line. Congratulations for your holistic suckage.

It’s now close to 1 in the morning and we’re about 30 miles away from the dealership where NUTI wants the Jetta of Shame delivered, another 10 miles after that from home. Traffic, mind you, still isn’t moving much. And things are starting to get uglier. People are cutting people off. Others are refusing to let anyone merge in front of them. Horns are blaring. Tempers are flaring. Language couldn’t be bluer.

The bright spot? We’re in a flatbed tow truck. No one cuts off a flatbed tow truck.Our new BFF, Mr. Tow, barrels his way across four lanes of traffic and slips into the far left lane again (we learned at this point that he was over there the first time because it was the only lane moving, and he was under the impression that we were further up the Beltway than we actually were).

It still takes us another 30 minutes to make our way through the Clusterfuckery of Northern Virginia. We’re given a great view of what’s actually taking place: Construction crews have closed off all but one lane on the northbound side of 495. (Remember how this adventure all kicked off? With the northbound exits being closed? This was why.) Why were these lanes all closed? I’m still not sure. Nothing was going on. There were no construction crews in sight, minus one group who was setting up a flood light. Other than that, though? I really saw no reason to have decided to shut down three-quarters of this side of the Beltway for about 5 miles on a Saturday night. You know, beyond the fact that Virginia is apparently bat-shit crazy.

We finally get beyond the construction, all lanes open back up, we shift into the center left lane and once more approach a decent cruising speed. Mr. Tow is actually quite amiable, especially considering the fact that his company is located in a part of Virginia that’s about an hour south of where he picked us up and he’s now heading even further north. He’s pretty much not going to get back home until close to 3. If everything goes well.

You see where this is going already, don’t you?

First, an interlude. So we’re clipping along at about 65 MPH, chatting and listening to music and enjoying the fact that we’re moving and inside a vehicle with heat, when Mr. Tow realizes that the Mazda 3 in the lane in front of us is suddenly braking for no reason. He switches to the far left lane to pass the Mazda; as we’re going by, I look down and see that the driver is a young man, in his early 20s, and he’s behaving in a slightly odd manner. He’s laughing, looks like he’s in the car alone, and kind of slumping forward onto his steering wheel. Oookay. We get back into the center left lane once we’re past him and continue on.

About 5 minutes later, we see the Mazda 3 whiz past us in the far left lane, now doing at least 80 MPH. The car then begins to list to the left. Just as I ask, “What’s that car doing,” the Mazda drifts right into the Jersey wall that separates the Inner Loop and the Outer Loop. We all sit and watch in complete silence as the Mazda grinds against the barrier for a good 300 feet before ricocheting off and back into the far left lane. The driver straightens the car out for a moment but then does the exact same thing a few seconds later. We watch as the car grinds and bounces one more time after that before suddenly accelerating to at least 100 MPH and rocketing off down the Beltway.

How the hell someone that drunk was allowed anywhere near a car still baffles me. How he made it that far without encountering any cops baffles me even more. Shouldn’t they be all over the Beltway on a Saturday night/Sunday morning? All I can say is I hope he made it to wherever he was going. And I hope he wasn’t driving someone else’s car…because if he didn’t kill himself that night, they surely killed him the next morning.

We finally make it to the dealer service area. It’s now after 2 in the morning. NUTI and I are both well beyond tired. It’s been years since we were out this late, my wine mellow is now full-on “If I don’t pee soon, I might spring a leak,” but the good news is we’re so very close to being home and done with this entire debacle.

Remember what I said earlier about “if all goes well”? Strap in, kiddies.

So Mr. Tow hops up onto the flatbed to start disengaging the Jetta of Shame. NUTI heads over to where she’s got to fill out an envelope with what’s wrong, stick in the key, seal it, and slip it into the drop box for the service crew to retrieve when they next open. She does this and we head back to Mr. Tow. Who asks for the key so that he can finish unloading the Jetta of Shame.

Fifth problem: Do I even need to say anything here? No? Okay then.

Mr. Tow was actually quite calm about this…hiccup. He re-hooked everything, reset the flatbed, we all climbed back into his truck and headed off for the 10-mile drive to get the spare key. Bonus? I finally got to pee. All was once more right in that little corner of my world at least. We then headed back to the dealership where Mr. Tow finally unloaded the Jetta of Shame and very kindly drove us back home. He really was very easy-going and took the entire evening in stride. Thank the prophets for that, at least.

When all was said and done, it was almost 3:30 in the morning. I think I remembered to brush my teeth before going completely offline.

So…how was your weekend?

Next Round’s On Me…

So for my birthday this year, my cousin of culinary cunning gave me the gift of beer…with a twist. She gave me a beer making kit. Tricksy little cousin, luring me into the scary world of kitchen stuff.

Actually, it was almost as if she’d read my geek-warped mind. See, all summer long, I’d been reading about Wil Wheaton’s adventures in beer-making and thinking that it sounded like something that I wouldn’t mind trying. However, my life being what it is, I was going in about 50 bajorillion (yeah, I did just write that…what’s it to you?) different directions, and none of them led me toward researching my own kit.

Enter my awesome cousin and her frightening mind-reading abilities (more frightening for her, I’m sure, since it was the detritus of my brain she was stuck sifting through). Not only was it my very own kit, but it was chocolate maple porter. Could that sound any tastier? My heart might bleed stout, but porters are a strong second in my list of preferred beers, and this particular flavor combination not only sounds perfect, it’s also recently received the Wheaton Seal of Awesome.

It took me a little while to gather the required utensils that I was missing (and a little bit longer to gather enough courage to finally just dive right in and hold on tight), but today was the day, denizens. Today was Beer Making Day at the lair.

And so we begin...

The instructions claimed that making your own beer was as simple as making oatmeal. Wil Wheaton swears it’s true, too, and I know I can trust him. Why? Because he was in Starfleet, and they never lie (well, you know, except when they’re pulling tricks in their shuttles and end up killing one of their team…then they might lie a little…but never about beer).

Beer Oatmeal: Part of a Balanced Binge Breakfast

Is it really that simple? Yes. Kind of. A very time-consuming, super-fragrant, slow cooking oatmeal that you can’t eat once you’re finished. But that, if you didn’t uck-fay it up-ay while making it, will taste awesome when you finally get to drink it.

A dark brew takes form...

Once you’re finished with all the stirring and boiling and simmering and thermometering and pouring and straining and cooling…well, then you reach the fermentering, which requires a funnel, a strainer, a jug, and a steady hand. I had most of those things…enough to get the dark brew into the jug, pitch the yeast, shake it all up and then rig the fermenter:

I'm only going to ask you se7en times, Detective...what's in the box?

This is my brew’s new home for the next two weeks while the yeast works its magic with my brew. See? I built it a little home and everything, to keep it cool and dark:

Built to code...

Once the two weeks are up, then comes the bottling, followed by two more weeks of cool, dark waiting before I can fridge up my beer and taste the spoils of my brewing victory. This also means that I have a month to come up with a name and maybe even design a label.

Stay tuned, denizens…soon There Will Be Beer.

Marketing Wonder

This is something that’s been driving me crazy for a while now because I think that someone in some PR department somewhere is really dropping the ball on this one.

So the Washington Capitals have this “new” logo. I use quote marks because I’m not really sure how new it is…all I know is that I just started noticing it about a year ago. It’s actually a great logo:

Whoever designed this did a fantastic job of integrating all the major elements into one attractive design. You’ve got the team’s patriotic color scheme (on an eagle, of course, because what could be more patriotic than an eagle?), with the blue on the wings delineating the outline of a “W” for Washington while also forming the baseline for the eagle’s neck ruff and wings, with nice bolts of red for the wing tips. Then there’s the cut-out of the Capitol dome to both form the bottom part of the W and to represent the team’s name, Capitals.

I love this logo. Mainly, though, I love this logo because I think it would make an awesome Wonder Woman logo. Don’t you think?

Here, this is the Caps logo and the current Wonder Woman logo, together:

Not exactly the same, but pretty complimentary. Or how about this? This is the Wonder Woman logo designed for the recent “Flashpoint” series:

That’s more like it! Look at how similar these designs are!!

So what’s the missed marketing opportunity? Well, Lynda Carter lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Who wouldn’t want to see her don the old red, white, and blue one more time for the just American cause of…selling hockey tickets?

Anyone? Just me? Fine. Be that way. You’re all just jealous because you didn’t think of it first…

TNG Top Ten

Happy Doctober!

Ah, remember last year at this time? Thirty-one days of Dr. Crusher? Good times, good times. I won’t be doing that again this year (don’t think I didn’t hear that sigh of relief; cheeky monkeys). As much as I enjoyed doing Doctober last year, it took a great deal of planning, thinking, designing, and creating. I was quite done by Halloween, I can assure you.

However, I did want to at least tip my paw to the greatness of the event. Plus, I feel a bit guilty that I missed yet another Flashback Friday. I had plans; I simply ran of out time yesterday. I hate when that happens. So, to make up for my absence, I offer you this. Apparently, one of the newest memes to hit teh Interwebz recently was the “10 Days of TNG,” a top 10 list used to countdown to the 24th anniversary of TNG’s television debut.

Obviously, I missed out on that. But I thought I would offer you my answers to the countdown anyway. Because, you know, you’re interested. I know you are.

Say yes or I’ll turn November into Bevember and each day I will post a recording of me singing a new filk song that I have written all about Dr. Crusher.

Actually, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea…

Ten Days of TNG List of Favorites

Day One: Favorite Season

Season 2, of course.

Blech. Just typing that made me feel dirty.

This one’s actually almost a draw between Seasons 3 and 4; however, I have to say that if someone wanted to get into TNG and asked me where they should start, I would more than likely tell them to start at “The Best of Both Worlds” and watch from there. So I guess that means that I think Season 4 is slightly better than Season 3. But only slightly, since Season 3 does contain a slew of episodes that are excellent for all variety of reasons; plus, it contains two classic episodes that are a must for anyone new to the series: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Sarek.”

However, Season 4 is nearly perfect from start to finish. It’s such a shame that it ends on such an…uneven note.

Blonde Romulan. That’s all I’m going to say.

Day Two: Favorite Episode

I can’t answer this question because there are far too many excellent episodes from which to pick. I can’t say that one is the absolute best of the bunch. So how about this: my favorite episode from each season:

Season 1: “The Big Goodbye”
First time on the holodeck and already it’s screwy! Yes, this was the episode that launched a thousand “There’s something wrong with the holodeck” stories that passed on through DS9 and Voyager. This was a spectacular debut, though. Spectacular enough, in fact, that I used images from this episode to launch Doctober.

Season 2: “The Measure of a Man”
As far as I’m concerned, this episode was the only reason to even bother purchasing the second season of TNG on DVD. If you don’t already know the reason why, you’re either new to the lair or you haven’t really been paying attention. Naughty, naughty denizens.

Season 3: “Sarek”
This is when it starts to get difficult to narrow down to just one episode. However, for shear impact and power, the return of Sarek to the Trek universe has to get the crown for Season 3, with “Yesterday’s Enterprise” coming in a solid second.

Season 4: “The Drumhead”
Again, very difficult, but this is one of the best written episodes to ever appear on TNG. Such a powerful episode, and it continues to be poignant—perhaps even more so today than when it first aired. Close calls for this season include “Half a Life,” which is one of the best Lwaxana Troi episodes to ever air; “The Wounded,” which is the first appearance of the Cardassians and an amazing episode for Miles O’Brien; “Night Terrors,” which (minus the “Troi Tuchis” dream sequences) is a deliciously creepy episode; and “Remember Me,” which is my all-time favorite Beverly Crusher episode and will appear here on this list again in a moment or two.

Season 5: “The Inner Light”
If there ever was an episode in which Patrick Stewart truly got to shine, it was this one. This might also be the one time in the history of the world in which a penny whistle moved me to tears for reasons other than irritation or eardrum torment. Close calls here include “Ensign Ro,” which was the debut of not only Ro Laren, who holds a particularly large part of my Trek-loving heart, but also the Bajorans (known at this point as “the Bajora”), the alien race that over time became my favorite Trek aliens; “Cause and Effect,” which is a nice ensemble effort with some really great Dr. Crusher moments; and “The Next Phase,” which is probably my favorite Ensign Ro episode.

Season 6: “Tapestry”
The vote really should go to “Chain of Command” for this season, but I don’t think it’s fair to choose a two-parter (which is why I didn’t say anything about “The Best of Both Worlds” earlier). I think that two-parters should be disqualified or given their own category simply because they get double the time to flesh out their story and double the time to make an impact on viewers. I am seeing a pattern, however, to my choices for best. Every single episode that I’ve chosen thus far has either starred or heavily featured Patrick Stewart. It’s no surprise, though. There’s no denying the fact that he was an amazing catch for the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This episode also gets my vote as one of the best “Q” episodes. Close calls from this season include “True Q,” which isn’t really a great Q episode but heavily features Dr. Crusher, which is always a delight (even if she does get turned into an Irish setter at one point); “Face of the Enemy,” which wins as the greatest Troi episode from the entire TNG run; “Frame of Mind,” which is a trippy Riker episode; and “Timescape,” which is another episode with a great “creepy” vibe.

Season 7: “Attached”
To those of you who thought I would choose “Sub Rosa,” do fuck off. I went with “Attached,” however, for purely subjective reasons. Other than “Remember Me,” this is one of the few great Dr. Crusher-heavy episodes from the entire TNG run. I love how each moment of discovery and revelation shared between Crusher and Picard peels away one more layer of privacy, one more layer of knowing, one more layer of emotion, until the baring of the ultimate “secret” (was it really a secret to anyone but Beverly though? By this point, I’m sure even Spot knew how Picard felt about her). Close calls from the final season are “Phantasms,” which makes me laugh every time I see it, along with making me crave cake (with mint frosting); “Dark Page,” which might actually be my favorite Lwaxana Troi episode; “Lower Decks,” which is an amazing look into the lives of non-senior staff officers on board; “Genesis,” which I know is mocked by most fans of the show but has a special place in my heart as being the first Trek episode directed by a female cast member (who also just happens to be the same actress who played my favorite character); and “Preemptive Strike,” which wasn’t a great episode but gave closure to Ro Laren.

Day Three: Favorite Film

To me, there’s really only one great TNG movie, and that’s First Contact. Even with all its flaws (and there are many), it’s still a great adventure with the best villain to come from TNG (and well before they became so incredibly played out that they lost all semblance of scariness), plus lots of ‘splosions and special effects.

Day Four: Favorite Male Character

Regardless of the obvious Picard-on I had for Patrick Stewart, I’m going to have to say that Data was my favorite male character. There was an innocence and charm to that character that I found delightful. Brent Spiner was quite adept at taking this character who was supposedly emotionless and tapping into the full spectrum of emotions in believable and memorable ways. In fact, I loved Data so much , I named my cat after him. Prettiest kitty in the world, he was.

Day Five: Favorite Female Character

Hmm, let me think about this for a moment.

Ha, yeah, okay. Seeing as I started this post with mention of Doctober 2010, I do believe that the answer to this one is a no-brainer. It ain’t gonna be the buxom Betazoid or the surly blonde. It’s not even going to be the battle-damaged Bajoran…although she’s definitely in the running for second favorite.

Nope, it’s all about the Dancing Doctor. Maybe one day I’ll explain why. But not today.

Day Six: Favorite Guest Star

There were some magnificent guests throughout TNG’s seven-year run, but I’m going to go with the Daughter of the Fifth House, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx. Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Lwaxana Troi was a joy to behold. Of course, I fell in love with Majel Barrett from the moment I saw her as Number One in the very first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” so it’s no surprise that I would love her as Deanna Troi’s mother.

Second place? The one whose ears I have hanging in the stairwell… 😉

Day Seven: Favorite Friendship

This is a strange question because I don’t really think that there were many friendships on board this ship. In fact, I think that’s one of my ultimate complaints about the TNG crew: As people, they were rather unbelievable. I know, that’s a horrible thing to say about characters that I love so much, but I think it’s pretty accurate. They didn’t really behave like real people, including they didn’t really interact with each other in believable ways. So, other than the relationship between Geordi and Data, which I guess could pass as a friendship, I don’t really think that any of them had what you’d call significant friendly bonds with each other. However, I think I would go with Guinan and Ro Laren, which was just one of the strangest friendships you could possibly imagine. But it worked. Almost as well as the friendship shared between Guinan and Picard. Although not nearly as funny as the friendship shared between Guinan and Worf. Also, not as time-alteringly significant as the friendship shared between Guinan and Tasha.

Looks like Guinan was friendliest person on that ship, doesn’t it?

Day Eight: Favorite Romantic Relationship

Data and Jenna D’Sora from “In Theory.” This is one of those episodes that I always love to watch and will always stop on if I find it playing on television, and one of the main reasons is that Spiner is such a joy to watch in this episode. It’s definitely sci-fi light, with a silly B-story going on in the background (although that story includes a really creepy scene in which they find a crew member trapped in the floor of one of the decks), but that just allows more time for a nice break from the sci-fi norm. It was a sweet scoop of sorbet to cleanse the palate in time for the awful taste of blonde Romulan (have I gotten it through to you that I really hated that part of TNG?).

Day Nine: Favorite Ensemble Moment

I know it’s schmaltzy and perhaps even a cop-out response, but I’m going to have to go with the very last scene of the very last episode of TNG, “All Good Things.” You know the scene: All the senior staff are gathered in Riker’s quarters for their weekly poker night and Picard shows up unexpectedly to join them. He sits down and looks at his crew and says that he should have done this years ago. He starts to deal the cards and his final words are, “The sky’s the limit,” and the camera slowly begins to pull away…every time I see that moment, I get teary-eyed. Hell, I’m feeling a little verklempt just writing about it!

For sheer fun, however, I’d go with all the Sherwood Forest scenes from “Q-Pid.” But come on, how do you not love that episode? “I must protest! I am not a merry man!”

Day Ten: Favorite Quote

Again, this is a no-brainer. Allow me to direct you to the quote at the top of the page. It’s been there ever since I re-launched the lair back in February 2009, and I don’t see it leaving any time soon. It’s one of the most brilliant things ever spoken on TNG. It’s so awesome, in fact, that my aunts got it for me on a shirt:

Best. Shirt. EVAR.

For those who don’t remember this line, it’s from the Season 4 episode “Remember Me,” which I told you would be making another appearance on this list very soon 😉

Strictly Ink Is Strictly Awesome

eBay is a dangerous place, denizens. A wonderful, dangerous place. It feeds my need for collectibles. It never judges me for my nerdy passions. It remembers what I like most and makes awesome recommendations based on what makes me squee.

It also introduces me to things that I never knew existed, and in doing so, makes me wonder how I ever lived without them.

Okay, that’s an infamous Loba HyperboleTM. However, eBay did show me a new dimension to trading cards to which I was previously clueless. It’s been a while since I dabbled in this particular collector subgenre, so imagine my delight to discover “sketch cards.”

Maybe it’s because the concept of trading cards has become a bit quaint and silly (yes, I’m fully aware that “normies” would argue that they have always been silly). Whatever the reason, I have noticed a few snazzy concepts that have been introduced to genre card series that have helped keep these as viable collectibles. The two standouts that I already knew about were limited edition autograph cards and costume cards, which contain pieces of fabric cut from costumes worn in genre shows like Star Trek, Xena, et al.

These are both creative concepts, even if they didn’t really reach me on any particular level. I’m a bit old for autograph collecting (unless it’s Keith Birdsong…or the autograph accompanies latex body parts), and the only costume prop I actively lust after is a Dr. Crusher lab coat. And I don’t want a scrap from it. I want the whole enchilada.

The sketch card concept that I just learned about, however, is one that I think is utterly brilliant. The trading card companies design a shell template that identifies the card as being part of a particular set, but they leave the bulk of the front side nothing but white space. They then disseminate copies of this shell to various genre-related artists and pretty much say, “Show us what you can do in this space that’s somehow related to our [show, cartoon, comic book, etc.].”

What you end up with is a pint-sized original drawing that gives a unique take, not only on the trading card concept but also on a genre favorite. Like this card, part of Strictly Ink’s CSI sketch card series:

Loba's protective pawprints of approval added for effect...

This sketch card of Sara Sidle was done by artist Rowena Pagarigan. I love everything about this card: the still visible pencil guide marks; the rough, cartoonish coloring; the random details like the surfer-esque beaded necklace and the pensive eyebrow arch. It’s quirky and one-of-a-kind. Just like Sara Sidle 😀

Does this mean that I’m going to start collecting trading cards again? Nah. But do I think this is a wonderful idea? Absolutely.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I still have some lunch time left. I’m going to go stare at my sketch card a little more…

Sugar and Spice and Everything…Catty?

Today’s EXTREMELY long-winded feminist rant will be brought to you by the letters C, S, and I. You have been warned.

Have you ever seen the first interaction between CSIs Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle? No? Let me share:


Not the most welcoming of people, that surly CSI Willows (just look at the video clip description: “Bitchy & Rude Catherine”). In Catherine’s defense, I should point out that Sara Sidle was originally brought onto the Las Vegas team to investigate one of their own for his role in the death of another investigator. She was an interloper, brought in to suss out the possible guilt of one of Catherine’s closest friends on the job. Not exactly the best setup for a warm and fuzzy friendship.

However, this animosity between our two heroines not only lingered, it evolved…or, rather, devolved into a series of biting comments, veiled insults, and out-and-out vitriol. True, some of it stemmed from personality differences. Catherine as originally created had a world-wise brusqueness to her, not necessarily spiteful or cruel, but direct and sharp. Sara, on the other hand, arrived with a quirky, nerdy sensibility and equal doses of naivete and a “black or white, no gray” outlook that often set her apart, not only from Catherine but from others on the team.

They weren’t the only ones on the team who had disparate personalities. Warrick Brown and Nick Stokes as first conceived shared very few commonalities. Our introduction to them also showed them vying against each other for a promotion. Yet right from the start they were still shown to share a comfortable camaraderie, a friendly competitiveness that served to bring them together rather than set them on opposite sides of an ever-widening chasm. Not at all like the steadily increasing animosity shared by our lovely ladies of the pink printing powder. (For the record, I love this scene for the fact that this is one of the rare moments from the show’s early days that showcases the previously mentioned contrasting characteristics of both women in a wonderful albeit short comedic moment.)

It’s not just this loopy lupine who noticed this decidedly disappointing development default in the relationship shared by Catherine and Sara. In this PopGurls Interview, Jorja Fox had the following to say:

You’ve said that the CSI writers and producers are really kind. That if there’s someplace you don’t really want to go with the character, you can talk to them, and generally they’ll change the course or direction. When was a time that you brought up a path w/the producers that you didn’t feel comfortable with for Sara?

There have been a couple of times over the years. The first one that comes to mind—very early in the show, the writers had wanted to create a real solid tension between Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle. They started off right away that we would lock horns and that this would be a theme that would go throughout the show. Marg [Helgenberger, who plays Catherine] and I talked about it and we both felt that, since we were the only women on the show at that time, to have [us] fighting each other and jockeying for position was an area that we were hoping that [we didn’t have] to go. We wanted actually to work well together—we could still disagree on things from time to time. Certainly Sara and Catherine are very different people and they go about things differently but we didn’t want to set a tone that would last throughout the show. We went to the writers and they were kind enough to pull back on that which was great.

I felt more passionately about potential for camaraderie coming from these two women being so different instead of the opposite.

Two sharp women are better than one...

Kudos to Jorja and Marg for putting their feet down to character choices that would have done nothing but continue to substantiate a dismal stereotype of women in the workforce. Sadly, however, as with most stereotypes, this particular one grows from a kernel of truth.

Admittedly, I’m little more than an armchair sociologist, but I have noticed something about the way my generation was conditioned as young girls that is both distressing and highly counterproductive. First, a confession: During my formative years, I probably spent more time interacting with boys than I did with girls. But that’s because the boys were all into fun things like riding bikes or playing football, and they had cool toys like G.I. Joes and Transformers. The girls all wanted to play house and put diapers and frilly dresses on grotesque plastic effigies that to this day haunt my darkest nightmares. I really, really hate babydolls.

That being said, I learned from an early age that interacting with boys is a much different experience from interacting with girls. Boys are rough and brash and to the point. If they say something that another boy doesn’t like, there will be a confrontation. It might get physical. But they get it out of their systems and they move on. They’ve also got your back. If you’re their friend, you’re in their pack, you’re on their team. And boys are taught from a very early age about the dynamics of teamwork.

Teamwork was still a foreign term for a lot of the girls my age. Title IX had already made its initial impact for opening up to the fairer sex the world of high school and college sports, but I believe that the concept of girls viewing other girls as teammates was still a holistically foreign concept for my generation. Why?

Because our greatest influences in character development were our own mothers. And our mothers grew up in a time well before when girls would take to the courts and baseball diamonds the way the boys were always able to do. The only viable competition available for these preceding generations of young women was for the sole prize that they were ever allowed to strive for: the ideal husband. Even my own mother saw a future in which her biggest expectations for me concluded with marriage and motherhood.

Don’t worry. I shuddered a little bit, too, just then.

You don’t get a husband through teamwork. You get it by being the last woman standing…and you stay standing by whatever means are at your disposal.

Is it any surprise, then, that when our predecessors began finally transitioning in larger numbers from housewives to working girls, they carried these same “values” with them into the workforce? We didn’t have the sports-based team ethics that the boys had. Hell, we didn’t even get the Godfather‘s rules of “It’s not personal, it’s business”! Instead, we were taught that the best way to play the boardroom game was to steal our secretary’s ideas in order to retain our sole seniority status AND gain the attention of the alpha male protagonist.

[Loba Tangent: Seriously, what kind of fucked-up message was Working Girl trying to convey? That women can’t work with each other unless they’re on the same low-level rung of the corporate ladder with no aspirations for climbing higher? That women who do make it to higher positions shouldn’t be trusted because they’re not going to try to help other women make it as far as they have? Instead, they’re going to use whatever means are necessary to ensure that they hold their competition as far down as they possibly can? Yeah, Sigourney Weaver met a perfectly Hollywood ending…but the movie still propagated stereotypes about women in the workforce that made me cringe almost as much as Baby Boom. But that’s a completely different tangent…and this post is already too long…]

Am I guilty of offensive generalizations and of propagating the stereotypes that I claim to loathe through this post? Perhaps. I am proud to say that I’ve been lucky to have worked for some amazingly progressive female supervisors. They’ve encouraged me, they’ve depended upon me for the skills I can bring to their team, and they’ve never been duplicitous in their dealings with me. I wish I could say this was the way it was across the board, both for my own experiences and for the experiences of all women in the workforce. However, I can’t. I daresay neither can most women my age.

The sad truth is that too many generations of women have long been conditioned to view the same sex as competitors that must be eliminated, not as teammates. But is it still this way? Are today’s young girls still being taught to view others of the same sex as the enemy, competition to be vanquished whether it be for that amazing job promotion or for the old-school brass ring of marital bliss and motherhood? I should hope not. Then again, it’s my generation that is now in the parental driver seat…and this was how we were raised. Will they pass along harmful lessons to the next generation? Or, like Fox and Helgenberger, are they going to say enough to petty stereotypes that do nothing but divide and weaken us, not only as a gender but as a society?

Bajoran Down!

As some of you might have heard, we had a bit of a rumble in our area today. Okay, so not so much a “bit.” It was enough that my work building jiggled like a Jell-O mold for the better part of a minute. Fun for Jell-O. Not so fun for brick, steel, and glass, I can assure you. To be on the safe side, building maintenance evacuated us to the streets, where we stood about like disconnected drones for 20 minutes, holding our cell phones skyward, as though bringing our gizmo gods that much closer to their mother signal would somehow miraculously make them work. Then we went back in and carried on with our day.

No harm, no foul.

Until I got home. And found the body.

Poor Colonel Kira. Apparently, things rattled enough in our house that she took a tumble from my action figure shelf, her weapon nearly lost to the detritus of the shredder basket. I have to admit, I had a bit of a CSI moment when I pulled out my digital camera and started to “photo-document the scene.” I felt like I needed those numbered evidence markers to lay out, or at the very least some latex gloves.

And then there was Xena…

Rather than flipping over the edge and following Kira, she slipped backward…into Captain Picard’s crotch. While Dr. Crusher watched. Not the wisest decision made by the Warrior Princess, to be sure. She does, however, have many skills. Perhaps eluding a territorial CMO with a hypo full of poison is one them. Or maybe she’s convinced Batwoman to have her back. I doubt Ro would come to her rescue; she looks quite apathetic to the whole thing.

And there you go. Obviously, all is once more stable in the lair (or as stable as possible for me). I’m geeking as normal. Maybe even hyper-geeking: I would like to point out that in one short post, I have mentioned Trek, CSI, Xena, and Batwoman. All I need to do is point out that you can see Wonder Woman’s shield in the corner of the Xena pic and Starbuck’s flight helmet near Xena’s feet and I’m set with most of my major fandoms.

Xena’s not the only one with many skills…

Roots and Wings

Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!

Okay, so it’s not as dramatic as that, Mr. Corleone, but I do believe I won’t ever shake this utterly unexpected happy feeling I continue to harbor in my dark lupine soul for country music.

[Loba Note: I guess it would be more appropriate to state that I harbor this love in the darkness where a soul should theoretically exist…]

No, not all country music. I’ve already established that there was a definite dimming of my country music love a few years ago. And yet I continue to keep tabs on a select few who succeeded in rising above the intrinsic issues I continue to have with the genre.

Terri Clark is one of Loba’s Chosen Few.

She’s a bit of a black sheep in the country family, to be sure. First, start with the fact that she’s not really “country,” by the xenophobic Amuhrakin definition of the word. Born in Montréal and raised in Medicine Hat, Clark is one of those “furraners” that we don’t take to liking all that much down here in the States. However, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, when she was 18 years old, which means that she’s spent more of her life here than among her own people. I guess that counts for something (or at least makes me wonder if her grasp on sanity is as questionable as my own).

Next is the fact that Clark is unrepentantly country in the best sense of the word. While many within the genre, including a bulk of the red-hot-at-the-time female artists, decamped to that in-between land called “Crossover Track” back in the late 90s, churning out tarted-up poppy drivel that barely qualified as country music, Clark stuck to her guns and her cowboy hats. Every single one of her albums is filled with songs that won’t ever be heard on heavy rotation on rock-lite radio stations that typically turn up their noses to music that includes wondrous instruments like banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and slide guitars. Some of Clark’s songs even include {gasp} cowbell.

[Loba Tangent: Okay, I’m not really sure how I feel about the cowbell songs. However, I am a bit smitten by the enthusiasm with which Clark takes to the…er, instrument.]

It’s this dedication to the roots of the country genre that keeps me coming back to Clark. Admittedly, though, I’ve been a fair-weather fan at best for several years. I continued to purchase her new releases but found them decidedly less and less consistent. True, every album has included several songs that were enjoyable, but not since the double-whammy of How I Feel and Fearless, the albums that respectively pulled me in and locked me down as a lifelong fan, had I felt holistically happy with her new offerings. I didn’t even bother to buy her 2009 release, The Long Way Home (although I do remember wishing for a title mashup of this with the Dixie Chicks’ last studio album, Taking the Long Way). I wasn’t really feeling much love for music in general at that point in my life and I think Clark was merely one of many of my favorite artists who didn’t get much Loba Lovin’ at that time.

That is, until her latest release. I purchased and downloaded Roots and Wings from Amazon on Friday afternoon, and I have listened to it every day since. I’m listening to it right now as I write this review, in fact.

Oh, this is a good one, denizens. Everything that I have always loved about Clark is there, from start to finish: catchy country hooks, clever lyrics that are playful and poignant and all stops in between, and gorgeous vocals that slip from roadhouse to lullaby with enviable ease.

In fact, I’m going to have to give the paw of approval to every song on this album. Clark kicks things off with “Wrecking Ball,” which hasn’t failed yet to get my feet tapping and me laughing with each listen (“Woman on a mission / Pure demolition”), and continues along at a solid pace as she slams out of the park common country tropes with grace, joy, and beauty. No, if you play a Clark song backward, you’re not going to get back your house, your truck, your wife, and your dog…but play them forward and you’ll get a glimpse of the greatness that honest country music has to offer.

I don’t know if I can even narrow down this collection of songs to one or two favorites, but if I had to select ones to praise above others, I’d go with “The One” for capturing so wonderfully the essence of what everyone wants to find at least once in this lifetime, “Beautiful and Broken” for its reserved elegance, and “Lonesome’s Last Call” for the respectful way it tips its 10-gallon hat, in sound and sentiment, to old school country.

Even the final two new songs on this album, “We’re Here For a Good Time” and “Flowers in the Snow,” have redeemable qualities even though I feel that they strike a slightly discordant tone in comparison with the rest of the album. “Good Time” is actually a pretty good song, with a happy-go-lucky sound reminiscent of a Margaritaville standard, but there’s something overly processed about the track that seems a little whiffy of auto-tuning. I hate auto-tuning. Unless it’s this. And I think “Flowers in the Snow” suffers only because it comes right on the peppier heels of “Good Time” and ends the new songlist on a decidedly somber note. However, on its own, it’s another classic example of Clark’s ability to write/co-write songs that honor the true sound of country music.

Then there is “Smile.”

This is actually the reason that I bought Roots and Wings. Clark wrote “Smile” in honor of her mother, who died in April 2010 after a 3-year battle with cancer. I’m still trying to sort through the flotsam of emotions that my own mom’s death (barely more than a month after Clark’s loss) has stirred up, but I have discovered that there is an undeniable solace to be found in the words of tribute and love penned by someone who knows first-hand how it feels to lose someone to the unfairness of disease. In fact, I think only “Always,” written and performed with heart-mending beauty by my friend Craig Bevan, has provided me with more comfort than this song has given me, even in the short time since I first heard it.

Of all the things that Clark has a right to be proud of from her career, I hope she knows what a gift she has given her listeners with this particular song.

So there you go, denizens. If you enjoy country music at all, give Roots and Wings a chance. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Photo from Terri Clark’s Flickr Stream.