Thursday, July 21, 2016

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Gripping drama about the 2001/2002 investigation into Catholic priests accused of child sex abuse in the Boston area, which yielded 90 guilty clergymen. It's an excellent movie, but the thing I liked most about it was just how tightly edited it was. 129 minutes, but no filler. That struck me because it's increasingly unusual to see movies that aren't a half-hour too long, but this one was so compelling and managed to dramatize its characters and its situation while keeping an exciting pace. The whole thing takes on the air of a mystery thriller, as the layers are peeled back and injustice is exposed. Remember when we used to have investigative journalism, before the entertainment industry took over the major new outlets? It's nice to see it celebrated again. I haven't seen all of the Best Picture nominees from last year, but this (the winner) is one hell of a contender. ****

Loved it. Great sci-fi adventure comedy, and perfectly cast. I say that despite not caring much for Kristen Wiig, but she pulls it off here for me. The four leads have fantastic chemistry together. A lot has been made of Kate McKinnon, and rightly so, but I also have to mention how much I dug Leslie Jones. Chris Hemsworth is also surprisingly funny as their dim assistant. Some of the most fun I've had at the movies this summer. I'm not going to bother comparing it to the original classic; it has a lot of nods to 1984 (too many, some critics say, but I didn't find it obtrusive), but it stands on its own. I have to mention the creatures and special effects; Slimer appears, and he's always wonderful, and the special effects are so colorful, which is always a nice thing in modern effects. I'm so glad that we're breaking away from monochromatic sci-fi. This movie is as colorful as Guardians of the Galaxy. Can't wait for more. ****

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ghostbusters Cupcakes

We did a lot of things in honor of my 40th birthday. We watched Stranger Things on Netflix, which was amazing. I got my stuffed birthday pizza and my "made with real sugar" Dr. Pepper that is my favorite soda that isn't Hippo Size or a Cherry Vanilla Coke. Becca gave me a haircut and a tee shirt, and for no real reason I got myself ordained in the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Also, we went to see Ghostbusters, which I loved, and that inspired my birthday cake.

This year, instead of a cake, we made cupcakes. Ghostbusters-themed cupcakes.

This was an interesting project. Becca's idea was to make white cake cupcakes and then pour "slime" on them and top them with Ghostbusters marshmallows. I was just happy to have a baking project to work on together, because I haven't really baked in a really long time.

The first thing we did was determine the nature of the slime. We decided to make lemon curd, something I'd never done before. You make it using a double boiler, which is also something I've never done. We used this Alton Brown recipe, which btw calls for four lemons and then "if needed" some cold water to reach 1/3 of a cup. I don't know what kind of lemons Alton uses, but it only took us two lemons to get to 1/3 of a cup, and it tastes plenty lemony.

Also, we dyed them green using 10 drops of green food coloring and 3 drops of yellow food coloring, to give them a slime-green sheen.

When that was finished and the curd was chilling in the fridge, it was time to make the cupcakes. I'd never made white cake before, and that meant separating the egg whites from the egg yolks. Now, I'd always wanted to try... this:

I always see these kinds of gifs on Tumblr, swearing by this amazing lifehack that you can use a plastic water bottle to separate eggs. Like most lifehacks, I figure it was bullshit, but decided to try it. And it works! And it feels... weirdly satisfying. I don't know why. It's like performing satisfying science. Just wonderful stuff.

Later in the day, after the cupcakes had cooled, we did the frosting. I love making buttercream frosting in the mixer; it's easy, it takes about five or six minutes, and it tastes a lot better than what you buy in a store. Vanilla frosting, and Becca bought me piping bags for my birthday. When frosting was done, the lemon curd was added, and we had them: Ghostbusters Cupcakes. Hallelujah!

We topped them with some of those ginormous Ghostbusters marshmallows that Campfire Marshmallows has out this summer.

Stay Puft is disconcertingly excited about eating his fellow marshmallow ghosts.

Of course, if you want to, I recommend drinking them with a nice Hi-C Ecto Cooler, which has been another of my choice drinks of the summer of 2016.

All in all, a fun birthday project with delicious results, and a fun way to get some extra enjoyment out of the return of Ghostbusters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Health Report Update

I haven't really talked about this in a long time, because it was so damn depressing.

I can't even remember if I talked about this, but back in November, the state claimed that I didn't get my re-determination paperwork in on time for my medical benefits. Now, because I'm paranoid about official documents and all that, I actually sent my paperwork to them registered mail, so I had the exact date that my paperwork arrived. It was three days before the deadline... so, it was close, but it was on time.

We called our DHS office, and since they couldn't deny when they received the paperwork, but they couldn't find it (yeah, right), they said we could fill the paperwork out again so our benefits would continue. I talked to my case manager at Community Support and she told me that our DHS just doesn't open its mail. "I took a day of training there so I'd know how it works in order to do this job, and those people joke about how they don't open the mail. So never mail them anything, ever. Come to me, and I will fax it for you."

So, we faxed it this time. And waited. And waited, And waited some more.

For six months.

Six months of therapy services. Six months of doctor visits. Six months of medication prescriptions. Waiting to get a sleep study done so I could finally get a new CPAP machine. Six months that included my ambulance-driven trip to the hospital and head staples when I got so frustrated and angry that I hit myself in the head with a Maglite. Six months of feeling like I was going crazier and crazier.

And we'd call them. We called them a lot, only to be told to call back in 12-15 business days. And then, when we'd complain that we kept calling, we'd be told that they had no record of us making more than one call, which is total bullshit. All to withhold the medical benefits I am legally entitled to and which I need to live. It takes them months to get their shit together, but miss a single day on a deadline and they will just cut you off. They delayed us for at least two months simply because they couldn't figure out how to read one of my wife's paychecks and never told us. Anything to deny, I guess.

That whole time, we were told our paperwork was under review. They offered to put a priority on it, which they never did. They offered it so often that the offer became totally meaningless.

Finally, Becca couldn't take it anymore and demanded to speak to someone who could help her. She told them about my health, about how I was sleeping less and less, about how I was hurting myself because I was more and more on edge without sleep, about how I take seven prescription medications, and finally--finally--she was put through to some kind of supervisor. She talked to him, he immediately looked at the paperwork, he said we more than qualified for public assistance, and he said he'd approve us and we'd be back on Medicaid in two days.

And the most unbelievable part is, we were.

So it's just been since May that we've had our Medicaid again. It's paying a lot of those retroactive costs, too, including the hospital and the ambulance. I have some peace of mind again. Thanks for the head games.

Anyway, I did my sleep study in May.

I'd had one back in 2008 or 2009, and I've been using the same CPAP machine since, but I gained 200 pounds after two years on Lexapro, depressed and immobile, so I was pretty sure my CPAP needed to be reset. The company that gave me the machine never followed up with me, even though I tried to get them to, and then I had problems with my insurance after Becca got laid off and couldn't see my doctor regularly for years. So while the machine was helping, it wasn't helping much anymore. I've been wanting to just start over again with a new company (a local company that is very conscientious about following up, and which I knew took Medicaid) and a new machine for some time.

So back in May, I did the sleep study. It was pretty hellish. Hard to sleep with all of those wires hooked up to me, and in an unfamiliar setting. I managed to get through it, but it sucked. Then it took until the very last day of June for Medicaid to approve the CPAP machine itself. I knew I was right about the setting. My old machine was on 7. This one was on 13. I needed almost twice the amount of air I was getting.

Yesterday, I went to my sleep doctor for the first time, having used the machine for just over two weeks. She says it's been working just fine, and I feel like it has. Certainly I sleep better now, and have more energy and focus during the day. Having those things makes it much easier to exercise consistently, which is something I very much need to do. It's helping with my anxiety, and I generally feel a bit more mellow these last couple of weeks.

I worried about it for a long time because my uncle had sleep apnea but didn't have a CPAP machine. He died in his sleep when he was in his mid-forties. I didn't want to die the same way.

My sleep doctor told me yesterday that, using the data stored on my machine, I was having far fewer incidences where I stopped breathing. About 0.8 times, she said. "During your sleep study, you stopped breathing for 10 seconds or more almost 90 times."

"90 times?" I asked, horrified.

"89.6," she clarified.

I thought about how hard it had been for me to relax and sleep in that room. "In one night?" I asked.

"Every hour," she corrected me. "An average of 89.6 times an hour, you stopped breathing."


So... yeah, glad to be back on Medicaid.

I have more focus, more energy, and I'm probably not going to die in my sleep. Plus, I've lost 10 pounds since May. So I'm feeling kind of alright today. I have back pain, but my back pain is actually from losing even that small amount of weight. Always with the damn back pain when I lose weight.

Still, better than a lot of the alternatives...

Still survivin'.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Muppet Monday

Here's another of Jim's funny industrial films. It's less than four minutes, a film he made for Flying A (representing American Oil) and showcasing a robot called the Electronic Service Station Operator (or ESSO, for short).

Like a lot of Jim Henson's robots, ESSO represents a future of automated possibilities, and is well-meaning and cheerful, but ultimately too literal and lacking the human mind. He had a keen mind, always figuring out the possibilities (and limitations) of new technology quickly, but knew that human interaction would always be key to making these new tools work. Such a shame he missed the digital revolution.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

So, I'm 40 Today

Gee. No coherent thoughts about it. I never really rationally thought I'd get here. Not, like, for depression reasons or anything like that, I just never really thought about it. It's a mile marker, that's for sure, and I only feel a little bit different, but also I feel like people expect me to sort of close one book and start another, if you catch my meaning.

See? Nothing coherent.

Anyway, today I'm gonna relax, watch some Netflix, have a pizza, make some cupcakes, and just turn 40, man.

Song of the Week: "Still I Dream of It"

For this very, very stormy day today, one of my favorite Brian Wilson compositions. This is from the rejected (and bootlegged) 1977 album Adult/Child; it closed the album nicely, but because it was rejected, didn't appear until the nineties and the Thirty Years of Good Vibrations boxed set. Sweet stuff, and a longtime favorite of sappy ol' me.