“The sun is God.”

Mike Leigh’s 2014 “Mr. Turner”mr-turner-poster01

$19.99 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros:look, performance

Cons: throws viewers into the artist’s midlife without establishing context/background

I learned a lot about the life of “Mr. [J.M.W.] Turner” from Mike Leigh’s 2014 film. In the title role Timothy Spall won best actor awards at Cannes and from the New York Film Critics, but not even a BAFTA nomination.

I found the film difficult to get into and for perhaps the first (of two and a half) hour though Turner was autistic. The gnomic, he was too successful with patrons and within the Royal Academy of Arts (where his staccato pieces of advice were appreciated and acted upon) to have been autistic, for all his grunts and mistreatment of his two daughters, their mother (Ruth Sheen), and his housekeeper, Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) —though he provided for her to have life tenancy in the house in which she served him—… even as he maintained another household with the twice-widowed Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey, Leigh’s life partner, who has acted in many of his films), starting renting a room from her using one of his middle names (Mr. Mallard)  in Margate overlooking the harbor.

The film looks great with recreations of the Royal Academy’s annual shows, landscapes, seascapes, etc. Dick Pope’s cinematography did get BAFTA and Oscar nominations (Pope was earlier nominated for an Oscar and for an ASC award for the 2007 “The Illusionist”; he shot “Topsy Turvy,” Vera Drake,” and “Secrets and Lies” for Leigh earlier). I think that Pope shows something of what Turner saw as beautiful (indeed, many of the shots are, to me, more beautiful than Turner’s paintings, a major exhibition of which are currently at the De Young Museum in San Francisco; Tate Britain owns 20,000 Turner works, so always has a room of Turners on display). Turner’s last words (in the movie and reputedly on his deathbed) were “The sun is god,” and differences of light were his focus before the Impressionists (who had some “anxiety of influence” in regard to Turner; in the movie he has none for Claude Lorraine, whose work he defends from a young John Ruskin, played by Joshua McGuire).

Mr-Turner---Cannes-Film-Festival

I found Leigh’s 1999 “Topsy Turvy” more entertaining, but “Mr. Turner” is often gorgeous and has a superb performance by Timothy Spall, who shows the artist as more than a cold brute, and who is ably supported by cast and crew.

The DVD also includes a scene of less than two minutes, “Billiards,” that was deleted (and, indeed, serves no purpose in terms of characterization or plot).

I found the half-hour making-of featurette (The Many Colors of Mr. Turner) very informative, especially about location, use of images of paintings from Turner and his time, the manufacture of paintings for Spall to work on (and his 2.5-years learning to paint) and a useful series of paired images  the other Academy painters who appear briefly and their paintings. The Blu-Ray edition includes another featurette, “The Cinematic Palette” that is not on the DVD.turner-1

Excellent Cooking – Cuisinart Classic Stainless Steel Saucepan with Lid

Cuisinart Classic Stainless Steel Saucepan with Cover – 2 Quart

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: heats well, pour-spout on pan, vent holes for steam or straining, glass cover

Cons: sometimes the handle is warmer than I like

I wanted to purchase another saucepan to supplement my cookware.  I also thought stainless steel would work well for some items I cook that might stain another pan.  On my wish list: I did not want a coated nonstick pan, I did want a glass cover (preferably with holes to release the steam), a pour-spout on the pan would be a nice bonus.  The Cuisinart Classic Stainless Steel Saucepan with Cover delivered all this and more.

Description

This Cuisinart stainless steel saucepan is in the 2-quart size.  The pan is a nice shape, slightly narrower at the bottom than the top.  It has an aluminum base.  The manufacturer describes the stainless steel interior and exterior as having a mirror finish.  It has a riveted cool-grip handle with a hole at the end for hanging the pan, if desired.

The top of the saucepan has a pour-spout.  The glass lid has a stainless steel rim with deep stainless steel sides.  There are two sets of holes on opposite sides of the stainless steel sides.  One set of holes is smaller (three short rows of holes), the other set of holes is larger (two short rows).  The cover also has a riveted U-shaped handle on top.  The saucepan is dishwasher safe.

My Experiences

I’ve been using this Cuisinart saucepan for six months and love it.  The pan is easy to use and care for.

Primarily, I use the 2-quart saucepan for heating vegetables, sauces, and soups.  The pan is a terrific size for the quantity I cook, and I like that the aluminum pan bottom evenly heats.  The saucepan bottom has not discolored, either.

A great feature is the pour-spout.  This is the only pan with cover I own that has a pour-spout.  It makes it easy to empty liquid or sauce from the pan without slopping it.  The lid also has steam holes along the deep stainless steel sides.  When I need to drain only the liquid from the saucepan, these holes make great built-in strainers.

The lid is designed so that the small or large holes can be placed at the pour-spout opening.  This position allows the holes visibility, which also allows steam to escape the pan.  In case it matters to you, the cover fits well atop the saucepan.  The deep sides fit inside the pan, and the lid is a smidge smaller than the pan diameter so the deep sides don’t scrape the pot.  However, there is a bit of looseness between the cover sides and the pan so that the cover doesn’t form a seal.

Most of the time the pot handle is cool to the touch.  There was only one time when I grasped the saucepan handle and released it thinking too warm to hold.  It wasn’t burning hot, but it was also not comfortable to hold with the warmth.  It only happened once, but now I’m cautious.

I have cooked carrots and tomato-based sauces in this stainless steel pot.  The carrots often leave an orange residue in my other pots, and tomato sauce usually coats a pan in red, which can be a pain to clean.  This Cuisinart pan is a cinch to wash.  Even though the manufacturer says the saucepan is dishwasher safe, I hand wash the pan using liquid dishwashing soap and then set it in the dish drainer to dry.  It usually only requires a swish of the sponge to clean, and if needed, I soak the pan with some liquid soap before washing.

Summary

After six months of consistent use, the Cuisinart Classic Stainless Steel Saucepan with Cover still looks like new.  The mirror finish looks sharp in the kitchen, and so far has resisted scratching.  The glass lid allows me easy visibility so that I can keep tabs on the contents.  I appreciate the two sizes of holes to vent the steam, plus the holes double as a strainer to remove liquid from the pan.  This saucepan is super easy to clean, too.  I would definitely buy another one.

Enjoy the day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

More items from Cuisinart.  Click image to view on Amazon.

  

 

Rural Writers Plugging Away with Intermittent Notice

Northern Lights, Southern Lights

Northern Lights, Southern Lights: A Memoir of Writing Parents

$14.95 at Amazon

(3.5/5)

Pros: interesting characters and situation as writers, photos

Cons: too many repetitions, too little of Susan Eisele’s writing

Like Albert E. Eisele, my father was transported as a baby from rural Illinois to Faribault County in southern Minnesota. Like Albert A. Eisele (sixteen years my elder), I graduated from Blue Earth High School, and shared the same family doctor as the Eiseles. I remember Susan Frawley Eisele, wife of Albert E. and mother of Albert A., seeming to wrestle with a bulky camera taking pictures (including some that I was in) at Blue Earth High School for the Blue Earth Post, the weekly newspaper for which she also wrote a homespun miscellany of a column for decades.

I’m not sure whether those close parallels and glancing intersections makes me more or less sympathetic to Albert A’s joint biography of his parents. I never met him, don’t remember ever talking to his mother, and was born in the same year his father died. I read the book with some familiarity with the setting and a few persons mentioned in passing, but was probably more disappointed at the failure of the book to be what its subtitle advertises — a memoir — than readers from elsewhere are likely to be. (I hoped to learn something of what it was like to grow up in/near Blue Earth a decade and a half before I did.)

There is exceedingly little of memories from Albert A. in the book. Almost everything in it derives from manuscripts and clippings from newspapers and magazines by or about his parents. Their careers as writers for rural newspapers (syndicated columns) and in the case of Albert E. as a contributor of close-to-the-earth stories published in American Catholic periodicals while farming and raising children (three boys of whom Albert A. was the youngest survived childhood). Susan wrote fast, her husband slowly. Alas there is not the slightest indication of how Albert A. or his older brothers felt about the time their parents’ writing took — or how they felt about their parents’ minor fame in rural northern Iowa and southern Minnesota and in national Catholic periodicals, along with something of a fifteen minutes of national celebrity Susan had, being named the country’s outstanding rural journalist for 1936 and invited to New York City and D.C. with the newly born Albert A.

The book needed a copyeditor to point out (and/or cut!) repetitions. Albert A. runs through statistics on Albert E’s publications five or six times and says that Susan never traveled to the East Coast again after 1936, though there is not only discussion but a photo of her with Jimmy Carter in the White House in 1977 (Albert A. was press secretary for then-Vice President Walter Mondale). An editor might have suggested changing “’The Brother Who Came’ was described by literary magazine editor as ‘one of the finest short stories ever written” from passive to active as well as supplying an article before “literary.” This is quite aside from the unsupportability of the estimation by David Marshall (founder of something called A.D.): there are two or three better Eisele stories included as an appendix to the dual biography, and “Brother” exemplifies the superfluous dialog for which a critic quoted in the text faulted Albert E’s fiction.

The six stories by Albert E. Eisele are Chekhovian, though didactic and more sentimental as Chekhov’s were not, with occasional odd (or mistaken) word choices and sometimes awkward syntax. Unfortunately, Albert A. includes only two of his mother’s thousands of columns, including both an image of the original appearance and the text. I wish he had included the one (or the whole set of five submissions) that won her the best rural journalist of 1936 recognition. It seems that both of his parents chose to ignore the censorious backbiting of busybodies in rural communities, including the one in which both Albert A. Eisele and I grew up —in contrast the earlier representation of Sauk Centre, MN in Main Street, which Susan told a NYC interviewer in 1936 (after publication of Babbit, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith, The Man who Knew Coolidge, and Elmer Gantry) was the last good book Sinclair Lewis wrote… or the bitterness of the Spoon River Anthology and the despair of Giants in the Earth.

Despite the disappointments I have mentioned, I found the story of writers from Faribault County, Minnesota struggling for attention interesting. Susan, who was born on the coast of South Carolina and moved to Tennessee observed some of the Scopes “monkey trial” in 1925 and remarked about some other Tennesseans that “they are fundamentalists because they have not the courage to look beyond their own narrow horizons and see that the other fellow has the same protection under the laws of this country as they have,” an observation that is particularly apposite to the fundamentalist reaction to same-sex marriage and to Minnesotan as well as Tennessean fundamentalists (and not a few Catholic priests, as well).

 

Etta C. Ross lib(The Etta C. Ross Memorial Library in Blue Earth, Minnesota, which is no longer the Blue Earth Library; photo taken a week ago)

BTW, Albert Eisele wrote a much longer dual biography of Minnesota senators Eugene J. McCarthy and Hubert H. Humphrey who vied for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, Almost to the Presidency)

Beautiful Betta Fish – Betta Bio-Gold Keeps Them Happy and Healthy

Hikari Betta Bio-Gold Fish Food

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: nutritionally balanced, large quantity, pellets float, easy dispenser, foil packet repels water droplets

Cons: is it just me? – sometimes challenging to count the right amount of pellets

When a coworker commented that he was tempted to flush his two betta fish down the toilet … well, you can imagine my reaction.  The two male bettas desperately needed a good home, which is how I came to adopt them.  One way I am keeping the fish happy is by feeding them Hikari Betta Bio-Gold fish food.

Description

The 0.7 ounce foil package has a plastic dispenser opening near the bottom of the bag so that the food is easy to dispense.  This food comes in other package sizes as well.

Hikari Betta Bio-Gold is pelleted and designed to float on the water surface.  The small round pellets are balanced for optimum betta nutrition.  Hikari says this food includes premium-select fish meal, which provides a superior protein source.  The package also says this is a “color enhancing diet”.

The manufacturer recommends feeding 5 to 10 pellets a day (up to 3 times a day).

My Experiences

These two betta fish are living the good life.  I upgraded their living conditions from a small half-gallon tank, which had a divider to keep the males separated.  Now each fish has their own two-gallon aquarium.  I set the tanks side-by-side so the fish could visit.  Most of the day a piece of plastic canvas sits between the two glass tanks so the fish can’t become agitated by constantly seeing each other.  Male bettas are territorial and will fight; hence the name “fighting fish”.

I started feeding the fish the food their former keeper gave me.  While they seemed to enjoy it, I thought their color could be better.  It made me think about the nutritional value in the food I was giving them.

After some research, I decided to feed them Betta Bio-Gold fish food.  I liked that the package proclaimed the food as containing optimum nutrition and that it would enhance the betta’s color.  Something is obviously working since the fish have more energy, brighter color, and are creating bubble nests in their environment (a sign they are comfortable and happy).

I experimented with how many pellets to feed the fish.  Feeding each fish four pellets in the morning, and four more pellets in the early evening is working well.  Their body weight is good with no bloating associated with over-eating.

The tanks have air circulation pumps, so I turn the pumps off prior to feeding.  If I don’t turn off the pump, the fish food is swept along in a current toward the filter.  I want to make sure the fish are able to eat the food before the filter grabs it.  The fish are very quick to eat the pellets, so the pump doesn’t stay off long.  I also like that the food floats.  The betta fish enjoy snapping up the floating food.  Plus, I can easily see the pellets to know they have been consumed.

I do not sprinkle the food into the tank directly from the packet.  It is too difficult to control how many pellets will enter the tank.  Instead, I have small glass dish, and I pour the pellets into the dish.  Then I collect four pellets for each fish (pinching the pellets up with my fingers), and then drop the pellets into their tanks.  I leave the remaining pellets in the glass dish, which has a lid.
Please read my review of the Fluval SPEC Desktop Aquarium – my fish love it!
http://www.veryhelpful.net/2015/06/deluxe-accommodations-for-my-betta-fish-fluval-spec-aquarium/

Summary

My betta fish have enjoyed eating Betta Bio-Gold fish food for about eight months now.  I see a noticeable improved difference in their color and energy levels.  The fish are happy!

Enjoy the day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

Betta-Bio Gold –                          Fluval                                         Betta Fish
Smaller Packet                              Desktop Aquarium           Care Guide
                       

Click image to view product at Amazon

Mopar Mats For Jeep JK Wrangler: Happy Feet

Mopar Carpeted Front Floor Mat Set for Jeep (JK) Wrangler 2 Door in Dark Slate Grey

41TJDFjKiQL

See it at Amazon 

(4.5/5)

Pros: Durable, attractive and easy-to-clean.  Priced right.  Better than original equipment.  Holding-up well after several Maine winters.

Cons: Wouldn’t be needed if the originals had been a quality pair.

Mopar floor mat before the clean-up crew arrived.
Mopar floor mat before the clean-up crew arrived.

It’s difficult to believe that five years have passed since I negotiated the purchase of my nifty Jeep Wrangler.  New sets of brakes, tires, ball joints and front shocks solidified the solid ride to like-new status.  A thorough going-over evicted a variety of critters from the air cleaner and exchanged the original spark plugs for a half-dozen state-of-the-art Bosch Platinum Plus 4.

 

With the mechanicals tip-top, I concentrated on the cosmetics.  A bath, some wax and a bit of detailing were all accomplished that first weekend.  Nothing like a new vehicle to motivate the owner – from past experience, we all know that it’s good to get as much of the fun done before the thrill is gone.

5-year-old Mopar floor mat after a quick once-over with the vacuum.
The same 5-year-old Mopar floor mat after a quick once-over with the vacuum.

Mats Matter

Only one issue remained – the cheapo original equipment front floor mats were a thumb in the eye of my quest for pre-owned perfection.  The original driver’s heel had worn a significant hole in the mat just south of the gas pedal.  Chintzy and filthy with a threadbare, short nap – even a long rest would not reclaim the limited appeal they had once possessed.

Glad All Over

Driver side mat shows some wear, but the cool Jeep logo monogram is all those climbing aboard will notice.
Driver side mat shows some wear, but the cool Jeep logo monogram is all those climbing aboard will notice. Note the hole that aligns with the post anchor.

At the Jeep‘s first dealer check-up, the parts peeps placed an order for the new mats.  Within a week they were in-hand and underfoot – and were superior to the originals.  A quality fit-and-finish make them an attractive accessory to the interior’s overall function and appeal.

Much more plush are these replacements, with a nubby rubber liner beneath that grips the base carpeting.  Embedded in the flooring on either side are hooked posts that align with holes in each mat to secure and prevent forward slippage – and the possibility of pedal interference.

Keep It Clean

The only thing happier than a clean Jeep is a muddy one.
The only thing happier than a clean Jeep is a muddy one.

Easily removed, these Mopar mats can be vacuumed with a beater bar on your patio or garage floor – or simply smacked against a rock to dis-embed the sand and small stones that gather.  In the spring, a short rinse with the garden hose will remove what the vacuum won’t.  I paid $60 (US) five-years ago and they still look great – amazing, in consideration of both the winter and mud seasons we experience annually.

Serious mud-puppies may find these inadequate for off-roading purposes – the custom, laser-fitted varieties that offer full-containment are superior for extreme conditions – and are priced accordingly.

043

Exceptional

Years after purchase, I still enjoy finding the time to keep things ship-shape.  Among Wranglerites, a dirty Jeep equals one that’s recently had fun.  That said, everyone enjoys a bath and clean duds before steppin’-out for the evening – and the Wrangler JK is no exception.

Jeep Wrangler Information

Pinchers The Lobster: Adorably Inedible

Ty Toy Company “Pinchers the Lobster” Beanie Babies Stuffed Toy

018See it at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Small and silly.  Displays well in any environment.  Currently retired and just sits around the house.  No Maine residence should be without one.

Cons: Won’t do chores.  Cannot be eaten, should apocalypse occur.

Our local market offers half a pig for $199, but no lobster - a fact that pleases our crimson crustacean.
Our local market offers half a pig for $199 and a quarter of a steer for $329, but no lobster at any price – a fact that pleases our crimson crustacean.

My volunteer days at the local nursing home involved many diversions – the one I enjoyed most was calling the Bingo games in the Activities Room.  No matter how loudly the numbers were projected, there were always one or two players who required an additional prompt.  Napping was allowed and expected – due to the game’s inherent thrills and lightning speed.

While my mom was a resident, she became a Bingo savant who often traded-up in the popular post-game bargaining round.  She didn’t need no stinkin’ lavender sachets or perfume samples – Beanie Babies were the legal tender of this crowd – and the prize closet had an unlimited supply.

Meet Larry

001

One of the post-Bingo negotiations netted Pinchers the Lobster, who had been nicknamed “Larry” – unlike the one-syllable Crunch the Shark – whose name has flow and needs no improvement.  Until recently, the rediscovered cuddly crustacean had lived in a cardboard box since moving day – an event that occurred more than six years ago.

Well Done

The local ice cream stand is probably one of the few Maine eateries whose menu does not include a lobster salad roll.
The local ice cream stand is probably one of the few Maine eateries whose menu does not include a lobster salad roll.

At a weight of 3.1 ounces and measuring 7.5 inches in length, “Larry” would qualify for catch-and-release, were he born an edible Maine lobster.  Instead of being spiny and creepy, he’s just plushy and full-o-beans.  Even those beady little eyes are exempted from the fright of his prototype’s unlovely pair.

The Ty Toy folks created “Pinchers” in 1993 and he’s already been retired – nice work if you can get it.  Seeing that his monthly expenses are nil, no state or federal pension is available.  Like the cat, he spends his time sitting-around the house looking cute – the only difference being that he doesn’t eat his weight in food every month and has no need for a “lobster box” in the guest bath.

Medium Rare

Pinchers [aka "Larry"] surrounded by his Bingo buddies.
Pinchers [aka “Larry”] surrounded by his Bingo buddies.
Even though his fleeting fame has ebbed, Pinchers the Lobster is available at a variety of vendors at equally disparate price-points.  One seller claims he is so rare, he merits a $500.00 (US) price tag.  This person should check the multitude of pages at eBay, where current prices begin at $1.49 (plus shipping).

Redder than Lenin and cute as can be, Pinchers the Lobster is the crown jewel of many a spirited Bingo negotiation.  Personally, I am equally smitten with Patti Platypus – whose scintillating purple and yellow motif clashes with everything virtually everywhere it’s placed.  What better way to say you’ve arrived?

Patti Platypus

Ty Toy Co.

Recycled Fiber

O Cedar® Cotton Deck Mop

 

deck mop

See it at Amazon  

(4/5)

Pros: well made, inexpensive, easy to use

Cons: the string ends will fray with use

O Cedar® Cotton Deck Mop featuring an innovative design  fabricated of absorbent 100% cotton, 99% of which is recycled material is constructed to the product standards regarding quality, durability and usefulness.

Most floors in our rural  farm house are painted cement; a wiser choice for us, one easier to keep clean than carpet in a house shared with several rescue critters and set on an acre surrounded by pasture.

I find daily mopping to be the quickest method for keeping floors tidy and free of cat hair, mud walked in or other debris as might be expected in a rural setting.

Cotton string, wire wound, provides a head permanently attached to a 48 inch metal handle having a hang up end for easy storage when not in use. I like that the mop can be used on various flooring including wood, laminate, vinyl and painted cemented.

The strings themselves are crafted of strong four-ply filament for durability, wear resistance and absorbency.

String mops, also known as wet mops are designed to be used by dipping the mop head into a bucket or other container of water to which cleaner, I use Pinesol®.

I like the ‘cut end’ method of attachment, wherein the strings of the mop head hand loose rather than looping back to the head. Laundering is not recommended for cut end mops; the mop head cannot be removed and the handle prevents placing the mop in most machines.   On the other hand I find rinsing well, dipping into a solution of bleach and water keeps the mop head clean and does not lead to mold or unpleasant odor.

Wet mops can be used for cleaning floors and for applying floor finishes, oil or other water based material to flooring to protect the surface.

Because the mop head is permanently attached to the handle, the head cannot be replaced; on the other hand the mop is inexpensive and replacing the whole things is not a problem. I find the metal handles are easily removed from the worn head, a small metal saw does the trick quickly.   The handles work well in the garden as support for climbing morning glory or other vining cultivars.

I recommend this highly, for those who  want a good mop, and are not into all the gizmos and etc. of modern technology.

I find O Cedar products listed on Amazon site and on other online sites as well.  On the other hand when I need a new mop I stop at a small local grocery store, Marvin’s in Dewey, Oklahoma and pick one up.

As always I like to know something of the products I use and the company making them.

Reading company information on the O Cedar site I find: The Channell Chemical Company commenced as a producer of waxes and wood polishes, which were sold door to door in the early 1900s.

One of the main elements in the polish was cedar leaf oil, leading to the product being called O-Cedar Polish.  Over time brand awareness grew as the company expanded, and the name became synonymous with the products.

O-Cedar Makes Your Life Easier!® has been the business motto for years as the company continues to provide a wide array of cleaning products to make like easier for those who will be using products for household and business usage.

O Cedar Parent Company, FHP is a division of the Freudenberg Group headquartered in Weinheim, Germany. The company’s Household Products Division is a major transnational producer of branded materials including cleaning products, laundry care products, and household cloths.

The Freudenberg Household Products Division employs about 2,300 employees globally and is best known in the US for its O-Cedar® brand and signature tagline “O-Cedar Makes Your Life Easier!®”

I appreciate that O-Cedar®, is committed to green manufacturing and eco-friendly products including the use of recycled materials. O Cedar states that the company is committed to the use of recycled and sustainable materials that create less waste and require less energy and water during manufacturing including the 72 million plastic bottles recreated into 2 million pounds of broom bristles and biodegradable cotton mops crafted of 99% recycled post-industrial materials.

Happy to recommend O Cedar Cotton Deck Mop

 

Product Details and Shipping Information  found on Amazon Site

Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds

4.2 x 47.6 x 6.1 inches

 

 

 

O Cedar

2188 Diehl Road

Aurora, IL 60502

Homedics Zen Springs Tabletop Fountain: You Zen Me

HoMedics Envirascape Zen Springs Tabletop Indoor Fountain  WF-ZEN (Non-Illuminated)

001See it at AmaZen 

(4/5)

Pros: Asian design influence.  Composite material has weight (stability) and features bronzed highlights.  Quiet operation.  Doesn’t leak.  Small footprint.

Cons: Those alleged “soothing sounds of cascading water and falling rain” were omitted from my Zen.  Water pump must remain totally submerged to maintain quiet operation.  The Zen‘s peace and harmony statement is one of near total invisibility.

It’s often humorous the gifts that well-meaning friends bestow upon us.  When I first received the Zen Springs fountain, my initial reaction was “What the bleep am I going to do with this?”  My busy suburban location was one where sirens and non-stop traffic comprised the daily audio soundtrack – the Zen‘s tiny trickle of tap water wouldn’t amount to a drop with its promised “relaxation meditation”.

Aside from producing “soothing sounds”, HoMedics also states that the Zen Springs Fountain “humidifies naturally and improves concentration”.

Can You Say Feng Shui?

Trickle-down... Zen style.

The art of Chinese Metaphysics (pronounced fung shway) represents the science of favorable positioning of inanimate objects in the human environment.  Due to the demure personality of the Zen Springs fountain, I placed it before a south-facing window so as to better detect the tinkling effect of its relaxing trickle.

Best Of Both Worlds

Despite the fact that the Zen Springs went completely unnoticed by visitors, I soon began to realize a better overall outlook coupled with a modest monetary gain that enabled me to become a future denizen within the home of my dreams.  Here in my quiet rural locale, I can better absorb the Zen Springs experience – though a close proximity is still required to fully disassociate the sound of its mystical stance from that of a well-equipped fish tank.

The Magic Within

019
Will the metaphysical Zen assist my Jeep in becoming a meta-mechanical marvel?

The HoMedics EnviraScape Zen Springs Tabletop Indoor Fountain has a 6 x 4.5-inch footprint and stands 9-inches high.  Its inscrutable self resembles oiled and hammered bronze – though in reality it appears to be constructed of a composite acrylic material.  The Zen‘s base resembles that of my table saw, with its canted legs and significant wrap-around apron.

The inner plane of the removable cylindrical top features a stack of horizontal arms at staggered lengths to empower the mini-cascade.  A 6-foot power cord (with in-line on-off switch) connects the Zen-master to its Class 2 Transformer.

A tiny water pump is attached to the underside of the tank cover and is removed by lifting the top section.  To adjust for evaporation, water can be added to the slot in the cover, which acts as the cascade’s perpetual return to the tank.

Zen Springs Eternal

The cat caught "improving his concentration".
The cat caught “improving his concentration”.

Though my initial reaction was one of $%@#!, I have now been enlightened by the true meaning of the Zen Springs effect.  More than a decade has passed since the Zen‘s bestowal, and this sovereign ode to re-giftable items is still available for purchase through multiple vendors.

Three stars for the Zen Springs Tabletop Fountain – due to the fact that it has lived well beyond the term of its limited warranty.  Another star is affixed to satisfy the item’s needless and weirdness factors; respectively.

Made in China

All images generated by the author.

HoMedics

Deluxe Accommodations for My Betta Fish – Fluval SPEC Aquarium

Fluval SPEC Glass Desktop Aquarium – 2 Gallon

See it at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: glass aquarium, 3-stage filtration, air circulation pump with settings, LED light, cover with hole to feed fish, great for betta fish

Cons: does not come with water conditioner, fish food, or tank decorations

I had been thinking of starting a fish tank when a coworker commented he almost flushed his betta fish down the toilet.  After I unclenched my jaw, I offered to adopt the fish.  He presented the two fish to me in a half-gallon plastic bowl with a divider down the middle so that the fish could not fight.  (Male betta fish will rip each other apart if in the same tank.  They are territorial.)  I bought two Fluval SPEC Glass Desktop Aquariums, which hold two gallons of water.  Each fish resides in his own upscale, roomy tank.

Description

The Fluval SPEC Glass Desktop Aquarium comes in a box with: the two-gallon glass aquarium with plastic cover (which has a feeding hole in it), an LED light unit with Allen wrench, circulation pump with output nozzle and three flow settings, foam filter block, activated carbon insert, BIOMAX insert, a low-voltage transformer.  It also includes a folded sheet of installation instructions.

The tank does not come with water conditioner, fish food, gravel, or aquarium decorations.  Only the tank and its accessories are in the box.

The two sides and front of the tank are clear glass.  The back wall of the tank is frosted glass to help hide the filter media and air circulation pump.  The pump circulates forty gallons of water an hour.  Overall tank size is 7.25 inches long x 9.25 inches wide x 10 inches high.

My Experiences

The fish have been settled and very happy in their Fluval SPEC tanks for about eight months.

For the most part setup was quick and easy.  The instructions are basic, and they include illustrations.  Essentially, rinse the aquarium and filter media (no soap; just fresh water).  Place the filter, media and pump into the tank.  The Allen wrench is used to tighten the LED light in place on the back edge of the tank.  Plug in the pump adapter and light cord.  Fill the aquarium with water.  (I used water from my Brita pitchers and added the tap water conditioner as recommended.)

Things to consider:

1.  Select the power flow setting on the circulation pump before installing it in the tank.  The pump is a tight fit in its designated compartment.  I selected the lowest setting and both betta fish enjoy the air circulation throughout the tank.  I worried about the water current tiring the fish, though, so I have the pump and light on a timer so that it is not on all day.

2.  I could not figure out how to install the air circulation pump into its compartment.  To help me better visualize the installation, I went to YouTube and found a video demonstration.  After the fact, I saw that one of the darker illustrations in the instructions shows that the black nozzle needs to be removed before the unit is inserted into the compartment.  Once I removed the nozzle, the circulation pump was easy to install.

3.  After the water has been added, it is time to decorate the tank.  The two-gallon tank is vertical rather than horizontal, so floor space is limited.  I added gravel to the tank bottom (rinsing it first).  Then I added a silk plant to each tank.  Betta fins are delicate and can rip, so I did not want possible sharp areas on plastic plants to harm the fish.  The silk plants work great and the fish enjoy swimming in and around the plant fronds.  I also bought a small decoration, but I had to look awhile before finding one that was the correct scale for the tank (most decorations are on the large size).

4.  Once the aquarium was set up, I let the water sit for a day before adding the fish.  I also added some of the water from the old fish tank to help acclimatize them to their new environment.

I placed both tanks side by side.  However, I didn’t want the fish stressing out seeing each other all the time.  They are fighting fish and posture at one another in aggressive shows of dominance.  I cut a piece of plastic canvas and inserted it between the two tanks, removing it a few times during the day so that the fish see each other.  Could be my imagination, but I think the two fish look forward to sparring with each other through the glass.  (In case you are wondering, plastic canvas is a stiff open-grid constructed from plastic.  It is available at most craft stores since it is usually used for needlework.  Another nice feature is that the plastic canvas repels any water that touches it.)

There is a circular opening in the top of the lid.  The LED light is positioned over the hole to illuminate the tank.  I had heard that betta fish can jump.  To prevent an incident, I cut some fine tulle and placed it across the top of each cover.  (I bought black tulle at a local craft/fabric store.  The black blends right into the cover so you would never know it is there.)

Before I had tanks with the air circulation pump, I had to do water changes several times a week to keep the fish healthy.  I find that with the pump, I can do a water change and tank cleaning once a week.  It is recommended to replace at least 20-percent of the water once a week.  I usually replace 30- to 40-percent of the water.  I also use a sturdy fish net to remove the gravel to clean it either once a week or every other week depending upon how it looks.

If you find the tank is growing algae, I found a solution.  The tanks started to produce algae, but I pretty much stopped the process by reducing the amount of light in the tanks.  I turned off one of the LED lights.  I swiveled the working LED light so that it shines between the two tanks.  I also reduced the amount of time the LED light is on.  This solution works great.  Hardly any algae are growing.

Summary

The Fluval SPEC Glass Desktop Aquariums were great buys.  I would purchase them again.  The tanks don’t leak.  The glass and tanks are easy to clean.  The LED lights are great as is the air circulation pump.  I also like the ease of being able to feed the fish through the opening in the cover.  My two betta fish are extremely happy as is proven by the bubble nests they build.

Enjoy the day,
Dawn
http://dlstewart.com

Copyright 2015 Dawn L. Stewart

                     
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The Best (Top 48) GameCube “RACING & DRIVING” Games for Adults and Older Kids (Collector’s Complete List)

Original GameCube console, "platinum" version
The GameCube console was released in late 2001 and discontinued in 2007. It was initially available in purplish “Indigo” and “Jet Black” colors; but a year later the above “Platinum” limited edition became available.

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Sure, an original Wii console plays a nice selection of "Wii" racing games But it also plays GameCube discs-- including many great racing/driving titles!
Sure, an original Wii console can play a nice selection of “Wii” racing-game discs. But it can also play “GameCube” game discs– including many worthy racing/driving titles.

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Pros: Plenty of great-looking, fun-to-play racing and driving games were made for the GameCube. And many extant Nintendo Wii console models (manufactured before October 2011) are fully backward-compatible with GameCube games, controllers and memory cards.

Cons: Later Wii console models (introduced after September 2011) are not backward-compatible with GameCube games, controllers and cards.

 

Preface  (Feel free to skip ahead to the list of games.)

Now, despite my owning numerous GameCube games, I’ve never owned or played an original GameCube console. And, frankly, I have mixed feelings about that thing’s outer appearance. On the one hand, I (generally) respect Nintendo’s longstanding willingness to introduce innovatory products – in this instance a console that’s not only shaped unconventionally but also plays unusually small-diameter game discs. On the other hand, that “cube” – especially when sporting its primary purplish (so-called Indigo) hue – strikes me as something befitting a toddler’s playroom, not a grownup’s game room. [That said, I’ll grant that a GameCube does look a bit less childish when wearing Jet Black or Platinum.]

Anyway, I bought my first Nintendo Wii console in January 2010; and I wasted no time taking advantage of that system’s backward compatibility with GameCube game discs, memory cards, and wired controllers. Moreover, I replaced my Wii console’s standard “composite” video cable with a third-party “component” cable – which (connected to my Samsung LCD TV) quite noticeably improved the on-screen appearance of not only Wii games but also GameCube games.

Though I’m also a fan of such video-game genres as arcade, shmups, and sports, my favorite genre – by far – is “racing and driving.” And I’m pleased that a respectable number of such titles were released for the GameCube during its “heyday” (if that word even applies to a console whose market share distantly trailed that of the competing PS2). I ended up buying 37 GameCube racing/driving games; and I would’ve bought still more had I not opted to get certain cross-platform titles in originalXbox, Xbox 360, or PS2 format.

With those 37 GameCube discs plus 24 Wii racing/driving discs, my original-Wii console continues to deliver its share of fun whenever I’m taking a break from my much larger Xbox and PlayStation collections.

During the months when I was painstakingly building my American video games collections, I felt continually frustrated by the most widely disseminated, incomplete lists of “racing” titles for this or that particular system. Thus I hope my below — presumably comprehensive — list of recommendable GameCube racing/driving-game titles may be of help to some fellow collectors of this genre [though it’s possible I’ve overlooked a title or two that merit inclusion].

However, note that I have three key criteria determining (or at least influencing) which GameCube racing games ended up on the below list.

First, titles like “Driver” or “Grand Theft Auto” [which I myself neither play nor collect] are primarily role-playing, not racing, games. Thus I generally don’t include such games on the list.

Second, excessively puerile/adolescent/cartoony graphics, audio or themes normally don’t appeal to this adult gamer; so, you generally won’t find such titles on the list.]

Third, if a game simply incorporates hopelessly clumsy mechanics – or glaringly ineptly rendered audio/graphics – that keep me from enjoying the overall experience, that title is anathema (Smashing Drive is a prime example). [However, there’s a gray area, insofar as my below list does encompass a small minority of “borderline-acceptable” titles that somehow manage to amuse me enough to merit inclusion.]

As I’m American, my below list predictably comprises only NTSC editions; some games may bear different titles (or perhaps weren’t released) in other world regions. [Consult Wikipedia for details.]

Finally, my intention isn’t to discuss every game below; but the simple fact that these are the titles that made my list means each somehow merits a passing grade (though in several instances just a “D”). So, use the following list judiciously,  perhaps consulting pertinent reviews, articles or videos at the worthy Amazon, eBay, IGN, Wikipedia and YouTube to decide for yourself if a certain title belongs in your collection.

 

RECOMMENDABLE RETAIL GAMECUBE “RACING” GAMES RELEASED ON DISC IN NORTH AMERICA:

[Except where noted below, I own a GameCube-edition specimen of each of the following titles.]

(To view a picture of a particular game at Amazon, click its title.)

  1. 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker
  2. 4×4 Evo 2
  3. Auto Modellista
  4. Burnout [Note: I opted instead for the (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox edition of this title.]
  5. Burnout 2: Point of Impact  [Note: I opted instead for the (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox edition of this title.]
  6. City Racer
  7. Crazy Taxi
  8. Dakar 2 Rally
  9. Driven
  10. Drome Racers
  11. Extreme-G 3
  12. F-Zero GX
  13. F1 2002
  14. Freekstyle
  15. Hot Wheels World Race
  16. The Italian Job
  17. Jeremy McGrath Supercross World
  18. Kirby Air Ride
  19. Lotus Challenge
  20. Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
  21. Monster 4×4: Masters of Metal
  22. MX Superfly
  23. NASCAR 2005: Chase for the Cup
  24. NASCAR Thunder 2003
  25. NASCAR: Dirt to Daytona
  26. Need for Speed: Carbon  [Note: I opted instead for the slightly graphically superior Xbox 360 edition of this game.]
  27. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2  [Note: I own not only this GameCube edition but also the PS2, whose gameplay content differs somewhat.]
  28. Need for Speed: Most Wanted [Note: Regarding this late-2005 release, I sold my GameCube edition because I’d noticed that my Xbox 360 (likewise 2005) edition had sharper graphics. That said, this GameCube edition is still pretty nice in its own right.]
  29. Need for Speed Underground
  30. Need for Speed Underground 2
  31. Pac Man World Rally
  32. Pro Rally
  33. R: Racing Evolution
  34. Rally Championship
  35. Road Trip: The Arcade Edition
  36. Smuggler’s Run: Warzones  [Note: According to IGN, Smuggler’s Run: Warzones “is basically just Smuggler’s Run 2: Hostile Territory (for PS2) with some additions and improvements.” Hence I opted to get this enhanced GameCube version and skip the PS2 release.]
  37. Speed Kings  [Note: I opted instead for the (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox edition of this title.]
  38. SSX 3  [Note: I opted instead for the (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox edition of this title.]
  39. SSX Tricky
  40. Street Racing Syndicate  [Note: I opted instead for the (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox edition of this title.]
  41. SX Superstar  [Note: I opted instead for the (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox edition of this title.]
  42. Tube Slider
  43. Wave Race: Blue Storm
  44. XGRA: Extreme-G Racing Association

Note: The following GameCube title is somewhat more a “combat-driving” than a “racing” game; nonetheless, I like it just enough to keep it in my collection.

Monster Jam: Maximum Destruction

Also note: The following two GameCube titles [both of which I opted to get in their (Xbox 360-compatible) original-Xbox editions] are definitely more “combat-driving” than “racing” games, but they still might be of interest.

RoadKill

Starsky & Hutch

In this vein, the following GameCube title [which I opted to get in its PS2 edition] might likewise be of some interest.

SpyHunter

 

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You may also enjoy the following:  

The 81 Best RACING Games for Original Wii

The 134 Best RACING Games for Xbox 360

The 95 Best RACING Games for Original Xbox

The 291 Best RACING Games for PlayStation 2

The 121 Best RACING Games for PlayStation 1

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