Quality MP3s

Several years ago I ripped every CD I owned and converted them all to MP3. At the time I was dealing with, oh, about 300 CDs, so the process took some time. Then I trashed all those MP3s and started over.

Why would I do such a thing? My goal was to acquire very high quality MP3s. I wanted quality over size, MP3s that could be converted back to WAVs with more or less no audible degredation (okay, if you did this over and over, no MP3 would provide good quality… I was looking for a one pass WAV -> MP3 -> WAV type quality). An easy test of the MP3 quality is to pick some music that has nature sounds of some sort in it and listen to it on quality equipment (headphones, speakers, whatever). As the codecs that create MP3s are generally optimized for speech and music, cricket sounds, water, or whatever are an easy way to find their limits. That or a quality jazz recording with lots of airy cymbals.

In my first attempt, I bought a package (I think it was MusicMatch) that ripped the CDs and created the MP3s and added the tags, all in one package. The MP3s were fine, but they were not what I would call high quality. After a bit of research, I redid the whole thing addressing quality at each step. Here’s a summary of what I learned (and subsequently did).

1) Ensure an accurate rip. If the CD player reads a grease smudge off your disc, that noise will be encoded right into the MP3. If there is a scratch, you’ll probably hear that scratch in the MP3. The solution? Use Exact Audio Copy (EAC). It reads the CD tracks over and over, comparing them until it gets an exact match, thus enabling it to rip a perfectly accurate WAV file (unless, of course, the disc is unreadable). EAC is free, so go get it.

2) Use the LAME encoder to convert from WAV to MP3. There are numerous download sites like this one. It has a “lame” interface, but once configured, EAC can drive it for you.

3) Make sure your ID3 tags are done well. ID3 tags are the extra bits of data stored with the MP3 file such as Title, Artist, Genre, etc. EAC will usually be able to look up the tags for you when you load a CD using freedb.org, but always make sure the tags are accurate and complete.

If you Google “eac lame tutorial”, you can find a bunch of great step-by-step info on setting up the whole shootin’ match. I use the “insane” setting for the LAME codec, which is basically a VBR encoding scheme meant to match the quality of a 320 kbs CBR MP3, but the files average around 230 kbs. I use a much lower setting (around 64 kbs VBR) for audio books that I rip.

Once you get your collection set up, it’s easy to keep it up to date by converting CDs as you acquire them. Then the fun begins. I’ve got MP3s driving my music in my living room stereo and my car, and will post the details another time.

Just Part of Life

There are certain folk who are very close to me and whom I love very much, who tell me my blog is boring lately. Yeah, Andrew, I mean you!! Evidently recipes, accounts of shopping trips, and toddler anecdotes are not exciting enough. May I ask, what it is you were expecting from a SAHM of 4, one of whom is a newborn?? Because recipes and shopping trips are the stuff of life around here.

Oh yes, and dog barf. Indeed, folks. This evening while my husband dined on delectable choice beef at Ruth’s Chris Steak House (the French were in town, he had to entertain them) I walked into our bedroom to discover a very nasty pile of regurgitated dog food. On the rug. Just as I was about to enjoy my homemade pizza (which, incidently, I WON’T post the recipe for!). Ugh. Anyone want a free dog??

Manly Nicolas

We started putting up the Christmas tree tonight. The kids were very excited… and very underfoot. As Tricia felt little hands pushing and prodding on her back yet once again, the following ultra-brief conversation took place.

Tricia: Alright! If anyone hits me or bumps into me again I am going to scream!

Nicolas: Like a little girl?

Shopping

I had myself a fun little outing to Old Navy today. Not exactly all by myself, ie, without children, but at least without the two middle ones, which feels pretty free these days!! ANYWAY, while shopping, I learned something new that Old Navy is doing with their shirt sizing which might come in handy to other readers of this blog who are say, Moms over 30-ish, perhaps recovering from having a baby, sporting a few extra pounds, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

Much of my impression of Old Navy in recent years has been lots of teeny tiny short shirts that are NOT AT ALL appropriate on a person of my age and stature. But today I saw shirts in three different categories:

TINY fit
PERFECT fit
and
EASY fit.

Tiny fit is well, tiny. Perfect fit is a bit longer in the waist and while still fitted, not so tight. Easy fit was made for postpartum moms. Well, not really, but they were a wonderful fit for me and my little tummy. They are just a bit roomier all around, and even longer than the Perfect fit, which makes them long enough to wear with maternity jeans/pants. Because even though I am smaller than I was 8 weeks ago, I am a LONG (read 30 pounds) way from pre-baby size. This affects my ability to get into all my old clothes, even the “big” shirts!! And while I can obviously fit into my maternity tops, they are starting to look silly on me. Besides, I am getting a lot of those “When is your baby due?” questions, even when I have the baby right there next to me!! That is getting a little old.

So today I got three new long-sleeved shirts in very fun colors for $24 total. Not bad. And, because I was feeling extremely self-indulgent, I bought MATCHING SOCKS!! So folks, I may still be sporting my maternity jeans and pants for some time to come, but I feel pretty stylin’ in my new tees and socks!!

NonDairy, NonEgg, NonPeanut Yummy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I made this recipe (courtesy of Steph – thank you!) Friday night for a get-together with friends. Figured they might come in handy to someone who reads this if you have any people in your life who cannot eat some of the ingredients listed above. I made the bar variation as it is so much less time consuming. They were delicious, and did not at all taste like they were “missing” something!! Enjoy!

1 cup margarine (use Fleichmann’s Unsalted for a nondairy margarine)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs oil
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
12oz chocolate chips (use Bakers Chocolate Chunks – they’re made without milk)

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, cream margarine and sugars together. Add next 4 ingredients and beat well, until creamy. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, and salt and add gradually to the large bowl. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for approximately 8 minutes.

Bar Cookie Variation: In a greased 9X13 pan, spread dough and bake at 375 for approximately 15 minutes, till golden brown, and till a toothpick/tester poked into the middle of the pan comes out clean.

Jay’s Blender Salsa

Over the past 2.5 years, I’ve been perfecting a salsa recipe. My first attempts ended up with the name Jay’s Chop Chop Salsa due to my efforts to create a tasty salsa that didn’t involve actual cooking. A second iteration of that salsa is described in Salsa, Round II. A later evolution was called Jay’s Green Salsa due to the stunning amount of cilantro which turned the tomato base a distinct green color.

My latest modifications have resulted in what I consider an excellent salsa that is somewhat lacking in its, ah, visual aesthetic appeal. Of the various names that came to mind, Jay’s Blender Salsa seemed the best alternative given the way it looks. But oh does it taste delightful! I’m using smaller bunches of cilantro and cutting off more of the stems, thus the color is a rather ambiguous red-green mishmash. Here’s the recipe.

Jay’s Blender Salsa

1 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon of granulated garlic
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
2 medium-sized jalapenos
1.5 tablespoons of olive oil
2 small bunches of cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice

Cook jalapeno(s) in boiling water until tender, then drain. Remove seeds for more mild heat. Add all the ingredients but the cilantro in a blender and puree to a smooth consistency. Cut stems off the cilantro below the leaves. Add cilantro and blend to desired consistency.

Note: If you use “no salt added” tomatoes, you may need to add more salt.

A Little Pocket Change

On a typical Sunday morning at church, our “pew” is a rather busy place. We have 4 little ones sitting with us now, two of them boys aged 3 and 4, who, while admittedly pretty well behaved for little boys, still require a lot of guidance and direction through the 1 1/2 hours of worship. Our smaller boy often ends up between Jay and I since he usually needs the most attention/help from us. And usually at least one, and sometimes both of us are very attentive and aware of exactly what he is doing as we help him learn what it means to be in worship, behave appropriately, etc.

This morning during the offering, the choir was singing – this is a regular portion of our church service. However, this morning my little brother was part of a trio that was singing a portion of the choral anthem which was a piece taken from Haydn’s “Creation”, and was just glorious. So Jay and I were a little more absorbed in this particular anthem than we might be on another week. Jay passed the offering plate in my direction. As is his usual custom, Nicolas “helped” by handing the plate from Jay to me. But today he added a new component: while passing the plate with one hand, the other hand reached into the collection plate and plucked out a coin. How Jay and I both missed this, I do not know. But as I received the plate from Nicolas, I caught the glint of the shiny quarter in his little chubby hand. Horrified, I whispered, “No, no!” to my puzzled little boy, and since the usher was waiting with a smile on his face (yes, HE saw what Nicolas was up to!), for the plate to reach the end of the row, I gently took the coin from Nicolas and popped it back into the plate. I didn’t figure an extended dialogue with my three year old, ending with a request for him to return the stolen coin himself to the plate would have been fair to the rest of the congregants who were themselves waiting for the plate, hopefully in their cases to put money IN rather than taking it out!!

In any case, I had work hard to suppress my laughter for the remainder of “The Heavens Are Telling”…and don’t you think (without the remainder of the lyrics from this song written in) that this particular title is hilarious given the situation in our pew this morning??!!

And Now, A Word From the Youngest Member of the Family…

Hi Everyone! Yesterday I turned 5 weeks old. I weighed 10lbs 12ozs at the doctors, which means I am gaining just over 1 oz a day. That’s because I eat so much! In addition to eating, my biggest project these days, besides seeing how many diapers I can possibly go through in a 24 hour period, is perfecting my smile. I really only smile for Mommy, because well, she’s the one who spends the most time with me and all. It’s pretty hard to get all my little facial muscles in just the right way so as to produce that disarming baby grin. But last night Daddy got lucky and he caught my little smile on camera. It’s only a side shot, so you won’t get the full effect, but i hope you enjoy it. Here’s me, with my sweet Mommy:

IMG_5718.JPG

Some Thanksgiving Reading

I referenced this book last year on our Thanksgiving Day post. This year I thought I’d mention it sooner in the season so you could look for it at your local library (I see our local system does in fact have a couple copies available!) or favorite local or web bookstore (click on image to purchase it at Amazon).

The Thanksgiving Story

I purchased and read this to the children last year to give them an introduction to the Thanksgiving holiday. I think it is a fine addition to our library, and recommend it highly. I was delighted to learn it had received the honor of being named a Caldecott Honor book.

It follows one Pilgrim family’s journey from England to America and documents the hardships the Pilgrims endured to make a home in this new land where they could worship God as they felt they ought. It is told simply enough for beginning readers to enjoy on their own, yet also does a great job of not oversimplifying the story. Our two eldest (aged 3 and 5 last year) old loved the book and its beautiful illustrations. Alice Dalgliesh has presented us with a wonderful account of the first Thanksgiving, helping children to gain an awareness of where this special holiday originated, and why we take time on this day each year to thank God for His blessings to us.

We’ll enjoy this book again this year, and for many years to come.