Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Santa brought me a freezer!

Okay, technically I've had this since the day after Thanksgiving.  Dad and I went out to Home Depot, used his veteran's discount (10% off anything, all the time.  I later found out that Lowes does it too, they just don't advertise the fact) and a Black Friday sale to get me a little chest freezer.

I washed it out with baking soda and water a couple of times, but couldn't get rid of the "new freezer" smell.  I could only air it out when I was home.  I had visions of leaving the top up and going out, only to come home and find that the cat had tried to leap up there, fallen in, had the lid close behind her and suffocate her.  Who's a worry wort?  This girl!

I finally plugged it in yesterday.  Bought some stuff for my little New Year's party-of-one and put the frozen things in there (mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, things like that) along with a box of baking soda specially designed for fridge and freezer use.  Have you seen these?  They have tear-away sides with fine mesh underneath them, so that all the funk can get right in that box.  Nifty!

In other news, this may be the last picture I take for a while with my Lumix camera.  I have now lost the replacement battery charger, which I bought to replace the original battery charger that came with the camera.  Here's the kicker--they are both somewhere in this house, dang it!  Last time I saw the replacement charger was when I juiced up the battery right before Thanksgiving.  It must have been stowed somewhere in my cleaning frenzy.  I did the same thing with the cord that connects the iPod to the computer.  Found that this morning.  Sigh.  I know where to get another replacement, but I want to do a more thorough search of this place before I give up on it completely.

So until then, let me leave you with a couple of pictures I took over Christmas:


The top of my sister's tree.  I think my aunt gave her that a few years ago, but I may have just made that up.

Same tree, a bit farther down.
Daisy, in a rare moment of rest, next to a sign inviting Nature to do her worst. Two days later the Eastern seaboard got smacked with at least a foot of snow.  We got a fraction of that, but the wind was fierce.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

You'll need a tray.

Warning.  The f-bomb gets dropped throughout these videos, so you might not want to play them at work or around your kids.

Ran across this a while ago, loved it, bumped into it again recently and thought I would share:



Eddie Izzard as interpreted by Legos.  After looking at this one, I found a ton more:



Cake or death:



Not that Eddie isn't fun all by himself:

Friday, December 17, 2010

It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark

I've decided that next year's big project is crossing off #37 on my Life List: handmade Christmas.  Every person on my Christmas list will receive a present handmade by me.  There will be other things going on, I'm sure, but #37 is the big goal right now.

To this end, I've started compiling a list of who's getting what.  I haven't sorted that out completely just yet, but there's one project I know I'm doing, and for whom.  In the next 5 minutes I'm going to start casting on stitches to work this wrap with this yarn (color #2, fawn) for my aunt.

And no, I haven't forgotten about/given up on the sweater.  I need something portable to work on for the next week or so, though, as I make my way to and from my sister's house.  This project will do nicely.

I know, I know.   Isn't it a skosh early to be thinking about Christmas 2011?  We haven't even gotten to Christmas 2010, for pity's sake. Yes.  Yes, it is.  But I just bit off a very large piece of something, and it's going to take a while to chew it thoroughly.  I have an awful lot to do; might as well get started.

There will be updates throughout the year (with pictures) except for things being made for people who read this blog (I'm looking at you, Mom.  And you, Ditter).  Don't want to spoil the surprise.

Wish me luck.  I hope I don't drive myself crazy.  Though that might be fun to watch too, huh?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas baking for my colleagues

First I got organized:


Then I got busy:

Biscotti


Peanut butter cups (1st half of batch)
Raspberry bar cookies

Peppermint meringues

At some point I went out and bought maraschino cherries, only to come home and find I didn't need them:

My cabinet shelf isn't really this bowed. It's the angle I was holding the camera. I hope.
Then I got ambitious:

I call these negative chocolate chip cookies: white chips in chocolate dough.

Then I got tired, and didn't make cookies out of the dough in the picture above.  I abandoned my original plan, which was to give two types of cookie to each person based on what I'd learned of their preferences over the past few years.  Instead, I decided to give everyone some of each.


And tomorrow I get to play Santa.  Provided I don't trip on my way to the bus, land on my packages, and create 6 containers of tasty crumbs.

No tree this year

And this cartoon should explain why:



I think I need to wait until the Gray Fuzzy One is just a little bit older than 1 and 1/2 before I attempt a Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas season, Delilah, and Sophie

Last year, Delilah's failing health made it really hard to get into the Christmas spirit, or stay there very long when I did get there.

An example: all throughout Christmas Day, I kept forgetting to open the contents of my stocking (Yes.  At forty(mumble) I still get a stocking at Christmas. What?  Don't you?).  After dinner, I went to the room the cat and I were sleeping in so that I could fuss over her a bit, and to get her to maybe eat some canned salmon I'd bought for her.  She ate a little, then went back under the futon to lay on the heating vent.  I went out into the kitchen to put the plate in the sink and bumped into my mom.

"You never opened this," she said, holding up my bulging stocking.

I burst into tears, said something like "I can't do this anymore!" and fled back to the bedroom.  That was it, I was done.  No more Christmas, please.

She and my sister followed me, let me sob it out, fussed over Delilah some (she came out to see what all the noise was about, I think, and to see who had come to visit) and eventually did get me to open my stocking.

I never got any cookies baked for the same reason.  The thought would cross my mind to do it, then the cat would come into the room with her poor little face, hop up into my lap, and I'd decide to just stay put.  One time she climbed up my chest and stretched out, chin on my shoulder, purring in my ear.  I sat contorted for her maximum comfort for over an hour, tears streaming down my face, thinking this is probably the last time we'll do this.  I was right.

 It took a lot of effort to do what I considered the bare minimum.  I'm surprised people got presents at all, the way I was feeling.

This year is better.  I'm glad Sophie's here, because otherwise I'd be doing a lot of moping and remembering last year--more than what I'm doing right now, that is.  Sophie's interested in all the the goings-on.  She inspects the results of every shopping trip, and I fully expect her to supervise present-wrapping when I start that.

Just as soon as I post this I'll start making cookies.  A lot of these first batches are getting wrapped up and given away.  The raspberry bar cookie from 2 years ago is making an appearance. So is a peppermint meringue cookie that someone I work with really, really likes.  I'm going to make a peanut butter cup cookie that uses itty bitty muffin tins.  I'm going to try biscotti too, and that means the very first thing I have to do is toast almonds.  Well.  The very first thing I have to do is look up how to toast almonds, because they don't give instructions in the recipe.  Google, here I come.

If I don't run out of steam, I'll be trying a molasses cookie recipe that I found through the Pioneer Woman's Cookie Week.  As soon as I check for my cookie cutters, that is.  I think I have Christmas ones.  I used to.  Maybe.  I know I gave some cookie cutters away, but I don't think it was all of them.  Ah, well.  I can always use the mouth of a glass, right?  I'm also making something called chocolate-covered cherry cookies, but not today; I forgot to buy the cherries. 

After I finish making the ones I'm giving as gifts, I'll go make a second set to take to my sister's.  There will be more raspberry bars (last time I brought them Ditter told me they tasted like an Entenmann's raspberry danish.  For those not in the know, that is high praise indeed), those chocolate cherry things, and the molasses cookies (by then I will have either found or bought new cutters).

Wish me luck!  Some of these I've never tried before.  I'll photograph the results.

Edited to add:  Didn't have to go as far as the Internet to find out how to toast almonds. There are instructions on the package.  Yay!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Missed me by *that* much

Every year my old place of employment (which I've affectionately nicknamed "Hell") invites my fellow escapee and me to their holiday luncheon.  Every year I react like someone left a dead fish on my desk.

I've often said (and I may have said so here already, but I'm too lazy to go check) that I can map the decline and fall of the morale in my old department based on the holiday celebrations.

We used to have a party in someone's house.  We'd get all dressed up for it.  There'd be food--potluck, but being a college town, it was funky potluck.  Mexican hot chocolate, olivada and crusty French bread, curried chick peas, things like that.  There would be music--Jimmy would bring his keyboard, Max his guitar, and those of us who could would sing along with whatever they played.  People's kids would run around and play together.  There was a gag gift exchange.

Then one year the gift exchange was dropped, as it was deemed "silly."  The next year the instruments stayed home.  The one after that instead of an evening in someone's home it was lunch out somewhere one day during the work week.  Then a few years later it was a potluck in the staff room.  Then it was cookies by the coffee pot.  Then it was bagels at the staff meeting, and bring your own coffee.

Since the department split into two, the one group has revived the go-out-to-lunch thing. The other, the one I worked for until I moved to where I am now, holds a luncheon in their staff room.  It's semi-potluck, meaning they all cook but guests from outside the department don't.  They invite a lot of people, and most of them come.  This group does know how to throw a party, I'll say that for them.   If I had never worked there I might actually want to go.   As it is, I notice things that make me uncomfortable: 
  • The people they invite are generally people who can do things for them: deans, associate deans, department heads, people in other departments with whom who they think they have "special relationships." 
  • The conversation always wends its way around to work somehow.  They always have an agenda, an angle, are looking for information and a way to push what they want forward.  
  • They may be friendly and chatty with their guests, but they don't have much to say to each other.  If you see them all together and they don't know you're there, they all sit silently munching, their eyes on their plates or the floor.
This year I have a prior commitment so I won't be able to attend.  I did a little dance of joy when I saw that on my calendar.  Otherwise, even though I really don't want to I'd have to go.  Unless I suddenly [cough, cough] got sick [feels forehead] right before the party [ohh, my throat's so scratchy!] and had to go home.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Threepeat!

Whoo! Made it to the finish line! The posts got a little thin there towards the end, and I apologize for that. Some days the brain just cramps up, you know? But I did it! And now I'm going to go back to blogging haphazardly, but I will try to post at least three times a week. Let's see how long that lasts.

I can't imagine attempting National Novel Writing Month. I think there's an actual word count involved with that. No, thank-you. Well, maybe if I ever get serious about writing a novel, I might try it. Emphasis on might.

And now, back to work. I'm currently haunting the area where my part-timers pick up their work because I need to talk to one of them about something. As I type, I'm keeping an ear out for him.

Oop! There he is. Bye!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The news from my end of the swamp

The good news: I bought three Christmas gifts today at the mall.
The bad news: That's not even a drop in the bucket.
The sad news: By two in the afternoon I was back in PJs and on the couch.
The meh news: I go back to work tomorrow.
The welcome news: NaBloPoMo is over tomorrow. I'm getting sick of the sound of my own voice.

And that's about it from over here. How are you?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving Pre-Christmas recharge

I've been sitting around with my brain off all weekend. Just chilling on the sofa with the cat and my knitting, watching movies and TV shows I've DVR'd and haven't been able to watch yet. So far I've watched: 2 episodes of Medium, Coco Before Chanel, Love's Labours Lost, a couple of weeks' worth of In Treatment, and Moonlight Mile. In an hour or so I'm going to do something I rarely do anymore--I'm going to watch Boardwalk Empire at its actual air time.

I took the day off tomorrow. I'm using it to start Christmas shopping. I have no ideas at the moment. I'm hoping something will leap out at me when I'm at the mall and declare itself for someone on my list. I'm also hoping the piped-in Christmas music doesn't drive me batty by noon.

I don't have a snapshot for today because I haven't so much as looked out the door since my parents drove away Friday morning. Not to mention that I'm not quite sure what I did with my camera. Can't find anything on the hard drive that looks good either.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Recipe reviews

I made that Bob Andy Pie I mentioned a few days ago. After everyone called or texted in to say they made it home OK I sat down and had a slice. Boy is it good. It's a custard pie with a very thin layer of cinnamon on top and another on the bottom. I couldn't see how the cinnamon stayed on the bottom, considering that it floats so well, but I think I just now figured it out--you brush the crust with egg whites. The cinnamon probably sticks to that when the custard gets poured into the shell.

The three recipes I introduced for Thanksgiving were all greeted with general success. Mom and my sister really liked the corn with sage. After Mom took a bite, she told me that she'd been a little worried about the amount of sage in it, because sage can be so strong. You don't add that until the very end, though, so I guess the affect is minimal (or do I mean "effect?" I can't decide). She copied down the recipe before she left yesterday. Here it is, along with a few comments:

Sweet Corn with Sage

3 T butter or margarine
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1/2 c.)
2 bags (12 oz each) frozen corn
1/4 c. half-and-half
2 T chopped fresh sage leaves
3/4 tsp salt [I used kosher salt]
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

In a 10-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Cook onion and corn 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is tender. [I wound up turning the heat up to medium high after melting the butter because it was taking forever for the corn to thaw out. I'd suggest thawing the corn ahead of time, and then maybe cooking the onion first before adding in the corn.]

Stir in remaining ingredients; reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until flavors are blended. [Turn the heat down before adding the 1/2-and-1/2, or you'll have to add more]

I think this recipe's a keeper. And I thank my sister for finely chopping the onion. I don't chop things fine, and I said so. She heard me from the other room and offered to do it for me. I watched her, so I think I know how to do it now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pie, anyone?

Apparently I fed my family so well yesterday that no one had room for dessert. They all wanted to go to a local waffle house for breakfast this morning, so my suggestion of pie for breakfast got rejected. I tried to get my Mom to take home the pumpkin pie, but she didn't think it would travel well.

So now I'm sitting here in houseful of food, two pies calling my name, and no one else to feed them to. Dear me. Someone's gonna be a whole lot fatter come Monday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am whipped. Combination of work, wine, L-tryptophan, and allergies. I'll write more tomorrow. I hope everyone is having/has had a great day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Extra post--the ranting edition

I am getting really mad at the radio right now. As I was drinking my coffee and trying to organize the day, John & Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" came on the radio. It didn't register for a moment, and then...what? Christmas music? It's not December! We haven't even gotten to Thanksgiving yet! Dammit, marketers, quit rushing Christmas!

And then I calmed down. This station is on a satellite feed until 6 am. Maybe once the DJs come on we'll get sensible music.

Nope. Ten minutes ago they played some schmaltzy pop-duet version of "Silver Bells." That's it. I'm going to iTunes, where I can control the play list.

Look, I get that the economy stinks, and that retailers are running in place waiting for Black Friday to get here to save them. I have to say, though, that the more they ram this "Christmas is coming! Buy! Buy! BUY!" crap down my throat, the more I want to give everyone homemade cookies, handmade soap and scarves I knit myself. Part of it is the mulishness that is me. I find that even if I'm half inclined to do something, if someone tries to push me into doing it I will balk just to prove I won't be pushed. This got me teased a lot in high school. I didn't dress "cool." I got teased for it. So I went out my way to not dress "cool." Screw them, I thought. Same with music. I liked classical music. In middle school someone found out about it, and passed the word around. I then refused to listen to anything but WFLN (which was Philly's classical station at the time) or WXPN (for The Thistle and Shamrock, or for their in-house folk program called The Unicorn).

But another part of it is that I'm really tired of all the tinsel and the sparkle and the plastic and the piped-in music. "Victorian" Christmas may be more picturesque, but I'm sick of that as well. That's just commercialism from 200 years ago. It looks more dignified because it's older, that's all.

I used to think of Halloween as the last firewall between Christmas and the rest of the calendar, but that's not true any more either. It's starting to bleed through. This year I saw a lot of Halloween and Christmas displays side by side.

Maybe I'm just grumpy because I'm tired. I don't know. I do know that I'm not ready for a month of Christmas carols, and now they're starting early! I want to smack someone.

I guess I'll go scrub the tub. I'm in a bad mood anyway.

Thanksgiving Eve

It's 5 am. I have a lot to do today. Sophie, for reasons known only to herself, is tearing around like a mad thing.

I'm going to spend 15 minutes with my nose in my coffee cup and then it's back to putting the finish touches on the house. My parents will call right before they leave home, at which point I will keep one eye on the parking lot, ready to chase off anyone who tries using my parking space. It's not likely to happen. The lot (the whole town, really) is pretty empty since the kids have a week's vacation around Thanksgiving. When I was a student (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), they only gave us Thursday and Friday.

The cat's last dose of eye medicine is this morning, and a good thing too. I think she's getting pretty tired of this.

All right. Breakfast time. Enjoy your day, folks!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Busy

The plan today: get some coffee in me, medicate the cat, then finish this house. Not much to blog about at the moment.

Here's another picture I pulled off my hard drive from 'way back:

Background: I was at a crafting day thing in a friend's basement, which she had made over as her workshop (jealous!). A bunch of other people were over as well, some that I'd never met before. One of the women made miniatures--for dollhouses, I think.

Aren't they amazing? I took a close-up of the cutting board to emphasize how very small these things are. That olive jar was pretty neat, too. I cannot for the life of me remember their creator's name. Maybe the Chief Loon knows--she was there too, and I think she knows these folks better than I do.

All right, that's enough fun. Time to go squirt ointment at the cat. Whee.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Countdown begins

It's Thanksgiving week! That means I'm furiously cleaning and stressing about my house in preparation for the feast on Turkey Day. The parents arrive on Tuesday evening, Wednesday is for shopping for the stuff I need to get and any prep work that needs doing. Ditter arrives Wednesday evening. And then it's Thanksgiving Day.

I think I'm ready. Sort of. Maybe. Well, no. I forgot to ask my Mom what time to expect them tomorrow. Same with my sister. Also, I need to rent a carpet cleaner. Though I may wimp out and use Resolve or something. The downstairs is still a bit untidy, same with my bedroom and I just now remembered I need to do sheets and towels. I think next year I'm going to ask Mom & Dad to come on Wednesday.

Actually, between that last paragraph and this one, I did call my Mom and ask them to come Wednesday. I think I can handle the shopping and prep work by myself this year. There are only four of us this time around so I don't feel quite as liable to burst into tears or flames at the thought of pulling this off. Turns out Wednesday would suit them better anyway. They can get a good night's sleep and leave in the morning instead of leaving after work and driving in the dark when they're tired. Good idea, me!

Now I need to give myself a stern talking to about not relaxing because I just got a little more time before company shows up. Must keep going at this pace (or a little faster) if I am to get done what I intend to. I really wish I could work at this pace all the time, but apparently I need the panic of a looming deadline to get the lead outta my keister. Sigh.

Well! Back to work! Fridge to clean! Junk to stash! Laundry to do!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snapshot Sunday #3

I went out really early this morning to get things at the grocery store. I wasn't thinking about the blog so I forgot to bring the camera. So instead I dug through the huge file of pictures I have on my hard drive to see if there's anything there worth showing.

Okay, here we go. I managed to grow tomatoes this year. I didn't get many of them, and that's partly my fault. I was weeding at one point this past spring, stepped back, lost my balance and fell splat! Right on the tomato. That set back growing time, though the plant did bounce back. Just in case I'd killed it I went out and bought another tomato plant, a Roma tomato (which is what I thought the first one had been, but it turned out it wasn't). A good thing too, since the first plant developed blossom end rot. Again. That's the same thing that happened the last time I tried to grow tomatoes.

The Roma was okay, though. I got some tomatoes off of that one, but there was some animal in the area that beat me to most of them. Here's the first one I managed to get to before whatever that critter was:

I did it!

The same weekend Mom taught me how to make jelly, we picked elderberries from the bushes down the road. Then she taught me to make a pie. Now that I've made a pie from fruit I picked myself, I think I'm going to stick to making them from fruit I pick out myself. Note to self: elderberries are a pain in the tuckus to stem.

Elderberry pie

Here's another picture of Sophie. She likes sleeping on towels. She also really, really likes my furry red bathrobe. It's sort of become her blankie now. Yes. She is that spoiled.

Sophie sleeping

And that's about it for now. Time to go check on the tomatoes. I froze a whole bunch of CSA tomatoes this past summer, and now I'm thawing them out to make soup of them. They're really easy to skin once they're frozen. Now I need to seed them.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Menu for Dad

My Dad just got all of his teeth removed in anticipation of getting dentures. The dentist removed them one-quarter at a time. He said if Dad wanted them all out at once he'd have to go to an oral surgeon. This probably has something to do with Dad being on blood-thinners. The last quarter just got pulled earlier this week, I think.

This presents an additional challenge for Thanksgiving this year. I'm trying to avoid serving chewy foods or anything with sharp pointy bits (the sweet potatoes have chopped pecans in them. I think instead of putting them on top of the casserole I'll put a little bowl of nuts on the table). And I think instead of the apple or cranberry thing I was going to do, I'm going to try this pie from Three Many Cooks (and I thank the Pioneer Woman that link. She's doing Pie Week this week, and she mentioned them). It's a cinnamon-flavored custard pie. No sharp or chewy things there.

I called Mom tonight to see what she's been feeding him, and to see if my ideas were right: I have oatmeal to serve for breakfasts, and I'm going to buy fruit and yogurt for smoothies for him. Dinner on Wednesday will probably be spaghetti. I definitely need to make that tomato soup. I think I'll do that tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

One for the wall

I found a photo hanging out on my hard drive that I really like. I took on campus a few years ago:

P1000387_edited-1

It's cropped from a larger picture. I like this one because it looks I got a lot closer to the rabbit than I really did. Pretty good, I think. Then I ran it through the watercolor filter on Adobe Elements:

P1000387_edited-2

Suddenly I want to take it to Kinko's and have them print it on watercolor paper, like I had them do for the picture of Pip that I then framed and gave to my Dad for his birthday. I know exactly where I want this to go, too. I'm pretty sure my bedroom wall color is in there among all those shades of green, and my walls are still bare. I think a big framed bunny will do quite nicely.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I don't have time for this

One of my part-timers took off on Tuesday because he was sick. He came in yesterday, and when I asked him if he was better he croaked, "Not much," as he grabbed his cart and headed for the stacks.

Well, apparently that brief contact was enough to make me come down with a sore throat and stuffy ears, dangnabbit. I cannot get sick. I don't have time. Argh!

Maybe if I stay home and take care of it instead of ignoring how I feel and going to work I can nip this right in the bud.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

T minus one week and counting

By this time next week I should be in my kitchen, unloading perishables into the fridge and prepping for The Big Day.

I am so not ready.

Also? Even though I really have enough on the menu, I sorta kinda want to make this as well as a pumpkin pie. I must be nuts. But it looks really, really good. Doesn't it? It'd have to be an "as well as" pie because my dad's blood thinner reacts badly to cranberries, and if I just did this one he'd have no dessert choices. Or maybe I could do this one, and no one would be excluded. I can always do the cranberry one later.

I should stop piddling around and get stuff done, is what I should do. Tonight's mission: find the kitchen table under all the junk. And clean the fridge. And maybe the freezer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brought down by a sleeve??

If you're not a knitter you might want to skip this post. It's full of jargon which I may or may not explain. Instead, why don't you go look at this for a while? His stuff is pretty cool.

The sleeve of this gansey is giving me more trouble than the whole rest of the sweater combined did. I have unknitted, recounted, reknitted, recounted, sworn, and unknitted again so many times I'm afraid my yarn's gonna break. I unknit rather than rip out (called "frogging" by those who use the lingo--for "rippit, rippit, rippit"--adorable, no?) because I can't guarantee finding all the stitches I need to put back on my needles when I get it down to the point where I want to start over.

It shows in the picture and the drawing that the pattern on the sleeve mimics the one on the body, and that it stops a few inches before the end. I'm supposed to go back to stockinette stitch for a while before I end with some ribbing at the wrist. She never says this in the instructions. If I follow the instructions the way they're written, I'd have pattern all the way to the ribbing. Since she doesn't say how many to make, I don't really trust the line drawing (it's written for all sizes), and the photo doesn't show the sleeve very well, I have arbitrarily come up with the number 10 for chevrons on the sleeve.

Also? When I finally decrease the stitches enough that I have as many as she wants me to before I change to smaller needles (she says to decrease 2 stitches every 5 rounds for the size I'm making), I have 1 3/4 more inches of sleeve than I should. I'm torn about how to fix this. I could either go back to the tenth chevron and decrease more often while doing the stockinette stitch or I could take it all the way back to the end of the underarm gusset and decrease 2 stitches every 4 rows, the way she instructs for the smallest size. I think I should probably do the latter. It would create a gentler line than the former, which might have this funky falling-off-too-quick look to it. But it means taking out an awful lot of what I've been doing for the past week and a half.

I realize that for a lot of you this all blahblahblah yarnspeke and I apologize for that. I'm thinking with my fingers, here, trying to set out in print what my options are for what to do next. Whatever I choose, sleeve number 2 should be a lot easier. I hope.

Oh, hey! For Marnilla, who wanted the pattern I'm using--I found out that for $5.50, Interweave press will let you download the Muted Musician Gansey pattern from their website. Click right here if you're interested. And good luck with the blasted sleeves!

Edited to add: I got tired of unknitting, so I'm only taking it back to the tenth chevron and then decreasing faster. I'll see how that looks before I decide to go aaaaaalllll the way back to the end of the gusset. That was a lot of work I don't really want to redo if I can avoid it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's the opposite of cyberstalking?

For reasons I should probably talk to a trained therapist about, I go online and look up old boyfriends from time to time. It isn't because I want to keep in touch with them, or that I care about their well-being; I have no warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia about these men. I want to know where they are living because I want to stay well away from them. One of them is in North Carolina, and I don't think he'll be moving any time soon. The other one I haven't been able to find an online trace of at all.

Until today.

I wasn't sure at first that it was him. He has a very plain, common sort of name. There's no picture on the entry I found. There might be one that's suppressed until you join the site (reunion.com, I think), but I'm really not that keen to see him. I know his mother's name, though, and that was on this listing too. It also had the right age, the place where he grew up, and named a couple of the other places where I know he has lived.

I'm not going to describe the relationship except to say that I never want another one like it. He used to reside in New York City, moved there right after we graduated college. I have been abnormally paranoid about visiting that city for 20 years. I was convinced that even though the odds of it happening are incredibly long (how many people live there?), I'd run into him somewhere--that he'd walk right up to me and say hello. Sort of like When Harry Met Sally on crack, where instead of the story ending with a New Year's Eve declaration of undying love, I'd wind up arrested, with my face splashed across in the New York Times the next morning: "Tourist kicks ex-boyfriend to death at FAO Schwarz," the headline would read. Or something like that.

Are you remembering that BlogHer was in New York this summer? I was secretly afraid to leave the hotel. I was also secretly afraid that he worked for the hotel, and that they'd find his body stuffed in a laundry chute shortly after I checked out. But now, if I can believe this search I performed over my lunch break, visiting New York City is no longer a problem! I can go there every weekend if I want to. He's on the west coast now, living in a suburb of Seattle.

Damn. I wanted to see Seattle. I guess I'll have to wait until he moves again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Snapshot Sunday #2

These aren't pictures taken with my camera, they're scanned. A long while back I took a drawing class through the arts center on campus. Our first project was to take some image out of the newspapers and sketch it. I chose an oxford shoe, and shocked myself when I found out I really can draw. I don't have a scanned image of that.

Not quite as far back, a blogger I used to be in contact with named Anna suggested we each do that same thing again and post our results. We shared our drawings with each other, but we didn't post the results on our blogs. I don't think she was happy with how hers turned out, and I didn't want to publish mine without her publishing hers.

Her blog has been inactive for years now. I think her life got very complicated and she didn't have the time or energy to both live it and then write about it.

So anyway, here's the picture I drew from. I can't remember what the ad was for, or what magazine I tore it out of:



















And here's what I did with it:




















And now I want to dig out my sketch book and draw again. Like I have time for that right now.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Feeding frenzy (Warning! Contains grumbling)

Today I went to Wegman's and bought most of the things on my "Buy Ahead" list for Thanksgiving. I got an almost 14 pound turkey for about $4, because I had a shopper's club card and bought at least $25 dollars worth of other stuff.

The whole store was crazy. It appears everyone picked this weekend to do the same thing I was doing, and probably for the same reason: the football team has an away game today. You can't get a thing done in this town on a home-game Saturday. The store added to the crowd by scattering Pilgrim-hatted employees around the place to hand out samples, coupons, sweepstakes entries. There were also random stockers with their big rigs parked right smack in the middle of aisles. Because it's imperative to get more fish sticks into aisle 7 at one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, I assume.

People amaze me sometimes. This woman and her daughter pulled their cart right in front of the frozen turkeys, looked at them all without choosing one, and then just parked there. There were three more of us trying to get in and out. These two just hung out, oblivious. It reminded me of Jelly Man from a couple years back. One woman tried to squeeze past the daughter to get at the turkeys behind her, and that girl didn't budge an inch. She just kept staring at the cupcakes in her cart (because purple frosting is so hypnotic), completely unaware of anything else. And no, there were no earbuds to blame, pouring loud music into her head and obliterating all else. I checked. She was clueless all on her own.

After a couple of minutes of politely waiting for this pair to get their shit together, I gave up. Muttering "Excuse me," I pushed past the mother and started looking for a good turkey. She got out of my way (barely), but then stood blocking my exit. I so dearly wish I'd had the nerve to say, "Really? You have a whole bloody store to zone out in, you have to pick the turkey case? In mid-November???"

While I was trying to get round her another woman was trying to get in, giving me dirty looks because it looked like I was causing the hold-up. I shrugged and gestured over my shoulder to the living statues behind me. She glanced where I pointed, assessed the situation, nodded an apology at me, and transferred her stink-eye to them.

If this is what shopping for Thanksgiving is like, can you just imagine how Christmas will be?

But! I saved about $11 on my turkey! Silver lining!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today's brief musing brought to you by...

...conjunctivitis and the differences in personality between Delilah and Sophie.

If Delilah had ever had pink-eye and required antibiotic ointment be applied right in the eyes three times a day, by the end of Day Two she would have been watching my every move. She would've hidden from me, run by me on her way from one end of the room to another, and treated me with suspicion no matter what I had been doing. She would have slept with one (infected) eye open. I would've been treated to long, deep scratch marks on my neck, chest, and probably my arms.

Sophie? Well, she has no front claws, but her back ones are still there; and her teeth work. She hasn't used either yet. She fusses when I put the stuff in, makes noises to tell me this is not her idea of a good time. She tries to get away by backing out from under my arm. Afterward she eats the cat treats I provide as a sort of apology/reward, she sulks for a moment, and then it's as if she shrugs and says, "Ah, whatever." Next thing I know she's looking up at me with her poor little greased eyes and saying, "You're my best friend. Even when you do crap like that. Can I come sit up there with you?"

Yes, Sophie, of course you can. And I promise I won't do that again for another eight hours or so.

Which unfortunately for one of us is right about now.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Produce fatigue

The final pick-up for my CSA half share was last Friday. Thank heavens. I don't think I'm going to renew next year.

Don't get me wrong, this whole support-the-local-economy-while-eating-healthier thing is great. I cooked a lot of new things, like a spinach, onion, bacon, and chard quiche. I pickled beets. I did a lot of stir-frying. I made more pesto. I experimented with things that I thought might go together, with general success (a weird take on chili, for example -- chicken instead of beef, garlic, onion, greens instead of beans, a ton of spices, and egg noodles. Looked strange, tasted great). I have a ton of tomatoes in the freezer at the moment that I want to turn into tomato soup before my parents get here in two weeks. I'm seeing homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese as lunch for that Wednesday. If I can get around to it.

Problem is, I'm still not using everything I'm given before it goes bad. I didn't get a freezer this year like I thought I would--money was a little too tight--so I couldn't blanch and freeze things as much as I would have liked. Mom and I experimented with fava beans and failed. I'm up to my eyes in potatoes. Before I started freezing the tomatoes they were attracting fruit flies.

And the eggs! Dear Lord, the eggs. That was new this year. They started a co-op or a trade or something with some other farms, and now we get eggs every couple of weeks. I didn't realize how little use I have for them until I started to get so many. There was a three-carton pile-up in the fridge at one point this August. I mean, a girl can only eat so much egg salad before she starts to smell like a sulfur mine. I made that quiche, I baked a little bit, I scrambled a few, but the eggs just kept on coming faster than they were leaving. Eventually I just gave the new cartons away to my neighbor when I brought my share home. She tried to pay me for them. I had to assure her that she was doing me a favor by taking them off my hands.

I really don't have the money to shell out on something if I'm not going to be able to use all of it. And this year they didn't offer a discount for next year to renewing members. They haven't sent out an email about renewals at all, come to think of it.

I'll do this again in a few years, when finances are better and I have a little more cooking experience. And a chest freezer. Definitely need one of those.

I think what I'll do instead is go to the farmer's market every Friday next season and buy a smaller, more manageable amount of produce. Then I'll work with it over the weekends.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cat's eyes, pilot programs

Sophie's had something funky going on with her eyes, some sort of infection. I took her to the vet today to see what it is and what they can do about it. The vet says she has conjunctivitis. He gave me some ointment with erythromycin in it that I have to apply to her eyes three times daily for two weeks.

It's gonna be a fun two weeks, but her eyes will thank me for it when we're done. I have no idea how she caught this. Maybe it's leftover from being out in the Big Bad World before we met? I don't know. Delilah never had it.

That presentation I mentioned yesterday went really well. A lot of people were interested, which was a nice surprise. I was expecting screams of rage. We did get some people who didn't like the idea we had, but about 90% of the room agreed that now that we've seen whether this thing we're attempting can be done, it's time to test it out. That way we can decide whether it should be done. The task force is now going to design and run a pilot program with a few interested campuses. Part of me is excited. Part of me is saying, "Oh great, more work."

Favorite part of the whole day: calling the taxi to take me to the vet's. The dispatch operator asked how many were going and I replied,

"Just me. And a cat in a carrier."

"Okay," he said. Then to himself, in that voice people use when they're writing things down (I pictured a clipboard): "One person, one boxed cat."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A little nervous

I got named to a task force earlier this year whose charge was to look into doing something very different with regard to our libraries' collections. We met all spring and summer, took the fall to write our report, and tomorrow we are making a presentation at a yearly two-day retreat for all the librarians from the satellite campuses.

When we're done we're going to be greeted with either be applause or pitchforks and torches. Or maybe stunned silence. In any event, I'm a wee bit nervous and preoccupied right now, so I can't think of anything to write. So here, look at some pretty pictures I took of the garden this summer:

More roses

My big purchase this year, garden-wise: a climbing rose called "Joseph's Coat."

The only sunflower

The lone sunflower to make it to adulthood. Everyone else either died off or failed to thrive.

Morning glory

Bought a morning glory seedling at a craft fair. I had no idea what color I was going to get. Happy that it's deep purple.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Cat. Bag. Out of.

So my Mom saw the online pictures of the gansey in progress and got all excited. She can't wait to get here for Thanksgiving so she can touch it. Exactly what she said. Myself, I'm hoping that I'm done by Thanksgiving so that I can wear it. Though, knowing my propensity to wear my dinner on my chest, perhaps that's not such a good idea.

A few hours later Mom emailed me to say she'd been looking on Amazon for copies of "Knitting Ganseys," quoted me a price she saw advertised for a used one, and wanted to know if the one I got was at a similar price.

I said yes, and then went on to explain the whole used book/higher price/better condition thing. Then I wrote:

Uhm. Having said all that, can I just say please don't buy the book because...well...Christmas is coming...and...yeah. I've started my shopping early. :)

Hint received, rejoicing commenced. Oh well. She's getting more than just this, so I guess it's okay that she knows about it. I'm not saying what else I'm giving her, though, 'cause she swings by the blog from time to time (Hi Mom! [waves]).

Folks, please try to remember that Christmas is if not right around the corner at least in the same county by now. Don't buy stuff for yourselves. Point out what you like and then walk a discreet distance away so we can get it for you. Wouldja? Please?

In Thanksgiving prep news, I've taste-tested the wild rice dressing recipe (thumbs up), the sweet potato recipe (thumbs way up), and the apricot relish (thumbs sideways). I think I'm going to buy some mango chutney or something for this year and substitute that for the cranberries. The taste of the apricot stuff was good, but the texture was unappetizing. Mushy. I have an idea what's wrong--the recipe calls for canned apricots. I think fresh (or even dried but soaked in something like orange juice) would be better. I'm going to play around with this over the summer and see if I can't fine-tune it into something usable.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Snapshot Sunday: The Gansey

So here are some pictures of the sweater I'm working on:
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer


I'm pretty pleased with it so far.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Success on the horizon

As soon as my battery charges up, I'm taking a picture of the sweater-in-progress and posting it here. I just joined the front to the back and tried it on. It fits! Huzzah! Next I work on the sleeves and the collar.

I'm so pleased with myself. I think this is something I would actually be happy to wear in public.

Of course, since I want to take a picture before I do anything else to it, that means I have to hold off on starting the sleeves. Well, maybe I'll work on another project for a while tonight.

#12, you are in my sights. I should have you crossed off before Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 05, 2010

In a bit of a rut at the moment

So here's the kind of day I've been having lately:
  • I wake up on time but take about 45 minutes to talk myself out of bed.
  • I turn on the coffee pot and then run back upstairs to take a shower.
  • By the time I'm out of the shower I realize I have just enough time to do any three of these things: eat breakfast, drink coffee, get dressed, brush teeth, catch bus that gets me to work on time. The bus usually loses.
  • I spend my work day feverishly trying to catch up with all the work I should have been doing over the past three months but didn't because I got press-ganged onto a project for another department. It started by doing something for them as a favor and rapidly turned into the Beast That Would Not Stay Fed. Now that it's over they at least have the decency to be grateful about it, but I still want to stab them all repeatedly with a dull pencil.
  • While working, I hum softly to myself in an attempt to keep the running commentary in my head from leaking out of my mouth. No one would want to hear what's going on up there right now.
  • Lunch is had hunched over my desk. I then either read my non-work email or do a few rows on the gansey I'm trying to knit (if I remembered to grab the bag it's in on my way out the door that morning). I shave about ten minutes off of my lunch to make up for not getting to work on time.
  • At some point during the day I catch sight of myself in the ladies room mirror and wonder what the hell happened. When I left the house, I looked fine. By the time I see myself in the mirror, I look like someone dragged me through a hedge backwards. The hair in particular looks ridiculous.
  • I come home to a cat who is absolutely thrilled to see me. While I change into pajamas, she rolls around on the bed and meows at me, no doubt telling me how many skeins of yarn she subdued that day.
  • Dinner is usually something so unremarkable I can't remember what it is ten minutes after I put the plate in the dishwasher.
  • After an hour of surfing, I admit there's nothing on TV. I go to bed obscenely early. Like, old-people early. I drift off to sleep only to wake with a jolt about half an hour later, realizing I haven't blogged yet and that I'd better get on that if I'm serious about NaBloPoMo.
  • I get up and write.
I just realized, writing that, that while I can't get myself out of bed to go to work I practically leap out of it to write a blog post. What's up with that?

Here's hoping my behind drags a little less after we turn the clocks back. I do better in the morning when it's light out. And now I'm going to bed.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Turkey Day for 4

My sister just emailed me this morning to tell me the Lancaster contingent will be just her this year. Hubby has to work Thanksgiving Day (he works at a lab. They can't shut down for a day, they have delicate procedures going on that can't but put on hold. I think holiday time off rotates. I'm betting he's off next year, 'cause he was off last year), so his parents are staying there and the three of them will be having their own Thanksgiving. Ditter's coming to my place.

My parents are coming Tuesday evening so Mom can help me do some prep on Wednesday. Though you know what? Prepping for four doesn't sound nearly as difficult as prepping for seven. I'd better not get too relaxed, here, or I'll be a maniac on the day itself. Who am I kidding? Of course I'm going to be insane on that say. Ditter's coming Wednesday evening, after work, I think. I don't know how long everyone is staying. It'd be nice if they could stay until Saturday or something. There's a football game here on Saturday, though, and they might want to get outta Dodge before all that madness starts.

It'll be like old times. Except that instead of at Mom's (where it used to be while I was growing up) it's at my house. Which is still a horrible, horrible mess right now but hey! I have three weeks. Oh, crappydoodle. I only have three weeks. Exactly three weeks. If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go clean something now.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Oscillate Wildly

I have a new musical crush. Janice Whaley is working her way through the Smiths' catalog, hoping to record covers of the whole thing by December 31, 2010. She uses only her voice and some software. She calls this scheme (and her blog) The Smiths Project

Her latest offering made me want to make out with my headphones:



I need to go lie down.

P.S. To hear the music, just hit the little "play" button. You don't have to buy anything. I think I'm going to be buying some stuff to download to my iPod, but that's mainly to make sure she has funds to continue.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day 2010

I voted. And all I really have to say is thank heavens that's over with for another year.

I am so sick of the sniping, the back-stabbing, the name-calling, the out-and-out lies candidates tell about each other.

"He's an out-of-town transplant!"

"She wants to raise your taxes!"

"He did raise your taxes!"

"He wants to make all guns illegal!"

"He wants to make your kids pray in school!"

Next campaign season I fully expect one candidate showing pictures of the other one in kicking puppies or passing out crack pipes to small children. And then the other guy will retaliate by showing a video of his opponent having a kitten for breakfast. On toast.

I think what bothered me most this season were all the computerized campaign phone calls I received. Didn't they used to do these in person? Are people not volunteering like they used to? It's a weird mixed message I'm getting: "Look, we want you to vote for our guy but we're tired of saying it. So here, listen to this recorded message from the candidate's wife/mother/imaginary staffer named Dave."

It is so unsatisfying to scream "F--- off and leave me alone!" at a computer. You know? But I guess it's an even trade. I wouldn't hear their message, they didn't hear mine.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Ow

I woke up a couple hours ago with a vicious headache that nothing has been able to tame. Aspirin? It caught the aspirin one-handed and tossed it aside. Caffeine? It swatted that away and kept coming. Allergy medicine (because maybe it's sinus pressure)? It blew a raspberry at my Allegra. Multivitamin (maybe it's lack of iron)? "Nice try," it said with a sneer, lunging at me with both hands.

I've called in sick to work and plan to sit here bundled up on the sofa with a cup of mint tea for a while. I have some sort of brand X excedrin that I'm going to try later. Can't use it until this aspirin I took wears off. There's aspirin in the brand X stuff. Don't want to thin my blood so much that my ears start to ring. (Yes, I did do that once. Not my idea of a good time). Meanwhile I'll just sit here and pinch the area between my thumb and index finger with my other thumb and index finger (old acupressure trick Mom taught me. Sometimes it works) and wish this beast with my head in its fist would just go away.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Deep breath before the plunge

Well, tomorrow is November first, which means the start of National Blog Posting Month. This will be my third time through. Expect it to be heavy on Thanksgiving angst, as I'm once again having six people and two dogs over for dinner and my house is once again a total mess. In fact, I should be cleaning it now. I'll try to keep the online fretting to a minimum.

Tasks I've assigned myself to get done before this Turkey Day include:
  • sorting out the craft room
  • rearranging the living room
  • cleaning out the freezer
  • shampooing my sofa as well as a perfectly good (but a little grubby) La-Z-Boy rocking recliner that I rescued from the trash this summer. It wasn't in the trash, mind you, just right next to it. I noticed it one day on my way to the bus stop. Bunch of boys who moved out of the end unit the night before trash day had set it by the dumpster with a "free to a good home" sign on it.
  • shampooing the area rug in the living room. Or maybe I should just replace it with something that doesn't look so haphazardly installed. This thing is a remnant the last owners bought and hacked down to a size that almost covers all the living room floor. It was tacked down at the doorways with clear packing tape. Classy, no? Maybe when I'm out getting a strap clamp and some wood glue I'll start pricing area rugs.
  • repairing a kitchen chair -- hence the need for a strap clamp and wood glue. I broke a kitchen chair last winter with my big toe. Don't know my own strength, apparently. I was sitting in it, feet tucked under, and when I got up I must have hit the piece that connects the front and back legs together in a weak spot with my toe, 'cause it went "crack!" And I said, "Are you kidding me?!?" Then I went online to look up how to fix it. According to the webpage I need: wax paper, cord, wood glue, and a strap clamp. Looks simple enough, I just haven't gotten around to doing it yet.
  • refurbishing two old kitchen chairs that now live in my craft room. They are part of a second-hand three-piece dinette set that I used to use in my apartment at as a kitchen table. Years of abuse from the various cats in my life had left them tattered and without stuffing in the seats. Now that I have a cat who can't shred things (but she tries! Boy does she ever.), I might as well put new cushions on them. This is one reason to sort out the craft room. The supplies to do this are buried in there somewhere.
  • testing some Thanksgiving recipes. Dad can't eat cranberries because he's on coumadin for his heart, so I looked up some alternatives for cranberry sauce and emailed them to Mom for her opinion. We're trying one that made with apricots, an orange, ginger, cilantro, dry mustard and turmeric. I'm gonna test it first. If it tastes nasty, I'll look for something else. Actually, I'm testing it today, if I ever get my rear end in gear. I'm also testing a crockpot stuffing recipe with wild rice in it, some corn dish with fresh sage, and a sweet potato recipe. I'm going to use a rotisserie chicken from the local grocery store to eat with all this stuff instead of trying to cook another turkey. We'll save the turkey-roasting for Thanksgiving Day. I'm crazy, not stupid.
  • trimming back the tree in my flowerbed. Again. I'm this close (imagine a finger and thumb held very close together) to asking a male family member to bring a chainsaw with them at Thanksgiving and take that tree down. I don't know whether it was planned to be in the flowerbed or if it's a volunteer that someone decided to keep, but either way it was a bad idea. It's too close to the house. It's always pushing on the windows. I cut away the bothersome bits, they grow right back. The only thing that's kept me from doing it sooner is that robins come nest there in May. It's not the only tree in the neighborhood. They'll find somewhere else.
So anyway, NaBloPoMo. Posting everyday for a whole month. The annual experiment to see how long it takes me to get sick of the sound of my own voice. Wish me luck. Just in case I get stuck, there's a Twitter feed I'm going to follow that supplies daily writing suggestions.

Anyone want to join me? Misery loves company, after all.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Better late than never

By the time I got around to uploading by pictures from 10/1o/1o, they'd closed the group on Flick'r to new entries. Ah well.

Here they are anyway:

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Monday, October 18, 2010

Number 12, and where I've been

I'm trying to tackle #12 on the life list -- knitting a sweater. I wasn't terribly specific on the list, but what I really want is to knit a sweater I am willing to wear in public. I've decided to knit gansey, because hey, why start easy?

Ganseys (also called guernseys) are sweaters that were traditionally knit by the wives/mothers/sisters/daughters of the fishermen of the Channel Islands (most notably Guernsey, hence the name) and worn by said fishermen. They were usually dark blue. I don't know why that color in particular, unless it's because it was the most practical one. These sweaters were all about practicality. They were knit in all in one piece from the bottom up, had a section at the bottom that could be torn out and reworked if it wore out, had gussets under the arms to save wear and tear on sleeve joints (thereby prolonging the life of the sweater), usually had the initials of the wearer knit into it somewhere (I'm thinking that was to ID sweaters and match them back up to owners on washing day--you have 4 men in the family all with similar blue sweaters, you're going to have a hard time telling them apart otherwise) and had some fancy knit/purl designs and simple cables in them. The plainer ones were work sweaters, the fancier ones were for dress. Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining this, if you want to know more.

I got interested in ganseys when my Mom mentioned she was looking for a good, free pattern for one. Being a library employee, I put my little research cap on and started digging around on Ravelry and coming up with some good book titles. I mentioned them to her and suggested she take some of them for a test-drive through interlibrary loan before she decided to buy some. And then I started to ILL them, myself. Borrowed one called "Knitting Ganseys" and after reading it decided that yes, I could probably do this.

Wish me luck. I've been thinking that knitting a sweater in the round might be easier than knitting it in pieces and then sewing it together. I've tried the piece-it-together way before and was disgusted with the results. Let's see if this works better.

Thing is, I can't knit and type at the same time. This is why things are quiet right now. Though I can't use that excuse next month--I'm going to do NaBloPoMo again.

And I just realized, I crossed off making a pie from my list but never wrote it up. So I need to do that. Maybe I can write the post in my head while I'm knitting.

Edited on 10/18/10 to add: Just found this in my drafts. So far the sweater is going well. I've gotten about 1/2 way up, and am now working solely on the back. It looks pretty good so far, if I do say so myself. (And I do...)

As soon as I get home (provided I remember) I'll post my 10/10/10 pictures and at some point this week I'll talk about making the pie. Maybe. Well, the pictures definitely, but I'd rather knit than write right now.

Oh! And the opera was really good. They used this interesting set design, called it "The Machine" -- a bunch of planks that could be raised, lowered, tilted -- with them they got the Rhinemaidens to swim by suspending them on cables, made the gods look like they were flying, made a staircase to Niebelheim, all sorts of things. It was almost like the set was another cast member. It reminded me a little of the way they used a rotating stage in Les Miserables. There are so many more things you can do with a stage like that than a traditional set of flies and curtains.

Now I'm all excited for Die Walküre in May.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Das Rheingold

When I was in sixth grade I somehow got lumped into the same class with the Gifted kids. They were called “AT” in our school system (for “academically talented”). The AT program had its own special teacher, one per school, who would teach us things that had nothing to do with the regular curriculum. The man attached to my middle school was Mr. Mason.

For reasons I’ve yet to figure out, Mr. Mason would regularly preempt our classes, take us all to his little class room, and talk opera at us. Specifically, he would lecture on Wagner’s Ring Cycle. He had a little stage and paper dolls to act out scenes of the various operas and everything. After he’d gone through the whole cycle he grouped us into pairs, assigned us another opera (ours was Aida), and made us do the same sort of thing for that opera that he had just done for the Ring Cycle.

My partner was a very serious girl , 1st generation American, the only child of very serious Polish parents. On top of being wicked smart she was a virtuoso on the piano. I never saw her after 8th grade. I don’t know if her family moved or if she got admitted to the Philly performing arts school or what. If she’s not a concert pianist now, she’s probably off trying to cure cancer or working for a Supreme Court judge.

Ours was not a happy marriage. She would get irritated with me on a regular basis. I can’t remember the reasons. Perhaps my artwork wasn’t up to par. She was a perfectionist, and I had not yet discovered that yes, I could indeed draw. (I didn’t figure that out until I was in my 30s). Perhaps I wasn’t serious enough--did I mention she was serious? Almost to the point of humorless. It was Very Important that she do well at whatever she attempted. If she hasn’t become a concert pianist, a lawyer, or a research scientist it’s probably because her head exploded sometime in college.

The upshot of all this opera hooey is that my mother demanded I get taken out of the AT class. The school fought her on it, but she told them to test me: if I didn’t meet the criteria for “AT” (I was skating right on the edge), she wanted me in a new class the next year. I didn’t know about this at the time. Maybe they asked her not to tell me about it so that they could get accurate results. Probably a good thing. If I’d known, I might have thrown the test. I was so unhappy with those AT people. I was not so much fish-out-of-water as goldfish trying to live in a tank full of clownfish.

I got called to the guidance office, sat down, and asked a bunch of questions. I think it was an IQ test. I guess my score was again right on the edge, but (thankfully) just low enough to put me with the normal kids.

Sixth grade has left some lasting marks:

  1. Grammar mystifies me. Not usage--I know the rules instinctively (I hope) but I have never been able to articulate what those rules are. Past participle? Gerund? No idea. I use them, I suppose, but I wouldn’t know one if it bit me in the behind. I blame sixth grade and Mr. Mason for that, because it was the English classes he kept poaching for his little operatic tutorials. I have a very clear memory of sitting on the stairs at home, watching Mom cook dinner and grumble, “Going to be standing in the unemployment line, not knowing what a linking verb is. But she’ll know the plot to Aida!”
  2. I do actually know the plot to Aida. I threw back my head and howled when I heard Elton John was making it into a musical. Two protests there: ever since he and his writing partner split up decades ago, every single song he sings sounds exactly like the one before it—bland; and? Musicals generally have happy endings, unless you’re talking about Camelot. Operas do not. I haven’t checked to see if they messed with the ending. I don’t want to know.
  3. I vaguely remember the plots to the Ring Cycle. This only comes in handy when watching an episode of “Morse” or “Lewis.” And I can recognize “The Ride of the Valkyrie” when I hear it after one measure is played.

Still, when the local theatre sent out an email about the Metropolitan Opera’s season a few weeks ago (which they stream live and in HD into the theatre downtown) listing Das Rheingold, the first part of the Ring Cycle, as the opening performance of the year, I was interested. After a little bit of dithering I decided I was going. It’s today. Homecoming weekend. Town is going to be nuts. The performance is at 1 pm. The game starts at noon. That means I should be able to get to town just fine (we turn into a ghost town during the actual playing of the game), but coming back afterward is going to be an absolute nightmare.

I sure hope there are subtitles ‘cause otherwise I’m going to be a little lost. Sixth grade was an awfully long time ago, and Wagner’s stuff didn’t stick in my head the way Aida did.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Farewell Latte

I've been starting to pay more attention to how much money I spend regularly on "unnecessities." I know that's not a word, but I don't know what to call it. What I mean are things that I don't need but have come to spend money on as a matter of course--things that I used to consider luxuries, back when I had less money and more sense.

For example: it hit me this week that every morning I spend around $3 (maybe a little more) on a latte I buy in my workplace's basement cafe. That's at least $15 a week, $60 a month, just on coffee. A lot of the time (but not always) I buy myself a pastry as well. That's another $2. Not sure how much that is a week, since I don't do that everyday, every week, but it adds up. So today as they were making my latte I said to myself that this is the last one. The Farewell Latte.

This isn't the last one I'll ever have, mind you. I may upon occasion decide to go out for coffee. But I'm relegating them (elevating them?) to the status of Treat, the way I did when I just got out of college and didn't have much money. My roommate and I would occasionally go out after work for "yuppie coffee," as we called it, and wind up at a local cafe with big cups of coffee, pieces of biscotti, jazz music, and conversation. It was an event, because neither of us could afford to do it more than once a month.

I'm going to learn how to make them at home. Maybe I'll switch to cafe au lait, since that doesn't require espresso or a thing to make the milk all foamy. We'll see. Maybe I can find a cheap espresso machine somewhere.

I just took a sip of my Farewell Latte, and you know what? Knowing that it was the last one I'll have for a while has made it taste better somehow.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Yarn junkie

The cat is starting to make herself at home, finally. I'm pleased. I think.

It started last week. I got up (after deciding I could not hit the snooze button any more and still expect to have time to take a shower) and shuffled across the room, aiming for the light switch. On the way my foot stepped on something fuzzy and unresponsive. And large.

"The hell?"

I flipped on the switch to find I was standing on a skein of blue and red alpaca yarn that I bought last year and still haven't done anything with. It should have been in a box in the craft room, not in the middle of my bedroom floor. I turned to the cat.

"Why is there a skein of very expensive alpaca in the middle of the bedroom?"

She sat on the edge of the bed, gazing at me in wide-eyed innocence. If she could talk I'm sure she would have said, "What is this 'alpaca' of which you speak?"

I picked it up, put it back where it belongs, and went on with my morning routine.

That evening I came home from work to find: a skein of red wool on the stairs, the alpaca skein in the kitchen, a square from an unfinished afghan in the bathroom, and a skein of Noro (a Japanese wool/silk blend) by the nightstand. It's been a couple skeins a day ever since, and not always the same ones. I think she goes box-diving and then plays with what she fishes out (I noticed early on that she really likes boxes). Last night there was a skein of Zauberball sock yarn (wool) and a ball of kid mohair on the bed, pushed up right against the pillows. She must have dragged them up there to sleep on them. I'll say this for her, she has good taste. She never touches the cheap acryclic stuff I use to practice stitches with. The other stuff must smell a little like the animals they came from.

Well, if she's gonna go crazy over yarn, she'd definitely in the right house.

Side note: "kid mohair." Doesn't that sound like the name of a rapper? Can't you just see him in low-slung jeans, cock-eyed hat, loud jewelry, and an argyle cardigan? Of course, he'd probably spell it Kid Mo' Hair.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This sounds like fun

Found this through Ry and Arts and Dafts. On the 10th of October this year, take a picture and upload it to the 10/10/10 Flickr group.  Then take a look at what everyone else posted.  The idea and the Flickr group belong to Heather Champ, a really good photographer that I just got introduced to when I clicked the 10/10/10 link on Ry’s blog. 

You can take the picture at any time on the tenth.  But…would it be overkill, do you think, to take it at 10:10 on 10/10/10?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fruits of my labor (day)

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I have this memory of my Mom and Grandmom making jelly in Fall. It’s a compound memory, I think, because I only remember one instance and Mom says this happened every year. I was far too little to help. I sat at the kitchen table, probably with a coloring book and some crayons, while they moved back and forth between the sink and the stove. The kitchen was full the smell of jelly cooking. That’s mostly what I remember, the smell. Like bottled grape juice, only much more intense.
They got the grapes from an arbor my Grandpop built behind the garage.

“Do you remember that time the yellow jackets got drunk?” Mom asks. “We’d picked grapes the night before and left them in plastic bags on the porch. Next morning, the bags were buzzing and moving. Full of yellow jackets, but they were so drunk from grapes left in the sun, they couldn’t even sting us.”

I remember hearing about it. I must have been there. I can see it in my head, but I don’t know if I remember the event or the story.
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It’s been a while since I had a Concord grape. I pop one in my mouth as we're washing them. Sweet first, then sour. The sweet seems to come from close to the skin, which is tough. The flesh is green, sour, and chewy. Definitely not a table grape.
Mom puts a grape in her mouth too, and the taste of it triggers a memory about her great grandmother (who was very old when Mom was very young. She walked with a cane). She thinks maybe she used to watch her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother make jelly. So we're carrying the tradition from farther back than I thought.

“Maybe we should save some of these seeds, make an arbor here,” I suggest.

Mom says arbors are generally done from cuttings. Growing from seed takes far too long. Grandpop got the cuttings for his arbor from the people who lived across the street from Mom's aunt. These folks had a couple of outbuildings, one of them a barn (always a horse or a cow or some livestock living over there), and along the side of one of the outbuildings was a grape arbor.

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Mom and I grew up in the same area, 20 years apart. As she’s telling me where Grandpop got his grapes, I’m silently comparing the Trevose/Langhorne of the 1950s and ‘60s with the one of the 1970s and ‘80s. Livestock, farming, as a matter of course? There was only one working farm left in the area when we moved away in 1986. Then I put both of these towns next to the very, very citified version that exists today. It’s a place I had a hard time recognizing when we were down there for my cousin's wedding.

"When seeing a Jaguar in the parking lot of the Shop 'n' Bag becomes commonplace," my aunt once said, "it's time to move." She lives in Virginia now.

"I think I'm getting a little too enthusiastic with the mashing, here." I say. "There are purple flecks on the sink. And the drainboard. And the wall. Oop! And on my shirt."
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"Oh, that's all right. It washes off the sink and the drainboard, and the wall's getting tiled eventually. That's just a primer coat. Your shirt, though..."
"Ah, it's not an important shirt." Now it's the Grape Jelly Making Shirt.

Because I'm the one who wants to learn how to do this, Mom is hanging back, giving directions. She'll demonstrate something, then hand it over to me. This was, after all, my idea.
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There it is, the smell I remember. It happens shortly after the grapes start cooking. It fills the house.
"Man, I wish I could take a picture of that smell," I say. Best I can do is take pictures of the grapes.

As we're setting up to strain the grapes, something pops into my head--a strainer made of cheesecloth suspended from the legs of an upside-down chair. But that wasn't for grapes. Apples?
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"That was for apple jelly," Mom says. "I used to use cheesecloth until I broke down and bought jelly bags. They wear like iron, and they're reusable."
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For making the grape juice we use this big wooden shillelagh-looking pestle in a big jelly bag-lined sieve. It take a little while, but I eventually get a nice rolling rhythm going. It ends up being what Mom thinks is a little over a gallon of juice.

Mom describes jelly-making as a really good activity for the working woman. You don't have to go straight from grape vine to jars in one headlong rush. After we make the juice and cover it, we're done for the day.
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The next morning after breakfast, we get serious. All the jars, lids, and rings get washed. The jars get put in a big kettle full of water on the back burner, to be boiled and thereby sanitized.

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Time to break out the pectin. While the pot on the stove talks to itself, Mom has me read the pectin packet's recipe for grape jelly, as well as all the steps I'm to go through to get this stuff in jars and processed. There are instructions in the Ball canning book too.

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Thank goodness they both say the same thing. The last thing I need right now is conflicting information. And, according to the chart in the canning book, since we're on a mountaintop somewhere over 2000 feet we have to add five more minutes to how long we boil the jelly once it's been jarred.

"So what would they do in New Orleans?" I ask Mom. "They're below sea-level." The chart makes no mention of low altitude cooking.

"I have no idea." She admits.

My Dad comes through the kitchen, dog right at his heel with a toy in her mouth.

"Getting started? Sure hope this batch doesn't make our teeth turn blue."

Mom made a batch a few years ago, her first since moving upstate (I think) and it did indeed turn your teeth blue if you ate it.

"That was the weirdest thing!" Mom says. "I still don't know why it did that." I silently hope it's not something to do with the grapes grown in this region.

Mind you, the threat of blue teeth didn't stop anyone from eating that jelly. You just had to be extra vigorous with the toothbrush afterward. And no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school or work lunches, unless you wanted people to stare at your mouth all afternoon.

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Once the water starts to boil, the timer gets set for 20 minutes, and we start to make the jelly. The idea is to have the jelly and the jars ready for each other at the same time. Another smaller pot of water has been set to boil for the lids. Must remember next time I do this, even though the jars get boiled, the lids do not. That weakens the rubber seal. You just want them hot and loose. After the water gets boiled and turned off, that's when the lids go in the pot.

As before, Mom directs the cooking from over my shoulder. I keep thinking of that mantra they recite on so many of the home improvement shows: "Learn one, make one, teach one." I guess by then you know it really well.

The timer goes off just in time for me to set it again for the jelly. It has to do a hard boil for a solid minute. The foam is starting to form. The recipe says to skim that off at the end, right before jarring starts.

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Actually, the recipe calls it "scum," like it's pond algae or something. Mom says it's just air bubbles.

"It's still jelly, it's just not as pretty," she says. We skim the foam off and put it in a custard cup. I see a couple slices of bread in that foam's immediate future.

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Now comes the part of this whole procedure that made me nervous to think about. Processing the jelly. Jars get taken out of the big pot -- we start with two, so that there's an assembly line going. After that, one jar gets removed at a time. It's to retain sterility.


Assembly line

The big-mouthed funnel goes into an empty jar, jelly fills the jar to about the start of the threads on the lip. Funnel gets moved to the waiting jar, lid comes out of hot water and onto full jar, screw on lid. Put full jar out of the way, take another jar from the pot. Now fill the jar that has the funnel in it. Keep on going until you're out of jelly or out of jars.

We manage to get 8 full jars of jelly from this batch, plus some extra that we put in a jar with the "scum." We decide it's time to stop for a taste test. We call Dad in to the kitchen so he can have some too.


Mmmm, jelly
Ohhh. This beats the heck out of store-bought jelly. The first bite brings back another memory from when I was little, of Mom making me a cream cheese and grape jelly sandwich. It must have been with homemade jelly, because I haven't thought of it in years.

"My mother used to do something when I was little," Mom said. "She'd make me a cream cheese and jelly sandwich..."

"I was just thinking of that! You used to do the same for me."

By this point, I'm starting to feel indignant for the slighted cloudy bits of perfectly good jelly, and decide to rename it "skim." Mom concurs.

Instant gratification


After the taste test (thumbs up all around), it's time to process. Mom assures me I have no reason to worry.

"Now, if we were using a pressure canner, that would be a different story. Though they've made some improvements in them over the years. Getting jelly on the ceiling used to be a common occurrence with pressure canners in my mother's day."

"I'd rather not use one of them," I say.

"Me neither," Mom agrees.

But this procedure is pretty tame. Six jars in the hot water bath is all that will fit in the pot without the jars touching. After the water comes to a full boil, it needs to stay in there for 15 minutes (10 minutes normally plus five more for high altitude). Then take those out and boil the rest. Leave the rings on until they're sealed.

I spend the 20 minutes after the jars come out of the water listening for the "sssspop!" that let me know they have sealed. They all do just fine.

The boiled batch, cooling down
Mom does the next batch, herself. We still have 3 quart jars full of juice after the second batch, and Mom decides to process them so that I can use them later. I should get 2 more batches of jelly out of them, plus another 2 cups of grape juice that I could probably use in cooking or something. She sends me home with a dozen jars -- the 8 I processed, 1 to replace the skim jelly in the fridge, and 3 more. I'd bought 12 jars from Wal-Mart, and guess she wanted them all filled for me.

You're not supposed to store them with the rings on, because sometimes the rings rust shut. I keep them on for travel, though. Not really interested in have a jar come unsealed on the bus.

For some reason, probably because I was little when I first saw Mom and Grandmom do it, I thought making jelly was really hard. It isn't. Which makes sense, really. If it were that difficult, so many people wouldn't be able to do it. But to a little kid it seemed like magic--take grapes from the back yard and turn them into something that doesn't look at all like a grape? Amazing.

Learn one, make one, teach one. I guess this means I have to make more jelly soon.
Ta-da! Jelly.

And, no, there were no blue teeth this time around.