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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Snicker

Still piddling about with that post. I'm trying to make it less of a blow-by-blow description of how to make jelly (bo-ring! Though I will be doing that with the photos on Flickr. Mainly for me, so I don't forget what we did) and more about the conversations we had around the whole jelly-making thing. Was a big bonding moment, I think. Which is great, 'cause that's what I was hoping would happen.

But in the meantime, an LOL cat that had me snickering. Love the expression on the panther's face:

funny pictures-OTHER PEOPLE'S KIDS
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Monday, September 13, 2010

Snapdragon

You may be noticing a significant lack of the post I said I was going to put up yesterday. Yeah. Instead of the writing I planned to do, I spent the weekend goofing off. One of the things I did? Bought yarn I don't need with money I don't have, and am now trying to figure out what to do with it. I wonder if I have enough for a sweater?

But anyway, here's another picture from Labor Day weekend:

Volunteer snapdragon

It's a volunteer snapdragon that's decided to take up residence in my Mom's ground pine. I liked the way all the needles around it seemed to be pointing at it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Conversation I keep having with the cat

Sophie: Mrrrrowwww? Mrrrrrow! [Rubs her face on my arm/knee/foot/whatever body part is available] *
Me: [petting cat] Y'know, you live here now. There's no probationary period. You're in. You can relax. You don't need to be on your best behavior. Go on, release your inner diva. Be the little princess I know you want to be.
Sophie: Mrrrrowwww? Mrrrrrow! [Rubs up against me again]
Me: [sighing] Okay. Maybe tomorrow.

*Translation: "You're my best friend."

Sophie

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Foxglove

Foxglove

I'm writing a post about my weekend that I might actually publish before the end of this weekend. But in the meantime, here's a picture of the foxglove in my Mom's garden.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Scenes from the chair, or, The dentist makes me thirsty

“Uhm,” I say to the dental tech as she covers me with a lead apron, “I just want to warn you. This might take a while.”

“Oh?” She asks. She is hooking this H-U-G-E thing to a little bracket and approaching me with it. It looks nothing like the bitewings they’d used at the office I used to go to. Is she planning on putting that in my mouth?

“Yeah. I have a really strong gag reflex. I mean really strong.”

“Oh, that’s all OK.”

“No, seriously. I’ve had techs get mad at me because of it.”

“Really?” She is sympathetic. “That’s not right. Okay, open up.” Yes indeed. She thinks that thing is going in my mouth.

“What’s this?” I ask, cocking my head at The Great Big Thing.

“Oh, it’s digital. The picture will show up over there.” She shrugs to the open laptop behind her as she tries to position this piece of equipment in my mouth.

“Arggggggarrrrrggle, bleah!”

“Hm.” She steps away, the Great Big Thing still in her hand, now much wetter.

“Yeah.”

She tries again. I gag again.

“Let me try something else.” She disappears and comes back with Something Else on the bracket.

“The film is a little smaller than the digital device,” she explains while fitting it in my mouth.

“Sorry,” I say after gagging and spitting it out.

She leaves again, and comes back with this blue foam thing she wraps around the bottom edges of the plate. I guess she’s thinking maybe the sharp edges are the problem.

Place, gag, spit out, repeat. This happens three times before I manage to hang onto it long enough (chanting dontchokedontchokedontchoke in my head, punctuated by the occasional no! when my mouth tries to get rid of this foreign object) for her to set up the machine and sprint out of the room to hit the button.

“There, that wasn’t so bad,” she says as she comes back in the room.

“Pwaaaah.”

She catches the thing as it leaves my mouth and goes to develop the film. She returns a few minutes later as I’m telling the dentist what’s up with my teeth, a look somewhere between dread and apology on her face.

“It didn’t come out. We’re going to have to take another X-ray.”

-----One week later-----

Back in the chair again. The problem I originally came in for has been fixed, now we’re doing some sort of general inventory of my teeth. My last dentist has sent over my records, including every single X-ray they ever took. The entire office is impressed with me because of this—that particular dentist is famous for not giving complete records. They want to know what I said to make him give them everything. I'd love to oblige them, but I can't remember the actual exchange.

Before the dentist gets started, they have to take panoramic X-rays of my mouth. I’m not fussed.

“Those don’t bother me,” I tell the tech. “It’s the bitewings that give me grief.”

She looks at me oddly.

“But that thing where you stand up, put your chin in the bracket, bite down on something, and the machine just kinda wraps round you and takes pictures? No problem.”

“Yeah, those are great….but we don’t have one of those.”

Oh, God. We gaze solemnly into each other’s eyes.

“Bitewings?”

She nods.

“I hope you don’t have anything else to do this afternoon,” I sigh.

The procedure goes like this: Set-up, gag, remove, set-up, bite-and-concentrate-while-she-sprints-for-the-button, buzz, gag, spit, repeat. About a third of the way through, she calls the dentist in.

“Could you help us out, please? Hit the button the second I clear the door?”

“Did you try numbing her tongue?” He asks.

“Yes. Doesn’t work.”

“What about salt?”

“Salt!” She leaves my field of vision. “I forgot about salt!”

Salt?

She hands him a Q-tip. He rubs it on my tongue. It tastes like plain table salt. He places the film, then sets up the machine. And the clouds part, the light shines down, and the angels sing. I feel like he could take all day to set up if he needed to. There’s no gagging, not even a hint of it. This feels perfectly fine. They both leave the room, she takes the picture and they come back. I’m still holding it in my mouth, marveling at how not bad this feels. He takes the film out of my mouth.

“That’s amazing! Salt did that?”

“Yep. Or maybe I’m just that good.” He winks, smiles, leaves the room, and the tech continues taking pictures of my mouth. She has to salt my tongue before every X-ray or I choke--we experiment with salting every other X-ray and the results are not good.

When I finally leave the dentist’s office, I am extraordinarily thirsty. I stay thirsty until about Saturday. Four days later.

-----One week later-----

I am back in the chair for a cleaning and the filling of a cavity in between two of my upper back teeth. The cleaning takes a while because I haven’t been to the dentist in a few years (lost faith in the other guy, teeth didn’t hurt until the middle of August of this year, so I never got around to finding another one). At one point I think they’re done with the scraping part and are about to move on to the brushes.

“Done with the metal hook?” I ask.

The dentist leans over me with another, smaller hook.

“Oh,” I say.

“You know what this metal hook is called?” he asks, waving it at me. “A sickle.”

“Awesome,” I squeak.

“Though in my hands, it’s a gentle sickle.” He winks from behind the mask.

After the cleaning it's time to fill the tooth. It’s waaaaay back there in the upper part of my mouth. I’m tilted back in the chair so far I feel like I’m hanging upside-down. There’s a drill, a hose, some kind of padding, another hose, all in my mouth. I’m okay with it until he puts a metal band around the tooth and starts to pack in gauze. Oh, here we go.

“Uh-oh.” He says. He starts taking gauze out. It’s not helping. I make some sort of inarticulate noise, an attempt to speak.

“Hang on!” He takes out more gauze.

“Thawngkt?” I say. Then, more clearly, “Thalt!”

“Salt!” The tech dashes into another room and comes back with a little cup of salt and a Q-tip.

Rest of the filling goes fine. Gauze, metal whosit, equipment…hell, they could have put everything in the room into my mouth and I wouldn’t have gagged.

I think they’re going to have to make a notation on my chart to have salt nearby for every visit. And I’m going to need to remember to carry a great big bottle of water with me to the dentist’s office.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Well, that didn’t happen, did it?

Sorry.  Still haven’t finished that other post.  And it doesn’t look like it’ll get posted any time this weekend, either.

I’m headed to my parents’ place in a few hours.  They have dial-up, and I finally remembered to deactivate my AOL account last April so now I have no way to sign on up there with my laptop.  Their computer is very slow and uncooperative.  I don’t know if it’s the machine or the server.  In any event, it’s going to be a low-tech weekend.

That suits me just fine.  I need some time just chillin’ on the porch with my folks, some knitting, and the dog.  I’ve been having a bit of a Time at work lately.  The projects I’m working on have me getting a bit bored and grumpy—there’s a lot of repetitive processes—and something just got dropped in my lap because a) it’s a lot like what I’m already doing, and b) it started out as a small favor but has morphed into a Beast That Will Not Stay Fed, and c) I’m kind of a pushover when someone runs to me in a panic with a deadline they don’t think they can meet.  I am starting to wonder if when all these projects wind up I’m going to even remember how to do my actual job.

Sophie hasn’t been around me long enough to be suspicious when she sees me do laundry then pack it into a duffel.  She’s asleep on some brown paper at the moment.  That cat.  I buy her toys, she’d rather play with the ring from the milk bottle.  I buy her a cat bed, she’d rather sleep on a towel, or on packing material from some box or other that came in the mail. 

She’s a cutie.  We had a game for a while, called Shoot the Mousie under the Entertainment Center and Cry ‘Til the Human Fishes It Out with a Bamboo Knitting Needle.  Guess how it’s played?  When I got sick of doing that, I found that the phone book fits perfectly under the TV stand, and that’s where it lives now.  It acts as a backstop, so now the mousie bounces back out when she bats it under there.

I have a pictures of her now.  I’ll upload some when I find the thing that lets me do that.

Off I go to pack.  I think the dryer’s finally done.  Have a good Labor Day, everybody.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

There's one coming, I promise

My mom said she was gonna stop reading my and my sister's blogs because she thought she was an inhibiting influence. We had to tell her no, go ahead and read them, it was fine. And then I had to 'splain that I get creative spurts. Cited May through July as proof that sometimes I just don't write much.

I am working on a post at the moment. I hope to publish it tonight.

I found a down-side the the Windows Live software -- while it will pull a draft post down from the blog and let me work on it, when I save the draft after some editing, it doesn't then replace the old draft with the new draft in Blogger. That means I can't work on it over my lunch break, save it, download it onto my laptop, save it, and then work on it some more at lunch...unless I bring my laptop to work. I don't want to start doing that. After the incident last October where $60 walked out of my purse while it was here in my cubicle, I don't bring anything valuable to work. Definitely don't want the laptop growing legs.