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:

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.