Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cabin fever update

The snow has almost completely melted , and it was finally possible to take a neighborhood walk without any extra risk to life and limb. (just the usual risks associated with crappy sidewalks and drivers wearing virtual blinders). Gusano Medidor and I took Kate for a walk this afternoon, and it was nice to stretch my legs. I admit that I'm usually a pretty contented homebody, but even I was starting to feel cabin-feverish and wanted to go out. I could only take Kate because Seamus's foot is still healing and I haven't been able to leash train Sheba and Simba yet. It's Kate's last walk for awhile because tomorrow she's going to the vet to have a growth removed from her toe. It's a pretty simple procedure and I'm sure will heal quickly, but I'm guessing that a long walk is out of the question. 

Oscar, G.M., and I went to The Mall today to get GM's giftmas gift. (Don't look at me like that. I didn't know what she wanted until she got here and then the whole area has been snowed in.) She wanted some walking shoes and found just what she wanted at Nordstroms. My friends tease me that I shop just like a guy. I never enter a shop unless I have a pretty good idea of what I want and am ready to buy. I hate the mall with a passion and while we were there, we had to go to Macy's because Nordstrom didn't have the other thing GM wanted (much to my surprise). We found what she needed at Macy's (and at 50% off! a pleasant surprise this time) and even though we had been in the Mall for about 2o minutes total, I was all ready to leave. It wasn't even that crowded but I could already feel the werewolf-like change from fairly-laid back, somewhat mellow person to uptight and bitchy woman starting to happen. (So why even go to the Mall, you ask? Well, as far as I know, item #2 is only available in department stores, which tend to be located in malls.)  If Nordstrom hadn't let me down by not having item #2, we would have been in and out of there before any anxiety had started (instead of making a hasty retreat as anxiety started to set in). 

I don't hate all shopping. I like browsing in bookstores. I like going to yarn shops. I don't even mind shopping if it's in a market-type environment instead of a mall. I really hate the artificiality of the suburban shopping mall. The only mall that doesn't give me hives is University Center in Seattle, and that's probably because each shop actually exits to the outside instead of to a giant room with artificial lighting.  

And (tangentially) speaking of yarn, I am working on the first project in about two months that hasn't turned to crap. I went to my LYS (local yarn shop) this afternoon to finally purchase the books that I'd ordered. They arrived over a week ago, but I hadn't been able to get there until yesterday. While there, I noticed some skeins of Noro Kuyeron yarn on the sale table. Noro is a Japanese company that specializes in multicolored yarns, and they are often quite beautiful. Most multicolored yarns I'm familiar with are made by dyeing sections of a large skein of yarn, but Noro creates multicolored yarn by spinning several colors in sequence. Since the new color is added bit by bit, each color transitions gradually and they tend to be quite beautiful. (I say "tend to" because often a color sequence will have a color which I Just Don't Like.) Anyway, one of the popular project in knitting world recently has been this scarf using two different colorways knit in an extremely simple pattern of knit 1, purl 1 ribbing and switching the colorways every two rows. Anyway, I saw this yarn for sale and asked G.M. if she were interested in a scarf. She said yes, and so off I went. (And yes, if I were a real frugalista, I would have waited one day to buy the yarn because the next day, everything in the store went on sale and even stuff on the sale rack would be further discounted. But I wasn't sure I'd make it back before the clearance rack was cleared out, and besides, I really like my LYS and support her as often as I can. That's why I order knitting books from her instead of from Amazon or Powells.) 

I may have mentioned before that I really don't like making scarves. And usually I don't. But for some reason this scarf is really holding my attention. The stitch pattern of knit one, purl one is quite rhythmic and therefore soothing. The colors of each yarn are constantly changing and each row is rather short so it is rather intriguing to see what will happen next. One of the yarns is in a very neutral colorway probably best described as "greige". You know, light grey to dark grey to light brown to dark brown to charcoal to black. This "greige" colorway provides a lovely balance to the other colorway which so far has transitioned from rust red-burnt orange-bright orange-muddy red-green-purple-magenta-dark magenta-deep greenish black. 

This is one seriously gorgeous scarf. I can't believe that I've already knitted half of it since I only started it yesterday. But the colors are so bewitching! I hope she likes it, 'cuz if she doesn't, I may just keep it for myself. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

let it snow?

It's snowing again!

Actually, it seems to be starting as snow and then turning into rain about four feet above the ground. 

I'm getting mighty sick of this...

Monday, December 22, 2008

frakkin' cat

Ok, the house is now enveloped in that toxic gas cloud that means that a cat has just taken a dump. 

So, good cat human that I am, I immediately go to clean the litter box...and there's nothing in the box except clean litter.

This means that a cat...and I'm blaming Sasha here...has defecated somewhere outside the litter box. Given that it's 2:30 am, and Oscar's mom is asleep (I hope) on the couch, I can't turn on all the lights looking for said pile of cat crap and have to wait until morning. All I can hope is that he crapped on a dog blanket and not on the carpet. 

I know that some of my readers (cherished all!) are cat people or at least know cats better than I do. Can anyone help? What can I do? I can handle the 200+lbs of dogs in my house with no problem but I live in stark terror of a 10lb cat and his bodily functions.

ah, sweet slumber, I hardly knew ye

After a blissful week of sleeping soundly through the night, my insomnia has returned.

Oh well. At least I have tomorrow off, even though I'm still getting up early (or maybe just staying up) to give Oscar a ride to the transit center. This makes me a bit nervous, to be honest. Given the several inches of snow/ice outside, I'm not exactly thrilled about having to drive. All routes involve steep hills, so getting there really won't be a problem because gravity is friend you can always rely on but getting back up those hills is going to be more of a challenge.  

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It is REALLY is a winter storm

For an area that doesn't get much snow, we've certainly gotten a lot of it this week. It's snowing again, and our area is forecast to get 3-8 inches (8 to 20 cm). 

I've already swept the front steps three times today and should probably do it one more time before I go to bed. 

Sweep the steps? No, I don't have a snow shovel. It doesn't snow much here, remember? Sweeping works just fine.

Good news!!

Simba was accepted by Bulls Eye Dog Rescue!  Yay! We will still foster him until he has found his forever home, but I'm really happy that they accepted him because it means we'll be part of their network and resources. And they are very strict about the adoptive homes so the odds are very good that the forever home will be a good match for human and hound. 

And since they only accept ambassadors of the breed, this means my instincts were correct and he really is a great dog. 

He passed his temperament test with flying colors. As they said, they acted as rude as they could be possibly be in dog culture terms. In essence, trying to provoke him. And he was mellow throughout everything. One of the volunteers even picked him up and held him upside down for a few seconds. I think he was a bit startled but he didn't growl or snap.  

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seattle has a snow freakout even without any snow!

Seriously, snow was forecast yesterday so all the schools were cancelled.

Not a single flake fell in Seattle area. To the north, lots. To the south, tons. But in Seattle and immediate environs? Nada. To paraphrase the weather service, if the snow were a doughnut, Seattle would would be the hole.

It made up for it today though. Yesterday in T-town, we got aabout 1-2 inches, which mostly melted during the day. Last night we got about 2 more inches but conditions weren't all that bad. The roads were clear. But we figured something was up because while waiting for the bus to Seattle, the station agent told us that the bus trips were taking two hours (it's normally 45-60 minutes). So we waited 1/2 hour for the last commuter train and when the train pulled into Tukwila (about 10 miles south of downtown Seattle), I understood why traffic was so bad. It was snowing really heavily and it was near white-out conditions. 

And it snowed heavily all day. Offices were sending their employees home (half of our office didn't even make it in today). Even the local Starbucks was closing its doors at 1pm. Oscar's office closed at 3pm. Given how long the bus trips were taking this morning, we both decided to take an early train home. The train is wonderful. Never affected by traffic, and almost never affected by bad weather. 

Note I said almost never.  We took the 4:20, pulled out of the station, traveled the six miles to the Georgetown area...and sat there for almost 40 minutes. The intercom wasn't working in the car we were in but one of the staff came by and said there was ice on the rails, so we had to sit. An inconvenience for us, but really, really crappy for the folks waiting at Tukwila for the train. Most of the train stations are part of transit centers and are really quite nice. Tukwila exists essentially for workers at Boeing and there's nothing there except a parking lot for shuttle buses and it's next to a swamp. The platform is literally plywood. There's no place for them to go, no businesses around, and no building to huddle inside. These poor folks were out there in the cold for almost an hour but no one complained when the train finally arrived. I think they were all too cold to do anything but shiver. 

No problems until the final stretch when the train stopped again for another 20 minutes, just outside of Tacoma. 

Despite the two hour train ride, I'm glad we decided to leave early. The train I normally take was cancelled.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

baby, it's cold outside

It doesn't get all that cold here in the Pacific Northwest, but there are a few days out of the year when it does feel like "real" winter. 

Like now. The ground is frozen, it snowed all day, but the really good thing is that now I can wear my alpaca sweater.

My mother in law gave me a drop-dead gorgeous Millma sweater a few years ago, and it's truly the most beautiful thing I own. It's not a heavy sweater but alpaca is really warm and sadly, it's just not cold enough here to wear it very often. 

But I'm going to wear it to work tomorrow. No doubt my colleagues won't recognize me in anything besides my usual jeans and hoodie.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

good thing I love animals

1. I have to figure out a way to hobble Seamus to keep him from putting weight on his foot. Every sling Oscar and I have managed to create, he has managed to figure out a way to literally put his foot down.

2. It's all out war between me and Sasha at the moment. He's had issues with urinating outside of the litterbox sporadically since we got him (although, as far as I can tell, he hasn't sprayed since we found Eddie a new home). The vet suggested Feliway, which didn't seem to do a damn thing. But this afternoon, he used the litterbox  and I immediately cleaned it (stinky) and a few minutes later he went into the office and promptly defecated on the carpet.  I tried to grab him to toss him in the shower but the little bugger fled (I did this the last time I caught him spraying, and as far as I know, it worked since I don't think he's done it since.) He's always defecated in the box before unless he's been outside, so I don't know what the hell is going on right now. I'm still furious and he's outside but I feel a bit guilty because it's below freezing right now. 

3. Sheba got a bath, and while I could not coax her past the bathroom door (even using cheese!), and had to pick her up and carry her into the tub,  she was wonderfully behaved during the bath. Didn't put up a fuss. Didn't try to jump out of the tub. And she smells better now. 

4. This dog stew idea is working out quite well. (Remember, this is stew FOR dogs, not stew OF dogs.) It does stretch the kibble although it's not a big savings; however, the dogs love it and they will eat their dinner immediately. Both Seamus and Kate were grazers...I'd feed them morning and evening, and they'd nibble from their dishes during the day. This doesn't work with having Simba and Sheba around. Kate loves the stew and she'll clean her bowl right away. It's also becoming a good way to use up leftover veggies from our own cooking as well as using up the less-than-loved veggies that come in the produce delivery. (Celery root? bleah.) 

EDIT--it's snowing so I let the little f*cker back in, although the snowflakes looked quite lovely on his black fur.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Are you smarter than a 5th grader--UK edition


Here's a sample of the type of test that used to be administered in UK schools to 11 year olds whose academic future depended on how well they scored. 

I'm pleased to admit that I would have passed and gone on to grammar school, but very humbled that I didn't get a perfect score, considering that I'm 39 and well-educated. 

Go ahead. Take it. I dare you. I double dog dare you to post your score in the comments section! 

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

you can't make this stuff up

overheard this conversation on the way into the office:

street person, talking to police officer: "This is what scabies looks like"

police officer: "Oh, so you have scabies, then?"

street person: "no, this is just some dried skin. But that's what scabies looks like."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

in which my friend plays with her new iPhone


Someday, I'll learn to smile without smirking. Oscar looks a bit uncomfortable, no?

Friday, December 05, 2008

'cuz you just can't have enough memes in blogland

Nine Places I've Been
1. La Paz Bolivia
2. Cochabamba, Bolivia
3. Uppsala, Sweden
4. Boschenhoofd, Netherlands
5. London
6. New York City
7. Montevideo, Uruguay
8. Buenos Aires, Argentina
9. Pittsburgh, PA

Eight Ways to Win My Heart
1. Enjoy reading books
2. Tidying up after yourself
3. Opening the door when my arms are full of parcels but leaving me be otherwise
4. Like to cook
5. Have traveled outside of the US
6. Be a native English speaker with a non-USian accent (Australian, Scottish, Irish, Northern English, Southern English...I find them all very charming)
7. Like dogs
8. Be self-confident without arrogance

Seven Things I Want to Do Before I Die
1. Get out of debt
2. Finish graduate school
3. Visit Antarctica
4. Visit El Salvador
5. Visit Iceland
6. Visit New Zealand
7. Visit Japan

Six Things I'm afraid of
1. rats
2. dancing in public
3. my car catching on fire
4. getting laid off
5. having nothing but Lipton's tea or Folger's coffee to drink
6. something terrible happening to the animals in my care

Five Things I don't like
1. goat cheese
2. dill weed
3. ill-tempered, little yappy dogs
4. home repair 
5. mowing the lawn

Four Things Ways to Turn Me Off
1. own an ill-tempered, little yappy dog
2. talk on a cell-phone whilst driving
3. tell me to "just Google it" if I ask you a question
4. not tidy up after yourself

Three Things I do everyday
1. knit
2. read
3. take a walk

Two Things That Make Me Happy
1. a freshly made pot of good tea
2. a day at work where there is plenty of work to keep me busy and all of it interesting

One Thing on my mind right now
1. I'm glad Seamus is going to be all right.

glass half full

Seamus is limping because he's broken his toe, and the toe is not broken because a tumor shattered it. 

Just a basic broken toe, and like most broken toes, there's not much you can do for it. He's too big for a splint so he just needs to stay off it until it heals.  (Right now I'm really amused because he had to be sedated for the x-rays and he is totally stoned. Normally, he's hyperactive at the vet's office and can't stop jumping around but when the tech brought him back out, he just kind of sank down onto the floor and lay there, wagging his tail.)

So no walks for Seamus now either.  

'tis time to leash train the foster dogs so that I can get some exercise! 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

glass half empty

Seamus is limping. 

I noticed it this morning when he came inside after his potty break and so I figured he stepped on something. I didn't notice anything in his paw pads so figured he may have just twisted/sprained/stepped wrong. 

10 hours later and he's still limping. He holds his paw up and won't put any weight on it. I give him a tablet of Deramaxx (an pain med for dogs) to see if that helps. I'm a bit concerned giving him this medication because our dog Rose died because of a reaction to it (it ulcerated her bowel, and she died of internal bleeding). While I know that Rose's case was very unusual, and at recommended doses Deramaxx is a good drug, please believe me that I'm still a bit spooked by Rose's experience and I only gave it to him because Seamus was in pain. 

However, an hour later, and the drug seems to have had no effect. He's still limping and won't put weight on his paw. 

In my experience (what I call the "Year of the Three Rottweilers"*), an older dog that suddenly starts limping and the pain doesn't respond to a non-opiate pain med has meant only one thing. A really bad thing. Seamus isn't all that old (he's about 7 or 8) but old enough to fall into the "increased risk of osteosarcoma" category.  Osteosarcoma is not really treatable.  From what I understand, by the time it becomes obvious (a limp), the tumor is growing enough to have started to break the bone (which is what causes the pain). Also, it's likely to have metastasized by that time. 

I will wait and see if his limp goes away. If it seems worse, I will take him to the vet and brace myself. 

*The Year of the Three Rottweilers: 
Rottweiler #1: Haida
When we found out that Haida was suffering the disease in her foreleg, our only options were euthanasia or amputation. We elected amputation, even though her chances of surviving more than a few months were only 50-50. (This should give you a good idea of how much we loved that dog to elect a procedure in which her prognosis was essentially a toss of the coin.) She did survive the operation, and was recovering quite nicely but the disease had spread to her brain and three weeks after her operation, she suffered a string of seizures and died. 

Rottweiler #2: Carla
We adopted her a few months after Haida's death. In my grief, I was looking at Petfinder and came across her at the Humane Society in Kelso, WA. She had been in the shelter for a long time and had terrible calluses on her elbows and knees from sleeping on concrete. She was a total sweetheart. She turned out to be deaf, which wasn't a problem for us, but she also had a slight limp, which turned out to be a really big problem. In a single day, that slight limp turned into an inability to move without crying out in pain, so we took her to the vet and found she had a tumor in one of the vertebrae in her lower back. Amputation was not an option, so three weeks after we'd adopted her, we had her euthanized. It bothered me so much that her calluses hadn't healed; obviously, her time was limited anyway, and I'm still glad she spent her last three weeks with us instead of in that filthy kennel, but her calluses were healing nicely. The hair was starting to grow back, as the vet noted while she was injected that bright pink solution of death. I was very startled by her comment, and wanted to yell "What the frack are you talking about her calluses healing right now? You are euthanizing my dog!"

Rottweiler #3--Rose
We got Rose a few months after Carla died when my friend who runs a pet shop in Seattle told me about a woman who came in with her two foster Rotties, and after interacting with the dogs, he thought Rose would be a perfect dog for us. It turned out, he was right. She was the third in a row of fantastically tempered and wonderful Rottweilers. After taking Rose in for shots, the vet staff asked us where we found such consistently wonderful dogs. (Every single one was rescued from a shelter. Rose came to the private rescue group from Spokane Animal Shelter.) But Rose did suffer from joint pain, which is not unusual for larger dogs which is why she went on the Deramaxx. And although she never exceeded the recommended dose, she reacted to it and died very suddenly a few months after we got her. (I made the vet perform a necropsy, which was admittedly very difficult for him but this is how we found out how she died.) 

Prop 8--the musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Two and a half minutes of amusement

four dogs is a lot to have underfoot but...

the amusement factor of watching four dogs simultaneously eating peanut butter is incredibly high.

Houston, we have a problem



What you see are four single, handknit socks arranged left to right in the order I knitted them. These are all socks I knit for myself and wear.

The careful observer will notice a few things:

1. The foot size changes from left to right. 
Yes, the one on the left was my first knitted sock and I used needles that were too large for the yarn. These socks would fit someone with a really wide or swollen foot. I wear these as sleeping socks to keep my feet warm.

2. The cuffs get steadily longer
Very true. Cuffs are usually ribbed and I find 2x2 ribbing to be the most pathetically dull and boring stitch pattern to do. (This is where you alternate 2 knit stitches with 2 purl stitches. It's not the only ribbing pattern that can be done; but I hate to admit it, it's a really great rib pattern for socks but it stretches a lot but holds its shape.) The sock on the left is more like an anklet, the green sock just covers my ankles, and the next two are a more "proper" length. The really careful observer will note the two on the right, the ones with the "proper" length legs, only have a very short section of ribbing at the top and the rest of the leg is done in plain stockingette (plain knit stitch). Yes, I realized I'm making these socks for me, so I can do whatever the frack I like and I don't have to knit 7 inches (18cm) of ribbing of any pattern if I don't want to.

3. There's only a single sock of each pair.
This is the problem. These are all handknit socks, and each sock represents about 8 hours of work, and each of these used to have a twin.  I wear my handknit socks exclusively but I seem to have lost these socks' mates. I'm bummed about all losing all these mates but especially about the one on the right. I just finished that pair about a month ago. 

**EDIT** found the orange mate.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Meet the new fosters

This is Simba; he's hard to photograph because he wants to be as near you as possible.


Another action shot.
Yes, that's a big smile! This guy's a total sweetheart, although he may challenge Seamus in the "who can lick Luneray's face the most" department.

This is Sheba. She is also usually smiling but she really needed to go out at that moment.

So far, they've both been good with the cats. Maggie had to teach Simba some manners because he was invading her personal space but he and Sasha seemed to hit it off right away. It'd be great if Sasha could have another dog buddy.  

Monday, December 01, 2008

insomnia inspired meme

I'm not tagging anyone, but I'd be happy to read your own answers in a comment. 

1. Magazines Subscribed To: Archaeology, Current World Archaeology, Atlantic Monthly, Interweave Knits, Piecework, Vogue Knitting.  The Atlantic Monthly and Vogue Knitting will probably not be renewed. Vogue Knitting because I don't think it's as interesting as I'd thought it would be and Atlantic Monthly because I never get around to reading it even though I know it's one of the good cerebral magazines to actually subscribe to. Yes, this seems like a lot of magazines but all except for Atlantic Monthly are bimonthly or quarterly so it's not like I'm overwhelmed with glossy paper. 

2. Aside from knitting, my favorite pastimes are: reading, writing, listening to audiobooks, playing video games

3. If I were not a _____________(insert your own profession here), I'd be a: dudes, trust me when I tell you I never dreamt about being a transportation engineer when I was a kid, or even an adult for that matter. Good grief, I didn't even study engineering in the university! (I did get a degree in Geology, as well as do graduate study in Scandinavian Literature, because Geology so obviously leads to literary studies.)  But I'd still love to be a university professor. 

4. I am irrationally worried about: my car catching on fire. 

5. If I were the opposite sex: I'd probably never really appreciate the awesomeness of being able to pee standing up. (Ok, as a female, I certainly can pee standing up, so I should qualify this by saying "peeing standing up without drenching yourself in your own urine".)

6. The thing I miss most about childhood is: y'know, I don't really miss being a kid. There's really nothing about either the emotional or physical stages of childhood that I'm nostalgic about. Well, I wouldn't mind being flat-chested again...but now that I think about it, I used to have a really powerful and creative imagination, which I'd love to have again. I don't really think I have an imagination anymore; that's been replaced by daydreams and fantasies. Not unpleasant, but not the same. 

7. I like to collect: I'm trying not to collect anything but I seem to constantly acquire new knitting paraphenelia, whether it's yarn or needles or stitch markers. I also have a talent for acquiring homeless animals. 

8. Though I've never been there, I feel inexplicably homesick for: New Zealand. I cannot explain my love for this place. (And this existed before the Lord of the Rings films, thank you very much)

9. I've never really liked to eat: I'm not a picky eater but I'm not a big fan of pie. (Pumpkin pie excluded but even then I usually just eat the pumpkin custard and leave the bottom and edge crusts.) 

10. When I have nightmares, they are usually about:  I don't have nightmares because that would require an imagination. I just have anxieties, and that usually centers around a loss of independence.

note to self

don't rub eyes after applying muscle balm to affected limb. 


in a word, ouch. 

in several words, owowowowowowowohmygodwhereissalinesolutionwillthisstuffrinseoutholyf*ckitfrackin'burns!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

in which this is probably the last post beginning with "in which"

....unless I can think of clever things to say. The "in which" well seems to have run dry.

Back to the office tomorrow. I'm lucky in that since I have a white collar desk job, and work for an organization that treats its employees like they have a life outside of their job, I actually got the past four days off. As nice as it is, four days is an odd amount of time to have off. It's actually not long enough to get a real vacation relaxation groove going. 

And Oscar is starting a temp. assignment tomorrow, so that's good. Really, the best thing would be a permanent thing but right now, temp is better than nothing. 

And tomorrow, our animal family will be increased by two, possibly three. Our neighbor came by and asked us if were still serious about fostering their dogs if they couldn't find homes for them, and we said yes. So, Sheba and Simba will come over tomorrow evening. We took our dogs over for a proper meet and greet and Seamus predictably acted like an ass. Sadly, he is a bully toward other dogs (and like all bullies, he's really a coward) but the other two dogs did not react aggressively toward ours. I'm not worried about them getting along. We've fostered dogs in the past, and they both put Seamus in his place. They are good dogs, but will need some basic lessons. Neither of them knows how to walk on a leash (in fact, neither of them even had collars; they were wearing our Memorial collars from our dogs that have died.) but they are both smart and food motivated so I think they will be easy to train.  My only concern with them is that I don't know how they are around cats, so unfortunately, they will have to be outside when we aren't home. I'll set up the crate with blankets but I still hate having to leave them outside all day when it's cold, but the dogs need to be separated for awhile if they aren't supervised.

Our neighbor mentioned he was looking for a home for one of his cats, too, so we offered to take him and foster him through the Humane Society as well. Oh well, time to bring out the other litter box.


a more eloquent memory on a senseless death

From the New York Times


November 30, 2008

A Shopping Guernica Captures the Moment

From the Great Depression, we remember the bread lines. From the oil shocks of the 1970s, we recall lines of cars snaking from gas stations. And from our current moment, we may come to remember scenes like the one at a Long Island Wal-Mart in the dawn afterThanksgiving, when 2,000 frantic shoppers trampled to death an employee who stood between them and the bargains within.

It was a tragedy, yet it did not feel like an accident. All those people were there, lined up in the cold and darkness, because of sophisticated marketing forces that have produced this day now called Black Friday. They were engaging in early-morning shopping as contact sport. American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out.

This year, that anxiety comes with special intensity for everyone involved — for shoppers, fully cognizant of the immense strains on the economy, which has made bargains more crucial than ever; for the stores, now grappling with what could be among the weakest holiday seasons on record; and for policy makers around the planet, grappling with how to substitute for the suddenly beleaguered American consumer, whose proclivities for new gadgets and clothing has long been the engine of economic growth from Guangzhou to Guatemala City.

For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop. China, Japan and other foreign powers have provided the wherewithal to purchase their goods by buying staggering quantities of American debt. Financial institutions have scattered credit card offers as if they were takeout menus and turned our houses into A.T.M.’s. Hollywood and Madison Avenue have excelled at persuading us that the holiday season is a time to spend lavishly or risk being found insufficiently appreciative of our loved ones.

After 9/11, President Bush dispatched Americans to the malls as a patriotic act. When the economy faltered early this year, the government gave out tax rebate checks and told people to spend. In a sense, those Chinese-made flat-screen televisions sitting inside Wal-Mart have become American comfort food.

And yet the ability to spend is constricting rapidly. Credit card limits are getting cut. Millions of Americans now owe the bank more than the value of their homes, making further borrowing impossible. The banks themselves are hunkered down, just hoping to survive.

Live within our means and save: This new commandment has entered the conversation, colliding with the deeply embedded imperative to spend. And yet much of the distress is less the product of extravagance than the result of the fact that in many households the means are nowhere near enough for traditional middle-class lives.

Wages for most Americans have fallen in real terms over the last eight years. Pensions have been turned into 401(k) plans that have just relinquished half their value to an angry market. Health benefits have been downgraded or eliminated altogether. Working hours are being slashed, and full-time workers are having to settle for jobs through temp agencies.

Indeed, this was the situation for the unfortunate man who found himself working at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. Friday, a temp at a company emblematic of low wages and weak benefits, earning his dollars by trying to police an unruly crowd worried about missing out.

In a sense, the American economy has become a kind of piƱata — lots of treats in there, but no guarantee that you will get any, making people prone to frenzy and sending some home bruised.

It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began with violence fueled by desperation; with a mob making a frantic reach for things they wanted badly, knowing they might go home empty-handed.

forlorn

Saturday, November 29, 2008

in which I make a realization

Oscar and I are going to HippieChick's house later for a follow-up Thanksgiving dinner. She asked us to bring a green salad and so I walked over to Safeway with my trusty canvas shopping bag to get the fixings.

While in line, the woman behind me noticed my bag and mentioned to her husband "hey, look, she's got one of those bags," and then asked me how much it cost. I told her I didn't remember because I bought it a long time ago but I knew that Safeway now sold reusable shopping bags and she should ask the cashier. 

That started her on a minor rant about the proposed change to start charging customers for the plastic bags. "I think that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, charging people for the bags. That's just dumb." I couldn't let this opportunity go and told her that the bags really aren't free. The company has to recoup the costs somehow, and that even though we aren't yet charged directly for them, we are still paying. I also told her that she didn't need a fancy canvas bag to get the discount. She could reuse the plastic shopping bags she already had and still get the bag discount. Her reply "3 cents a bag? That's not worth it." 

Ok, I'm a bit confused. Charging customers 3 cents per new plastic bag is "the stupidest thing [she's] ever heard" but getting a 3 cent credit (subtracted from her grocery bill) for each bag she brings herself just isn't worth it?

Walking home, I was thinking about my trusty canvas shopping bags and realized with some surprise that I've had these and used them regularly since 1990.  Yes, I remember the year, because I got them at Target right after I moved into my first apartment and was thus now responsible for getting my own groceries. 

18 years. And the bags are still in fantastic shape. 

in which I am angry

Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers

What the f*ck were you thinking? How insane is your life that shopping for half-price trinkets made from underpaid workers half-way around the world being sold in place that's infamous for its working conditions is worth stampeding for? 

Repeat after me, WalMart shoppers: 

 You were not a crowd of starving people in a country of famine waiting for powdered milk or rice, the only food you may have seen in weeks.  

This is still a country of plenty. You do not need these cheap trinkets.

A man died because of your consumer lust. If this had been your brother/husband/father, how would you feel that he had been killed by ordinary people overcome by the urge to get cheap, poorly made consumer goods that not only does no one really need, but....get this...would still be available later in the day!

Nothing is worth this. Nothing. 

Early Bird WalMart Shoppers...I hope you feel guilt for this for the rest of your days.  

Friday, November 28, 2008

damn etsy

I should not, repeat, should NOT ever go to etsy on payday. 

Or any other day, for that matter.

What is etsy? It's like the best damn arts and crafts show you've ever visited. And what I like best about etsy is that I can find objects of real beauty that are also incredibly utilitarian. 

My resistance is low. 

Like small bowls. Seriously. I use a lot of bowls.  I'm one of those weirdo people who puts all of her prepped food into separate bowls before cooking. Ok, not stuff like pasta or rice--just veggies, meat, and especially spices. So little tiny bowls are great. As are the merely small bowls, and medium bowls. 

And then I found a really funky mug that looked like a tree log which would make a great gift for a friend. 

I have resisted buying paperweights. Who the hell uses paperweights these days? Well, me, actually. My new desk is under a vent which blows air at fairly high pressure, and I have to weight down single sheets of paper to keep them from moving. (I also have to wear a hat to keep my hair from blowing around, and a scarf to keep warm, but that's a different rant for a different day.) There's no shortage of beautiful small sculptures on etsy that would be PERFECT as paperweights. 

I like beauty and admire craftmanship, but I love utility.

in which I suffer an attack of a recurring disease

No, not the rhinovirus although that's still keeping me company.

I'm talking about "startitis", a widespread condition afflicting many people, but especially noticeable amongst any sort of crafters. 

It's the urge to begin several different projects at the same time. I suffer from the specialized condition "startitis knitterati". Outbreaks typically occur four times a year, coinciding with the release of the latest Interweave Knits  magazine. Sometimes I am completely immune and the latest issue will come and I am absolutely not affected. Not even the faintest urge to start a single featured project. (This is usually followed up by a feeling of why I'm subscribing to said magazine and then checking the mailing label to see when said subscription expires.) However, usually this period of immunity is followed by a severe outbreak when I want to cast on at least twelve different projects.

You'd think that I knit fast or something. 

I still have a few WIPs ("works in progress") and I've been masterfully resisting the urge to start something new. The problem is that I'm not interested in either of these projects, so instead of protecting me from startitis, I feel like I'm losing my resistance. Nothing like working on an uninteresting project to make you want to start something new. 

My friend's scarf continues. It's about 1/3 done. It'll look nice when it's done but right now it's boring as all get out. I don't like making scarves. I like having made scarves. Past tense. 

I'm also working on a pair of mittens which have been on the needles since last summer. 
  
I'm not that happy with them. Do you see how thick the cuff is? The pattern calls for knitting a long length of ribbing before the cuff area. The ribbing is tucked under the cuff, which makes for a very warm and secure mitten. (Without the ribbing, the mitten would probably slide right off. If I unfold the ribbing, it reaches almost up to my elbow.) Now, if I lived in Minnesota or Finland, this is probably an advantage but I live in the Pacific Northwest where it doesn't get all that cold. Since these mittens use two colors, they are essentially double thickness anyway (as the color not being knitted is carried behind the working color) so they are already double warm. And being that I'm not used to working with two strands of yarn at the same time, the tension is really wonky and some parts of the mitten are incredibly tight. This has nothing to do with the mitten or its design and everything to do with my technique.

I really like the mittens' design and the yarn. The pattern is based on ancient petroglyphs found in Finland, and the wool is from Finnish sheep and handdyed using natural dyes. The wool is minimally processed and is full of lanolin and has a "stickiness" which is really great. But I still think I should frog it and start it again. For the third time. (I completed the mitten once but it came out so small that I was in danger of cutting  of blood supply to my hand.)

So when comparing a mitten that I'm unhappy with and a scarf that I'm bored with, is it any wonder that I want to start at least thirteen other projects right now? 


Thursday, November 27, 2008

in which I'm starting to get hungry

Yes, it's Thanksgiving day here in the United States but Oscar and I aren't doing the typical meal. We discussed it but thought it would be too much food for just two people. However, on Saturday my friend HippieChick is making a traditional meal for friends, so it's not like we will be deprived or anything. 

However, Oscar is making a sweet potato/pumpkin pie. It's 1:56 pm right now, and he's just finishing the crust. He hasn't yet baked the pumpkin (we got a sugar pumpkin in our produce delivery so no reason to use canned). 

Oscar is an amazingly good cook; there is nothing he can't make taste absolutely wonderful. But there is balance in all things and he balances this amazingness with an almost unbelievable slowness. It takes literally hours for him to make something. He is also easily distracted so I'm not in the kitchen with him because my presence will distract him from the task.  We do plan on making gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) for dinner this evening but even though these are fairly easy to make, I don't expect that we will be sitting down for dinner before 7pm. 

In other food notes, the dogs are really excited about dinnertime now that they get some stew mixed in with their kibble. This week's dog stew is ground turkey, spaghetti, sweet potato, collard greens, and rice. Ingredients are chosen based on whatever is cheap that week. I try to keep the total cost less than $3, which isn't so bad considering that it feeds two large dogs for an entire week. (Remember that I'm just supplementing their kibble with this. The cost of making all my dogs' food would be much higher.)

**EDIT** 5pm...pie yet to be put in oven. no sign of gyoza yet. 

**EDIT 2** 8pm...dinner is on the table!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

in which the day progresses

I know y'all want a knitting update.

I'm making a scarf for my friend's birthday, which was last week. She's a crafter herself and understands that things aren't always able to be done by the day you hope. I had some yarn in a color I knew she'd like, and it was enough for a pair of socks or a lacy scarf. I asked her which she prefered, hoping she'd say socks but she elected a
scarf. Sigh. Making socks is so much more fun. I like handknitted scarves, but I like them when they are done. With scarves, I like the product, not the process. Socks, sweaters, hats, blankets...I like the process too. Ok, I should qualify that bit about blankets. I've never knitted a complete blanket and so far I've only completed about a foot of the Mitered Square (which is really a rhombus) blanket that I'm making out of (mostly) leftover yarn. Most of the squares (rhombi) are 31 stitches across, which makes them about 3" (about 15cm) in diameter, but just for the heck of it, I made a few squares (rhombi) 61 stitches across. Some of the yarn is self-patterning, and I thought it would like nice for a large square (rhombus) to show off the pattern. But part of the fun of making these mitered squares (rhombi)
is that they were fairly small and therefore, making a single one is rather quick. But making the bigger one just seemed like so much more work and it took me awhile to remember back to 9th grade geometry and realize that when you double the side of regular parallelogram, the area is increased exponentially. So a square (rhombus) that starts out as 61 stitches is four times the size of one that starts out as 31 stitches. So I think I will stick with the 31 stitch square (rhombus). More fun that way. Of course, I could stop now and have a really funky scarf.

The only good thing about Mouse and Lady Grey going back to the Humane Society is that my knitting is safe now. They were quite the pair, between MOuse constantly running off with my yarn and Lady Grey chewing on my knitting notions. I hope I never need to measure anything longer than 11.5 inches because Lady Grey chewed up the last half inch of my ruler. (Wait, I have to revise that. Really, the only good thing about them going back to the Humane Society is that they are on their way to getting a [hopefully] forever home.)

Did I mention the approximately 40 lbs of library books I was hauling this morning? I managed to stuff a good deal of them into my backpack. (You will not believe how many books I can pack into my backpack. This is the single most useful thing I learned in graduate school. Not nearly as cool as learning Old Icelandic but far more useful.) As I opened the door to my office building, I noticed one of my lunch containers on the ground. Apparently, my backpack's zipper had come undone and not really thinking (remember, I didn't get any sleep last night), I bent over to pick it up. Yes, with the open backpack full of really heavy books still on my back. Not used to this new center of gravity, I lost my balance and toppled forward into the door, spilling most of the contents all over the ground. This was really not a problem except that this little feat was witnessed by about five of my colleagues, and I was, shall we say, really embarrassed.

in which I can't sleep

It's approximately 4am as I write this and I've completely given up on getting any sleep tonight. This may be due to the fact that I spent a great deal of the day sleeping off an impending cold. It seems to have worked; I'm no more sniffly than I was today and my throat doesn't hurt anymore. Of course, that means that tomorrow/today at work will be a trial. I'll probably do just fine until about noon, after which I will have a terrible time keeping my eyes open. I'm predicting this based on past experience of sleepless nights. And given that it's slow right now...oh, tomorrow will be a loooong day indeed. At least I can look forward to my mid-day workout as I lug approximately 20 books back to the library. (Note to self--in future, make sure all the big, heavy coffee-table books on art and gardening aren't due back on the same day.) 

Well, since I've given up on sleep, I've caved in and made myself a cup of tea. I try not to lay in bed when I can't sleep but it's cold in this house right now and bed is the only warm place. But I've gotten up and bundled up. Yeah, that's right. Bundled up. The works. Wool hat. Alpaca scarf. Thick wool socks. Hot tea. 

I hate insomnia not just because of not getting any sleep but because it's so quiet and there's no distractions that my mind just starts racing and dredging up thought after thought and leading off into many tangents. Some interesting, some not, some unpleasant, most less so. And once that happens, it becomes so much harder to fall asleep. Thoughts wander all over the place except down the path to dreamland. Dammit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

in which my inner poet speaks out

Cold, cold*
Go away
Don't ever come back
Another day


*I'm speaking of the rhinovirus here, not the temperature.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

in which I miss the cats

So Mouse and Lady Grey have gone back to the Humane Society. They are both healthy and ready to be spayed, and once they've recovered from their surgery, they will both go to H.S. off-site cattery in PetSmart. I didn't realize this. Before, when we've fostered cats, we took them to the adoption events at PetSmart but they spent the rest of the time with us. I expected the same to happen this time too. 

I rather miss them. Mouse was a lot of fun and an eager snuggler.  Sshe had picked up the habit of curling herself up inside Oscar's sweatshirt and she once hung out for a bit in the front patch pocket of my sweatshirt, head hanging out on end, feet out the other. Lady Grey was very elegant, and seemed aloof but she wasn't. She didn't like the dogs and knew she was at the bottom of the cat hierarchy here but she was always attuned to people. She loves people, and she's the only cat I've ever known who will eat right out of your hand. No, I didn't feed her that way; I was eating something and she came up and helped herself. Had to be careful with that one; she was always really interested in people food. And she had an incredibly loud purr. I'm constantly amazed how such a small creature can make such a loud noise. And I'm a sucker for a loud purr.   

That being said, I'm glad we are back down to a single litter box, and since Maggie and Sasha like being outside most of the time, the litter box isn't used all that much. My goodness, what am I going to do with all my free time now I'm not spending most of it scooping kitty waste?

Oh well. Sad truth be told that there are still lots of homeless animals so watch this space for the next round of fosters.  

Saturday, November 22, 2008

in which I look at art

Check out this blog which features 33 public art sculptures which may make you do a double take.

In case you don't want to click, I'm going to show my favorite of the bunch:
(location Tubingen, Germany, artist unknown to me)

It's a nice change from all the statues of men and little boys pissing into fountains, no?


in which I muse on random topics and share pictures

I finished my fingerless gloves. Please trust me when I say that there is a matching glove for the other hand. These are made of a handspun yarn in a NZ possum/merino wool blend that I found on etsy. The color is a rather greyish-brown but it is heavenly.  I love it so much that I went back to her site and bought the rest of her yarn.  
Dammit. Why is this picture sideways? Anyway, this picture represents a 2x expansion of our home's closet space. Until recently, it was filled with a freezer, which we weren't using so when I saw a posting on Freecycle requesting a freezer....win-win situation. Of course, now it's filled with a litter box for the foster cats.
Oscar showing off his animal magnetism. Notice how the biggest animal stuffed himself into the smallest spot.  

My friend LatinMan modeling his cashmere hat handmade by me. I bought this yarn intending to make a hat for Oscar (because he's allergic to anything but expensive luxury fibers, apparently), but he said he didn't want a hat so I made it for LatinMan instead. Who better to appreciate the loveliness of cashmere than a dude who's totally bald? 

in which I respond to reader comments

Well, just one reader anyway.

Regarding home produce delivery, there are a couple of options. Several areas have programs called CSA or community sponsored agriculture (although it may go by different names). This is a program in which a person subscribes to the service for a certain time period (in the Seattle area, it's six months), and every week, the subscriber gets a very large bag containing a bounty of freshly harvested, locally produced fruits and veggies from participating farms.  Some programs may deliver; you'd have to find the details from the local CSA.  The Seattle CSA does not deliver to individual homes, but it does drop off the packages at pre-set locations and you pick up your produce at the location you choose.

Other areas have produce delivery. In Seattle, there are several services to choose from (TerraOrganics, New Roots Organics, Spud, Pioneer Organics to name a few) but here in T-town, the options are a bit more limited. Each service offers a "bin" for a set price filled with organic produce. We get our produce from TerraOrganics for two reasons:
1) they are a local company (I found out about them by seeing the vans parked in front of a house during one of my walks) and I'm happy to support this local business. (We used Spud for awhile but they are more like a full-service grocery store. They do have a fixed-price produce bin but they also charge extra for delivery.)
2) their business model is simple--fixed price produce bins, nothing else. You elect the size of the bin and what mixture of produce you want (all fruit, all vegetable, mixed, or all locally grown). You can let them know if there's anything that you will not accept (in our case, green bell peppers and celery. I hate green bell peppers with a passion and Oscar can't eat celery) but it's best to be flexible, and often you get stuff you never would have tried and end up being pleasantly surprised. I found out I love root veggies. Parsnips, rutabaga, beets, turnips...scrumptious.  We get the small box since we are just two people, and it's plenty of produce for us.

I guess the easiest thing to do is google for "produce home delivery (my town) or (my zip code)" to see what's available in your area. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

in which there's always one in the family...

In every family, there is one child who has a knack for getting injured. In my human family, that honor was held by my brother, who miraculously made it adulthood with all the bits he was born with still attached, even if many of them had acquired a new shape from the constant breaking and squashing they were subject to over the years. He managed to break his left big toe no fewer than three times during his childhood. (Wait, not all bits survived. He had his appendix removed when he was a teen.)

In my little animal family, Kate is the one so blessed. When we found her, she was covered with terrible scabs and scrapes in addition to being bone-thin. Given her emaciated state, we were sure she had been beaten as well as starved (the vet didn't think so since she didn't shy away from people's hands), but now knowing Kate, I think she may have just run into stuff at full speed. Our home's previous occupant planted lots of broken crockery and glass around the yard (I'm guessing to deter cats or maybe it was just an available to use to improve drainage). Kate has a real talent for uncovering these pieces. (In fact, the only one she didn't find was the broken crockery in the flowerpot in the front yard. That was me.)

I don't even remember how many times she's sliced her paw pads. She has scraped her nipples raw and bloody jumping over stuff and not.quite.clearing. She gets acne. Last month, we took her to the vet because she had a weird growth in her eye, and our vet referred her to a veterinary opthamologist (it is episcleritis, if you are curious. Nothing to worry about.) A few weeks ago, she split a toenail, all the way back to the paw. I don't know how she did it. I kept an eye on it, and soaked her paw every night in an epsom salt solution but it was getting worse, so back to the vet she went yesterday so now she's on pain meds and antibiotics. I know she doesn't like having the capsule shoved down her throat but she minds it less than having her paw soaked. The worst bit about this most recent injury is that I can't take her for the long walks she loves so much. (I know I can walk Seamus without taking Kate but Kate will be totally bummed if she's left behind.) It's kind of bad for me, too, because those long walks give me plenty of exercise. Of course, I could just go on a walk by myself, but I feel kind of weird doing that. First off, I need a good reason to go for a long walk in the cold and dark, and walking the dogs is that reason. It's for them, not for me! (Not that this works all the time. I haven't taken them for a walk in a few days, 'cuz I've been tired and lazy.)

But I hope Kate's foot heals quickly, for her sake as well as mine. I kind of need those walks too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

in which I bake some more

My fledgling baking career continues. As one of my friends pointed out, I do make a b*tchin' blueberry cobbler, and he's right. Maybe the trick is to stick with baking things that are mostly fruit to begin with? Perhaps fruit I can handle; it's everything else that's giving me trouble.

So, I guess it's no surprise that the past few things I've made have been mostly fruit. It also had something to do with the fact that we had a huge amount of fruit from our weekly delivery.
So, what do you do with a bunch of extremely ripe pears and that red wine leftover from when Oscar made coq au vin? Make poached pears, of course. Now, in true Luneray fashion, I followed the recipe enough to realize that I didn't have enough pears. I had only three, but the recipe called for six so I chopped up a few apples to mix in with the pears. Then I realized that we didn't have a half bottle of wine that I thought we did. The recipe called for two cups of red wine. Eyeing the level in the bottle, it looked a bit less than half full so I guessed we had a cup. I poured it out and found out that the bottle contained one-half cup, exactly. Then I wished I hadn't chopped up the apples because my pear/wine ratio was about right. Oh well. I used the 1/2 cup wine and water for the other 1 1/2 cups and made the recipe using all the fruit. The fruit is tasty but intensely sweet; the wine flavor would have balanced the 1 1/2 cups of sugar much better.

Next up...persimmon bread. We had eight persimmons in our last fruit delivery along with a recipe for persimmon bread. These were fuyu persimmons, which are actually edible when they are firm (other types are extremely astringent and are eaten only after the fruit is soft), and they are tasty but I turned them all into bread anyway. (It's not like we don't have a few pounds of other fruit ready to be eaten raw, after all.) I followed the recipe that came with the delivery despite my initial distrust. No eggs? Agave nectar? The substitution given for the agave nectar was 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar mixed with 2 tbsp water, and I was sure that was a typo until Oscar mentioned that agave nectar is incredibly thick. But I mixed it up according to the directions and that dough was incredibly stiff. You know that the baked goodness called "banana bread" but is really a cake? Well, this persimmon bread really was more like a bread. A very sticky bread dough, but a dough instead of a batter. Too thick to pour into the loaf pan but far too sticky to shape it, so the loaf pan contained a rather lumpy mass.

After 40 minutes, I opened the oven to test the loaf for doneness and had my newest baking mishap. I pulled out the rack too far and the damn pan flew off the rack and overturned and the loaf flew out of the pan and landed upside down in the middle of the oven. (I should be glad it didn't land on the floor because it would have been immediately gobbled by Seamus whose food instincts (Food! On Floor! Mine!) override his pain instincts (Food! On Floor! Mine! HOT! HOT! HOT!).) Well, the bread wasn't done yet but it was done enough so that it kept its shape as I grabbed it and plopped it back into the loaf pan, only slightly smashed.

Despite its mid-baking flight, the bread turned out all right. It is very dense and chewy and not really sweet. It's really good sliced thin and spread with butter (and would probably be really good sliced thick and toasted), and Oscar suggested it would make really good French toast as well.

This weekend I plan to try making apple dumplings. With butterscotch sauce. Made with real scotch. :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

in which I am happy that it's almost Thankgiving day here in the US

Although it's not yet Thanksgiving here in the United States, it's not too early to start thinking of that day.

I'm not deliberately an iconoclast but I'm not a very enthusiastic celebrant for most holidays. Christmas? I had a tree once as an adult but never bothered with decorations since then. I give gifts (and occasionally remember to send out cards) but don't decorate. (One of my colleagues was shocked to her very core when she found this out. "Why don't you celebrate Christmas?" she asked, once she was able to pick her jaw up off the floor. "Well, for starters, I'm not a Christian." "It doesn't matter! Christmas is a secular holiday!" It's funny how Christians are the only ones who think that way. I know some secular Jews have embraced the secular Christmas tradition and get trees, although a much more common practice seems to have been inflating Hannukah into the "Jewish Christmas". Since I'm not Jewish, I'm just parroting a conversation overheard between some some Jewish colleagues. In case you are curious, you can file my religious affiliation as Christian Apostate, although there are plenty of people who will argue that the Christian tradition I grew up in isn't actually Christian at all. Since so many people have strong feelings about that particular tradition, I almost never tell people what the tradition is because what follows is a lot of prejudice from those I'm talking to. This often puts me in a very uncomfortable position of having to defend that church. I left it based on my own personal experiences, but I've never conflated my experience to damn the whole tradition. It's kind of like saying that since you had a bad marriage, that the institution of marriage is inherently flawed and that everyone who is married is just brainwashed or victimized. Yes, I know there are some people who do feel this way about marriage, but how seriously do you take them?)

My lack of enthusiasm for Christmas certainly didn't spring from my family background. My grandmother and mother both loved Christmas and all the decorations, music, etc that went with it. The day after Thanksgiving, my grandmother would start decorating the house first thing in the morning and it was always decked out by lunchtime. I don't ever remember her having a big tree; she had a tabletop ceramic tree with little colored glass (or plastic) "ornaments" illuminated from a lightbulb within. Yes, a bit kitschy, but then, so was my grandmother. (Unironically so.) She would whip up Christmas excitement to a fever pitch, so much so that we always opened gifts on Christmas eve because she couldn't wait until Christmas morning. But Dec 26th? Christmas is over and done with baby. First thing in the morning, everything came down and was put away. Contrast this to my mom who never, ever wanted Christmas to end and never hurried to take down the decorations (we had a fake tree, so there wasn't even a slowly decaying piece of shrubbery to serve as a memento mori. How long did it take to remove the Christmas decorations? One year, I found an Easter egg hidden in the Christmas tree.)

But I've always liked Thanksgiving. How can you not when the whole focus of the holiday is a really great meal? I don't go all out with decorations (you might have guessed that I'm not one for decorating--not my house, not my yard, and not even myself. I appreciate the effort that others do but really, it's not for me. Honestly, I think people should only go through with decorations because they want to, not because they have to. But with that thought, we have new neighbors on our street who put up a big display for Halloween and I wonder what they will do for Christmas. I really hope they won't have anything inflatable.)

I've also found that people are extremely particular about their Thanksgiving meal traditions, as becomes obvious when people outside of your immediate family try to share a meal. Oh, the mashed potatoes aren't quite right. What, where are the candied yams? No ham? Green beans with pearl onions? It's like every family has a set of dishes that are only eaten on Thanksgiving and that's what Thanksgiving dinner is.

In our family, it was roasted turkey and gravy (no giblets), mashed potatoes, green beans, candied yams, and jellied cranberry sauce (you know, the stuff straight from the can, which still retained the shape of the can even in the serving dish) and for dessert was pumpkin pie, mince meat pie and this weird dish called "ambrosia" that my grandmother made. I never liked it but everyone else did. (All I remember was it had colored marshmallows, some creamy stuff that was probably Cool Whip but may have been mayonnaise, and toasted coconut. I think there was canned fruit in there too.) I liked everything except the candied yams and minced meat pie (and the ambrosia). In fact, I don't think anyone ever ate the candied yams except my grandfather. (I think they were always fed to the dog.)

Well, for all this talk about people being so traditional with their Thanksgiving dinner, I'll be a big ol' heretic and admit that I really prefer ham to turkey. I'll eat roasted turkey, of course, but if I could only choose one to make or eat, I'd take ham. I have since found out that candied yams (which I still loathe) are not the same as sweet potatoes, which are actually pretty good when roasted and not drenched in caramel and marshmallows. Freshly whipped cream is way better than Cool-Whip. Cranberry sauce is super easy to make and there's no reason to buy the canned stuff. (This is the one thing that I am a purist about. Cranberry sauce is cranberries and sugar. Period. Keep your orange rind, coconut, carrots, apples, and what-have-you far away from my cranberry sauce.) My mom's basic mashed potatoes (made with plenty of white pepper and garlic) are really hard to beat but mashing freshly roasted garlic in with the potatoes is worth the extra effort.

But you know what my absolute favorite Thanksgiving food memory is? Saturday after Thanksgiving in La Paz, Bolivia, 1992. I was joining Oscar's family at his grandmother's house for their large weekly meal, always an elaborate affair. For dessert, she surprised me with a homemade pumpkin pie because she knew it was Thanksgiving in the US, and that it was an important holiday and she didn't want me to miss out. It was so thoughtful of her and so unexpected! And absolutely delicious too. Pumpkin pies aren't traditional in Bolivia but she had the recipe right and it was scrumptious.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

in which I am not crazy for knitting a blanket out of sock yarn

For every knitter out there who thinks that knitting a sweater out of fine yarn, with color work and shaping is just too much work...get thee to Bugknits, Althea Crome's website. She knits miniatures. Incredibly beautiful detailed clothing inspired by ancient Greek vases, Egyptian frescos, or Picasso's paintings.  Knitted at approximately 60 stitches per inch. (Oh yeah, you've always complained that something knitted at 8 stitches per inch is too much work, eh?) 

I guess these garments didn't provide enough challenge for her because she has also knitted "micro-garments", items at 1:144 scale.  As she puts it, "this is dollhouse scale for the dollhouse."

in which I talk to the animals

Dear Mouse,

I hope that you understand that I am truly happy to provide you with a loving, secure foster home until your forever home is found. I've never had a kitten before, and I've enjoyed seeing you grow from this shy, wee grey ball of fluff to a confident, playful bigger ball of grey fluff.

That being said...keep your paws off my knitting. Oh, I'm sure you had great fun when you jumped up on my lap and decided to carry off that small ball of yarn I was knitting my blanket with. Oh yes, glad to accommodate your pint-sized physique by working with a ball of yarn small enough for you to carry in your mouth while jumping behind the chair and curling up behind the bookcase to play. Oh yes, I get great fun moving large pieces of furniture late at night to retrieve my working yarn. 

Oh, and that size 2 double pointed needle that I'd stuck in the blanket? You know, the identical twin of the other size 2 double pointed needle stuck in the blanket? Give it back. I don't know where you've hidden it but playtime has gone on long enough. I'm a pretty skilled knitter but even I can't knit with a single double pointed needle. 

Yours truly, 

Luneray

P.S. what's the sudden fascination with lip balm? I'm glad you have found a new treat but do you really think that I enjoy waking up to a kitten french-kissing me?

Friday, November 14, 2008

in which I start out sulky but cheer up

YOu know that song "I'm a loser, baby..."
Yeah, that can be the theme song for my life lately. Not only did I oversleep AGAIN this morning, and not even notice Oscar's various tries to wake me, but I apparently reset my alarm for a later time, but have no memory of doing it. Kind of like sleepwalking, only it's "sleep-alarm-clock-resetting".
I went to the doctor to try to figure out why I've been having so much trouble sleeping, but it's not so much sleeping as it is waking up. ONly once in the past month have I woken up on a weekday feeling rested, and then I fell asleep on the train going into work and was literally jolted awake when the train came to a stop at my station. So instead of coming into work all rested and alert, I was completely groggy and sonambulent for most of the day. Anyway, previously, the doctor suggested regular exercise, just walking. And I've been doing that, but while there are definite benefits (like increased aerobic endurance, noticably firmer leg muscles, and looser jeans), my sleeping hasn't seemed to have been affected either positively or negatively. Alcohol doesn't really work either, which is actually a good thing because I can't use it as a crutch. In fact, past a certain point, I don't feel relaxed but actually anxious and restless.
Maybe I should train one of the cats to wake me up. Sasha sometimes would be very annoying in the mornings, but he wasn't a reliable alarm clock. Maggie is far too relaxed and refuses to move when she's snuggled up. Seamus and Kate would rather bust a gut then go outside into the cold (unless they are going for a walk, of course. They can hardly contain their enthusiasm then. Which reminds me that I need to spray my raincoat with ScotchGuard. It's a Gore-Tex coat but Gore-Tex rainproofing qualities has a lifespan. Who knew? About five years, if you are curious.)
So, I sit at work, not busy enough to keep me occupied and the stuff I do have to do is so uninteresting that it's hard to motivate myself. I broke a longstanding rule of mine the other day and started reading a book. I had completed everything on my to-do list, and so was essentially just keeping my chair warm until it was time to leave. I wonder if this is one of the reasons I have trouble waking up? I feel like there's no purpose of me being here? I feel so guilty about having a good job that pays well and for most of the time it's interesting enough but when it's not interesting, I really can't stand being here.
I have it better than so many other people, so why do I feel so ungrateful? In a stunning bit of irony, one of my colleagues just came up to congratulate me on my 10th anniversary with the agency. Yep, I started here 11/16/98, and was really excited about it, to be honest. She told me that a group of my colleagues had planned to take me out to lunch so I promised to act surprised when they offered. :D
Let's move on to a bit less whininess, eh?
None of my recent blogging seems complete without a kitten anecdote so here's the latest: Mouse has developed a fascination with Oscar's ears and my nose. She loves to perch on shoulders, and when she's hanging out on Oscars', she is overcome with a desire to nibble his ears. Oscar is hyper-ticklish, so it's extremely amusing to me when this happens. Yesterday, I tucked Mouse into the hood of his sweatshirt, and she hung out there, reverse-kangaroo style for a bit. Lately, after I've gone to bed, she joins me and settles down tucked under my chin and starts licking my nose. I have no idea why. It's a very ordinary nose. Thankfully, kitten tongues aren't nearly as rough as cat tongues.
In knitting news, I may have finally jumped off the deep end. Some of you who know me may be surprised by that declaration as you have no doubtedly come to the conclusion that I jumped off a long time ago. You may know that I enjoy knitting socks, but I almost never use up the entire skein of yarn for the socks that I make. There's always a little bit left over. I've been keeping these mini-balls of yarn, figuring that I'd find a use for them sometime.
And I have. The Yarn Harlot featured a knitter who was making a mitered square blanket out of her leftover sock yarn and a lightbulb went off. What a great idea! And I've found out that knitting mitered squares is insanely addictive. You can make the squares any size you like, as long as you start with a stitch count in a multiple of 3+1. Then you decrease two stitches in the center every other row until you are left with a single stitch. Bind off, and you are done. My squares (actually, it's a rhombus, not a square) are about 3inches at its widest dimension and to make a blanket the size I want, I will need about 228 squares. In case you are curious, each square has 511 stitches in it. That's 116,508 stitches for those who are curious but don't feel like opening the calculator feature on your computer. Not including the edging.
I don't know what size I will end up with. I don't know if I have enough sock yarn to make the size blanket I want nor do I know if I will get sick of it and end up with either a lap robe or a funky scarf. However, right now, all I want to do is knit mitered squares. It's a perfect little object. Each one takes about 20 minutes (yes, I'll let you guys do the math on that one) but I'm attaching each to the other as I go along so I won't have to sew them together. I've put together enough of it so that it is starting to resemble something instead of a long, unwieldy strap. I've put all my yarn bits into a bag and I pull out a color at random. The only rule I have is that two squares out of the same yarn can't be next to another. So, it's kind of a crazy quilt approach and I hope the final result will be interesting. But, trust me when I say it's really fun to make. Making mitered squares is completely addictive, and they are so small that I can easily convince myself that I can make just one more.
But another thing that's cool about this project is that since it's knit out of leftover yarn, each square has a story. "Hey, these are the socks I made for Katze. This is from Ms Swann's socks." And some of my knitter friends have given me some leftover sock yarn, too, so now their stories are knitted in. "This is from the socks Lana made for her husband. He loves yellow."
I'll post a picture of it when it's a bit more cohesive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

in which the animals are entertaining

This was how I woke up this morning:

Mouse the foster kitten was sitting on my chest with her little front paws resting on my upper lip. I opened my eyes and she was bent over, staring me right in the face, her grey kitten's face filled my entire field of vision. I'd exhale and she'd lift one of her front paws, lick it, and set it back down on my lip. I'd exhale again, and she'd repeat the gesture. Exhale, lift, lick, set down until she got tired of that and jumped off.

I can usually tell how cold its gotten in the house by how many animals try to get on the bed during the night. Seamus, the big baby, always wants to sleep on the bed, but I usually kick him off. But the past two mornings, I've woken up to find myself draped with felines.

Sasha is ok with the foster cats, which is good. He tolerate MamaCat but is actually affectionate toward the kitten. He's played with her a bit and even groomed her, although he did draw the line when she tried to nurse from him. She must have bit him rather hard because he let out a yelp. She is a very affectionate kitten loves to snuggle up, although she doesn't purr.

I think we have a pretty happy home for the animals, but the dogs will soon have a reason to be even happier...I am going to supplement their kibble with homemade food. We feed the dogs a high quality dog food, and I don't intend to switch to a different brand but the price just went up by $5 a bag at the same time the company decreased the size by 10%. It used to cost $45 for a 33lb bag, now it's $50 for a 30lb bag. (The cat food went up too, but the bag size didn't change.) So now the canines' diet is going to consist of 20% homemade food, which will be whatever I throw in a pot. There are literally hundreds of recipes for dog food, but dudes, I am not going to put more effort in making their food than I do my own. My plan is to cook a large pot of stuff and feed it to them throughout the week.

And the basic recipe is really easy: 1/2 lb protein, 4 cups cooked grain (rice, oatmeal, barley), 4 cups starchy ingredient (potato, pasta, yam), 4 cups vegetables and/or fruit, 4 cups liquid, and 2 tablespoons oil.  Seamus will get one cup a day; Kate 1/2 cup. Seamus will eat anything I put in front of him; Kate is more picky, but I think she will eat this. I'll make a batch, see how much it costs and how long it lasts and then find out if it really is cost-effective

Sunday, November 09, 2008

in which I make comfort food

Cooking update: I gifted two cupcakes to my neighbor as a "just being nice" gesture. This was before I had even sampled the cakes myself and realizing how horrid they were. So I wanted to apologize as soon as I could. My neighbor works very long hours and it was a full week before I saw him home, and so I was finally able to tell him that I had no idea how awful they were. 

He just looked at me like I was crazy, and said, "get out of town. They were great!"

"Thank you, but you don't have to say that just to be nice."

"I'm not! I really liked them! "

I don't entirely believe him, but even if he's lying, that's very nice of him, isn't it? :)

In other food news, I'm trying to cut back on expenses, and I've done a good job but an area that still needs work is the food budget. I've joined the coffee club at work (the Agency That I Work For does not provide coffee for its employees. We have to buy it ourselves (including the coffee pot), which is okay by me.) which sometimes makes me wonder how much I really need a morning cup of coffee. Seriously. I'm a bit of a coffee snob; I know what I like, and I'm willing to pay for quality. So with the coffee club, everybody is on a list, and each person is responsible for bringing in a bag of coffee when it's their turn. But there are always arguments about the quality/type of coffee brought in. I'm not fond of French Roast and was  a bit glum when someone brought in a 3lb bag of that, but was even more unhappy when someone else brought in a 3lb container of Folger's coffee. Now that's completely unacceptable. This is Seattle, people. Ground zero for Starbucks? Say what you will about that company but it has succeeded in raising the average person's awareness for quality. Even drip coffee at  McDonald's and 7-11 is premium coffee now.  

But I've sucked it up (or down, as it were) and drunk not very good coffee for the past two weeks. It's much harder to cut back on eating out for lunch. Lots of frugality bloggers say that brown-bagging your lunch will save you lots of money, which I think is quite true. But then almost all of them say "and it's healthier too!" Not necessarily. Now, if a person habitually eats at McDonald's for lunch, then yes, it's probably hard to bring a lunch that's less healthy than that. My problem is that I'm surrounded by lots of super-fresh, super-healthy, high-quality lunch establishments and it's so easy to let laziness kick in and not bring a lunch, especially when the alternative is something far tastier than I can make for myself. (This isn't the case if Oscar makes lunch for me, though.)

But today, I started acting like an adult and made a pot of Ethiopian lentil stew (out of the Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant cookbook). I've made this a lot in the past, but haven't made it in awhile but I had all the ingredients and whipped up a batch. I think the whole cost of the stew was less than $5 and there's enough for several days (depending on how much Oscar eats). I served myself a small bowl when it was done, and you know how sometimes you eat something that just satisfies just about every craving you had, even though you didn't even realize you were craving anything? It was a bowl of heaven. Filling, nourishing, and warm. It was the culinary equivalent of a long hug. Yum. 

Saturday, November 08, 2008

in which I give a quick update

PE exam--two alarm clocks. Slept through both of them. 'nuff said.

Election 2008--I wasn't too concerned about the presidential election, but I was suffering some acute anxiety over some local elections. Governor's race, I-985 (citizen sponsored initiative to open the HOV lanes to general purpose traffic--just trust me when I say this was a bad idea from a financial and traffic point of view), Proposition 1 for Mass Transit. 

And for the first time in my entire life that I've been able to vote, everything on the ballot that I cared about actually turned out just the way I'd wanted it to. Our governor was re-elected (the agency that I work for is a cabinet agency, so the Governor is the Boss. Her re-election means that there probably won't be a managerial shake-up in the agency), I-985 was soundly defeated, Proposition 1 for Mass Transit passed overall (it failed in Pierce County but only by the slimmest of margins, which is surprising in itself since Pierce County didn't stand to benefit from taxing itself to build light rail in King and Snohomish counties.)

But what really surprised me is the voter turnout. The page tallies the number of ballots cast (which means ones that have been officially counted) against the number of registered voters, and in some counties the turn-out is more than 80%--and many places haven't yet finished tallying the ballots yet. King and Pierce County have the greatest number of ballots yet to be counted; King county is the most populous county and Pierce County has a high number of absentee ballots due to military personnel.

Oh, and it stopped raining today. Blue sky and the fresh scent that comes after a thorough cleansing. Yay!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

in which my new career plans fall flat

Well, I know that I'll probably never be a baker. I made cupcakes from scratch today for the first time ever, and they are possibly the worst cupcakes you could possibly imagine. 

They are rubbery, strongly egg-y in their flavor and let's just say the frosting puts the "butter" in buttercream.

I'm bummed about the texture, and I can't figure out what I did wrong. Probably overmixed the batter, even though I used cake flour. (However, the instructions weren't very helpful..."mix until batter has a curdled appearance". Well, maybe that is helpful except I didn't know what it meant. Curdled milk?)

But the flavor was the real disappointment. I followed the yellow cake recipe from "The Best Recipe" by America's Test Kitchen, which has a LOT of butter in it. So much that the cupcakes are actually a bit greasy. And you can really taste the eggs. 

And the frosting? I've had "real" buttercream frosting before and it definitely had a better texture than what I made. Perhaps I didn't beat it long enough because it's not very fluffy and it's not even very sweet. It really does taste just like butter with some sugar and lime (I didn't have any lemon) mixed in. If there is a difference between handheld mixers and stand mixers in the amount of time needed to achieve the results, I wish a recipe would note that. The cake recipe did, but the frosting recipe (from the same book) didn't.

Bah.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

in which I discover the perfect diet plan

Yes, I will consume only food that I grow myself.

Given that the total garden produce from June to October has been less than four quarts of vegetables total, dramatic weight loss is sure to ensue. I would probably die from starvation after a few months, after which weight loss is even more rapid!

Yeah, so the garden is a bust, although I did make a salad for lunch in which all the veggies came from the garden, picked about 20 minutes before consumption.

I have learned a few things about gardening, though. 

1. You must stake your tomatoes. Otherwise they fall over and you have to dig through the plant to find the ripe ones. I hate the way tomato plants smell. Absolutely hate it.

2. Cucumbers have spines. 

3. Supermarket cukes are not waxed for aesthetics but to keep in moisture. They shrivel up really fast.

4. Just because a product is called "garden soil" doesn't mean it's necessarily good for all gardens. Especially if it says "great for flowers!" on the label. It was probably great for flowers, but it sure sucked for root veggies. 

5. Despite what I've read to the contrary, you probably should put a liner at the base of a raised garden to keep the grass from growing up into it. Several layers of cardboard and the weight of several inches of compost is not enough to smother the grass. 

6. I'm glad I like green beans because that's about the only thing that I seem to be able to grow well. Even the second crop of radishes didn't do well (see #4).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

in which I try not to talk about kittens but fail

Nadja, the white foster kitten, is back at the Humane Society for observation. Over the past week, Mouse has gotten very active and playful, but Nadja remained very quiet. She loves people and would jump up to your shoulder at every chance she'd get, but she wasn't very active. On Sunday, I picked up both kittens to put them in the spare room for the night and noticed that Mouse was substantially bigger and noticeable heavier than Nadja. Just out of curiosity, I weighed them on the kitchen scale. Mouse weighed about 700 grams, but Nadja weighed only about 400. She's not eating for some reason; don't know if she's being bullied by Mouse or has stomach issues. I hope she's ok; and that's she's not ill because of something I did or didn't do. 

(At this moment, Mouse is fascinated by the end of my nose. She's sitting on my chest--why does every single cat love to sit on my chest?--and keeps sniffing and nibbling the end of my nose.)

In non-feline news, I am participating in a Value Engineering study this week. I only agreed to it because I am rather slow at work and this is a whole week of project chargeable work, but while I find it very interesting to listen to the project, I don't think I'm actually adding anything. In the whole two days so far, the only thing I've contributed was knowing what is the minimum height of a bike path (8 feet for bikes/pedestrians, 10 feet if equestrians are allowed). So I've been feeling bored and useless which is making me a bit depressed. I wouldn't feel quite so bad except my boss is a participant as well, so I can't even head out and go back to the office. 

And the PE exam is on Friday, which has only increased my stress. I am so unprepared. I am unprepared because I am unmotivated. But I am stressed because I feel like I should be motivated. I've been working as an engineer for the past eight years, and I've pretty much chosen this as a career path, so suck it up all ready! Everyone I know who studied engineering was really interested in the subject. I was not interested in the subject and so I didn't study engineering at university, and a lot of my career anxiety stems from ending up in a profession that doesn't really fascinate me. Parts are interesting, yes. But am I motivated to read Engineering Today and find out about new types of bridge construction and different types of retaining walls? Not especially. So I feel like a fraud. And so I feel like a fraud like me shouldn't even have a PE license. And so I am unmotivated to study. But I stress anyway, because I feel like I should be more interested.  blah blah blah in an endless cycle. However, since I was slow at work, I was spending my down time studying the topics I didn't do very well in last time. Which was essentially the topics I wasn't all that interested in. 

Ah well, enough bellyaching. Back to the books. Fluid dynamics!!!