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.


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 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, 


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!