Fifteen

We’ve got a trip out of town coming up. We have been using the same petsitting service for years, and most of the time the people who come to take care of our furry horde have been here before. But this time there will be a new person, so we scheduled a time for her to come over.

She was reading the doormat (the one that says not to let Sherman out) as I opened the door. I noted that the doormat was correct, and as if he knew he was being discussed, Sherman came charging forward, demanding attention the nanosecond she stepped inside. He followed us around as I gave her the quick tour, shoving his head into every discussion and insisting he be noticed. Clearly he never got the memo that cats are supposed to be distant and aloof.

* * * * *

Fifteen years ago today this little corner of the internet went live. Technically the blog started a bit earlier, on a different platform (I vaguely recall it was Diaryland, but who the heck knows anymore), but it didn’t take me long to determine I’d much rather have my own domain than have to piggyback on someone else’s, so I shut that down and registered this domain, and never looked back.

Way back in 2000, I was hand coding every single entry in HTML, using Notepad, because I knew if I didn’t do it all manually I’d never get the hang of programming for the web. At some point I decided I was tired of hand coding, so I tried out Greymatter, and also Moveable Type (both of which were perfectly lovely programs). Eventually, though, I settled on WordPress, which I’ve been using ever since. I admit some days I miss the simple HTML layout I first started with, but using the WordPress system gives me a lot more flexibility and, well, to be honest, I no longer have the time (or perhaps the desire) to be coding all of this in Notepad.

Anyway, happy blogiversary to me. Fifteen years ago today I kicked things off with an entry about cats. Obviously, all blog platform technology aside, some things around here will never change.

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It’s a small world after all

So I think I mentioned that this year for Christmas, Richard got ‘me’ (aka the cats) a Butterfly Jar.

It seemed like such a great idea- a glass jar with some kind of weird electronic butterfly thing inside, that flutters in a disturbingly realistic way every time you tap the jar. What could be remotely sinister about *that*?

Well, it turns out there was some kind of device built into the lid. An hour or so ago we heard this strange humming sound coming from the living room, and when we went to investigate, whammo. Suddenly we were hit by some kind of shrink ray. Turns out that butterfly has a nasty sense of humor, and isn’t a fan of having someone tap on its jar all the time.

We tried running, but it turns out that tiny people look just like tasty snacks to house cats. My side still hurts from being batted y Rupert’s giant paw.

We climbed into an empty mason jar (good thing I’m a canner) and pulled a lid down on top, but it’s only a matter of time before the cats work out how to knock that off. It’s probably too late for us. But please. Be safe. Avoid the butterfly jar. And also cats.

peoplejar

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Tied off

So for the past few months I’ve been working on some Christmas presents. Well, okay, if we’re going to be correct, technically I’ve been working on a whole lot of other projects, primarily some rather large test knits, with some time spent on presents in the middle. But with the last test knit finished up at the end of November, I took a look at the calendar, and at how much I had left on the presents, and had myself a tiny little panic attack. And then pretty much every single moment where I wasn’t at work or rehearsing for the Vox Musica concerts, or sleeping (because despite my better efforts, I apparently still need some of that), I have been knitting.

I got them all done yesterday. Alas, they were not all completed by the time I handed them over to their recipients, but since we were all sitting around chatting at my parents’ place, I snatched back the two that still needed work (one had ends I’d forgotten to weave in, and the other still had about half the border to complete) and knit as fast as I could until they were finally completed.

(as usual, click to view larger version of any of the pictures)

This is a larger version of the Linus Blanket. I really liked the basketweave texture so I cast on 161 stitches in worsted weight yarn, knit for 20 pattern repeats, and then finished with the garter stitch border and bound off. I’d say it was a hit, if only because my (teenage) nephew pulled it out of the bag, spread it over his legs, and then promptly nodded off to sleep while the rest of the family chatted around him.

Basketweave Blanket

This is a larger version of the Gradient Blanket. I cast on 152 stitches, did a pattern repeat of 18, and kept on going until it was done.

Gradient Blanket

This one is the Lacy Throw, which I made for my sister because while she’s not a girly girl, she’s the only female in a household of males and I thought she ought to have something with a teensy bit of femininity. And I am dead serious when I say that I never even noticed that there was a discrepancy in the dye lot of the yarn I used, the ENTIRE TIME I was knitting it (hence the slightly darker swath there at the top), and it wasn’t until my older sister pointed it out that I realized what happened. She thought I’d done it on purpose, so…uh…yeah. Oops. Headdesk.

Lacy Throw

And finally, this one is a Short Rows Pinwheel. I have made more than one of these because I love, love LOVE the effect you get when you swap the yarn every 2 rows (the entire thing is in garter stitch). We shall not speak, however, of the interminable black hole of knitting that was the knit-on border. This is the one that I was still actively knitting yesterday after giving it to the recipient.

Pinwheelblanket-blue

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Acquisition

As is the custom among my people (okay, among my family), this morning I got up bright and early (oh so early), tossed some coffee down my throat, grabbed a piece of the lemon curd coffee cake from last night to stash for later once my stomach woke up, and drove off to Vacaville to meet my older sister and my mom for the after-Christmas sales. The women in my family have been doing this every single year that I can recall, and it is always a lot of fun.

We met up at Target and went through there first, but they didn’t have much of anything at all. I suspect this is because Target, like many other stores, has been doing a lot of their ‘after Christmas’ sales blitzes before Christmas these years, so there isn’t as much left for after. I did, however, manage to pick up a couple stocking stuffers for next year, and my mom found the LED lights she was looking for, so it wasn’t a total loss.

We also swung by Pier One and Joann Fabrics. Pier One always has a lot of absolutely gorgeous holiday decor, but my house has Rupert and Sherman, so anything breakable doesn’t stand a chance. Joann Fabrics has had some really cute Christmas stuff in the past but there was pretty much nothing left at all (and we got there when they first opened) so that was a bit of a disappointment.

We had much better luck at Michael’s and Cost Plus. Lots of awesome stocking stuffers, plus it is always so much fun to just wander through Cost Plus and get inspired by all the beautiful furniture and accessories.

After that my mom and sister and I headed off to Panera, where we got hot drinks and possibly also pastries, and set up camp at a table in the very back corner while we waited for the menfolk to come join us.

Once everyone made it to one location and lunch was consumed, we then all headed back to my parents’ house, for annual exchanging of gifts and the much-anticipated consuming of cookies. Mmm, cookies.

I am quite happy with all of my presents. Among other things, I got copies of two books I have been really really wanting: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe of xkcd, and Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain by Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek. We saw Bradley Voytek at WesterCon in Salt Lake City this summer and he gave a presentation on the neuroscience of zombies, and read excerpts from the book, and it was absolutely delightful. Both of these books are basically sneaky science (using weird things to get someone to learn something useful), but I’m totally fine with that.

I also got these, because my family is awesome and clearly knows me well.

BakingMolds

My brother-in-law got the coffee beans ice mold too, except he unwrapped his before I unwrapped mine and I freely admit I stared at it and my first thought was ‘ooh, where can *I* get one of those!’ and then I unwrapped mine a little later on and gave a little cheer.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Merry and bright

I got up early this morning, because there really is no way to ignore the incessant and pitiful whining of Azzie when he gets going (unless you are Richard who can sleep through all of it, grumble). Ah well. Early morning rising means a couple extra hours of knitting, and these days, that’s been pretty important.

Usually we do cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas, but this year I wasn’t really feeling the yeast dough thing, so instead I made a variation of the this coffeecake, except instead of jam, I used a jar of my homemade lemon curd from the freezer, and we also left the nuts and cinnamon out of the crumble topping, since I was worried it might overpower the flavor of the lemon. The cake turned out quite delicious, so I’ll be doing that modification again in the future.

Richard and I exchanged our presents. Technically we only do stocking stuffers, except the things rarely fit in stockings anymore, and we also don’t bother wrapping because who has time for that, but shh, allow us to maintain our delusion.

Every year I get Richard a chocolate orange because he loves those things. I think the combination of orange and chocolate is foul and disgusting, but hey, different strokes for different folks, and this way he doesn’t have to share. Last year I actually made the chocolate orange (and poured it into a hollowed out orange rind), so this year I was all set to do the same, except that I happened to be on Think Geek and I found this ice mold, and possibly I was just looking for an excuse to buy it, so…uh…anyway, this year Richard got 3 chocolate orange Tardises and 3 chocolate orange Daleks. You will notice that there are only 2 Daleks in this picture. That is because Richard had happily bit the head off of one of them before I remembered I hadn’t yet taken a picture. They aren’t the prettiest of chocolates, but they are recognizable, and that’s really all I was hoping for.

chocolateDrWho

Every year Richard and I give each other something that is *supposedly* for the other person, but in reality is for the cats. This year my ‘cat’ present from Richard was this butterfly in a jar. It is battery operated, but the butterfly thingy inside flutters in a disturbingly realistic fashion, and once I turned it on and set it on the floor (because seriously, we live with highly caffeinated cats – there is no way a glass object meant for cats is going to be set ANYWHERE but on the floor) and Rupert, Ingrid, and Sherman were immediately fascinated with it. I am not entirely sure how it works (clearly it is MAGIC), but it doesn’t flutter all the time; just when you bump the jar. So all day we have been hearing the occasional random fluttering of the butterfly wings against the glass, indicating that yet another cat is watching it and trying to figure it out.

Meanwhile, Richard’s ‘cat’ present from me was this.

HeatedCatBed

It is a heated pet bed, with a *very* soft and squishy cushion in the middle. Nutmeg climbed directly into it, like I expected she would (she is a really huge fan of warm things) and spent pretty much the entire day in it. Occasionally she would emerge, blinking sleepily, and some other cat would try it out (I caught Azzie curling up in it as we left the house for dinner, and Rupert was checking it out later in the evening when we came home), but Nutmeg has pretty much had sole custody of the thing since it was plugged in.

There were many awesome and silly presents. I think, however, that the one that made us both bust out laughing hysterically, is the one that we got from my younger sister.

Anyone who knows us knows that if you come to the house, that you will be greeted by a distracted ‘okay…hold on, all right, it’s safe, hurry in quick!’ sort of phrase. And any time people are over and ready to leave, the exiting is accompanied by a chorus of ‘where is Sherman? Who’s got the cat?’ Because Sherman, unlike every other cat in the house, is *still* convinced that outside is a Thing for Cats (well frankly, he is convinced that EVERYTHING is a Thing for Cats), while we, meanwhile, prefer him to stay inside where it is safe.

Plus our old doormat was starting to get a bit ratty and I was already pondering the fact that we really ought to get a new one. So when we opened this, well, it is perfect. Seriously perfect. And yes, it is now placed prominently on the front porch, where I am sure it will confuse a whole lot of people who have not yet met Sherman, and make everyone else who has already met Sherman laugh.

Doormat

Anyway. It’s been a nice, quiet Christmas. We spent most of the day lounging around in our pajamas, nibbling homemade peanut brittle (courtesy of my younger sister) and coffee cake and cookies. I did a lot of knitting. We met some friends for sushi at our favorite sushi place and exchanged presents and talked and laughed and had a wonderful time. It has been a lovely day.

So I will leave you with this. After we opened all the presents this morning, we put down all the empty boxes and a bunch of packing paper and I dumped a small container of shredded paper in the middle of the whole thing. So the cats have been alternating between snoozing and tearing madly around making a giant mess all over the place. I know that eventually, this will be a pain in the neck to clean up and I am already finding bits of shredded paper in nearly every room in the house, but for a day or two, we can live with it. Because even cats deserve to have a happy Christmas too.

BestCatXmas

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Waterlogging

For the past three years Richard and I have gone on a cruise – what I refer to among friends and relations as ‘Nerd Boat’, and what is, in real life, called JoCo Cruise Crazy.

We have attended three in a row and we loved it – although admittedly the reasons we went on the cruise had nothing whatsoever to do with the destinations (frankly, neither of us is into sunbathing, or shopping, or hot, humid climates) and more to do with the sense of community; the gathering of our own kind; the amazing friends we made that we looked forward to seeing each time. Over the past three years, I have arranged music for a ragtag bunch of recorder players for the talent show; watched amazing performances from people like Peter Sagal, Grant Imahara, Randall Munroe, and on and on. I cheered on the Fancy Pants competition. I took part in a human zen drum (directed by none other than Jonathan Coulton himself). I knit (and we wore) the most awesome Tardis fezzes. I played new (to me) games and toured a Star Wars museum on a tropical island and built crazy, nonsensical things out of legos while sailing on a boat, and danced and laughed and hung out with people from every walk of life who all shared something in common; who all ‘got’ each other without having anyone think what we love; what we do is weird or strange or not normal.

We are not going on the 2015 cruise.It’s been somewhat of a struggle to make it work financially every year and there are huge projects we need to tackle on our house, and there are other ways we would like to spend our money. But oh, it is hard not to feel wistful when I see my fellow Seamonkeys getting more and more excited as the date comes closer, or to see the list of the featured performers and know that I’m not going to be able to see them, or to know that there are friends I have only seen while on Nerd Boat that I am not going to get to see this time around.

When I saw that Wired had an article all about the 2014 cruise, I was excited. I started reading it, and while at first I thought, hey, this guy actually gets it.’ Okay, so he got a few points wrong, but that’s fine, it was his first time, and it’s a huge, crazy, amazing experience and it’s perfectly understandable he wouldn’t have all the details straight. But by the end, I just ended up feeling sorry for him. Here he was in the middle of a giant crowd of people in which, for once, he wouldn’t have to pretend to be someone he wasn’t, and yet he kept on pretending. Here he was, getting angry that people tease him and judge him, and yet I got the sense that he was sitting there, judging everyone else; all those people like me who were embracing wholeheartedly their nerdery; their shared enthusiasm for being with everyone else and taking part in, for want of a better term, nerd camp at sea, and it just left me feeling unsettled.

There are other Seamonkeys who have written about this, but I think this one covers why this article troubled me the best. I wish for the author that he figures out how to get out of his own way. Maybe Nerd Boat isn’t going to be his thing. But he clearly has a lot of issues to work through and I hope that eventually he finds a place where he can feel at home, the way Nerd Boat feels for every one of us Seamonkeys, no matter if we are sailing on the boat in 2015, or simply sailing in spirit, wishing we were there.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Festively warm

Today is National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day (no, I don’t know who came up with this either, but it’s a thing, so let’s just go with it).

I do not own an ugly Christmas sweater. I am, in fact, not entirely sure I have ever owned one (no, friends and family, that is NOT a go-ahead to get me one). But a few months ago, I knit one.

I may or may not have mentioned that occasionally I do test knitting for various designers and yarn stores and companies. I usually can’t really say much about them beyond fairly generic ‘I am knitting on a thing’ comments, and it is rare that I get to share pictures of them with the general public.

But in honor of it being National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, I am going to share one of my most recent test knits. Yes, I made one of the sweaters for this collection.

The sweater itself is a basic crew neck. The pattern was then double-knit onto it, which was only difficult because my particular sweater was done in black and so the individual stitches were next to impossible to see. Each of the other sweaters in the collection has similar construction, although some have more complicated bits and pieces (the reindeer comes immediately to mind – those antlers crack me up).

And now I am pondering knitting myself my very own Ugly Christmas Sweater. I would wear that snowman one in a heartbeat, any day of winter, because I think it’s actually kind of adorable. And the elf one is really calling my name (although that one definitely has a more narrow window of use). I’m not sure if it’s because of the stripy sleeves, or the crazy i-cord legs and arms, but I’ve kind of fallen hard for it.

So maybe next year, on National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, I will have my very own sweater to model. In the meantime, though, you’ll just have to be content with a picture of a sweater I made, on someone else.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Soup weather

We are, according to the media, right smack dab in the middle of one of the worst winter storms to hit our area in a long time. Dire warnings have been popping up all over the news over the past few days, and I have received countless emails from various city departments and sites reminding me to avoid downed power lines, telling me where I might be able to purchase sand bags (yes, really), and imploring me to please stay off the road and avoid the deluge.

Alas, Stormageddon, as I have affectionately nicknamed this particular burst of weather, has so far been a big bust in my city. There’s been rain, yes, and wind, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and nothing at all like what we were expecting.  Although to be fair, it has wreaked havoc all over the San Francisco region, so I suppose there was reason for *some* people to have a teensy amount of panic. Just…not as much as the media would really, really like us to believe. Yes, I know.

Lack of actual storminess of the storm aside, it’s definitely been a cold and dreary day – the perfect day for soup. Potato Cheese Soup, to be exact.

This is not a complicated recipe. Really, it’s more of a rough guideline to making soup, suitable for tweaking to meet anyone’s specific palette.

You start with a bunch of potatoes. The number depends on how many people you’re trying to feed, and/or how much soup you want to have as leftovers (it reheats well, so we always, always aim for leftovers). Peel them and chop them into large chunks and toss them into a big pot. Then do the same with some carrots. Again, the number is up to you, although the dominant focus of this soup is the specific texture and flavor of the potato, so you don’t want your non-potato parts to overwhelm the potato parts.

Toss in one onion (peeled and cut into quarters). No matter how big a batch, I always use only one onion, although if  you’ve a mind to, feel free to use more.

At this point I usually stop, although now would be a good time to also throw in any other random root vegetables of the sort that are not going to overwhelm the soup. This is a perfect place to hide leftover sweet potatoes, or turnips, or rutabagas. You can also add celery, but I recommend chopping it up small, as no one wants to be pulling nasty celery strings from their teeth. I add it, or not, depending on whether there’s any in the fridge.

Add in some water – not enough to cover all the chopped up veggies, but enough so that they won’t burn. I usually start with 2 cups and then add more depending on how full my pot is. If you prefer broth, you can use that instead, but it’ll taste just fine with plain water if you’ve no broth at hand.

Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer about half an hour, or until everything is nice and soft.  Remove it from the heat, and then blend everything together until it’s silky smooth. If it’s too thick, feel free to add a little additional water to thin things out.

Now comes the fun part. Stir in some cheddar cheese. This is where, if you are a parent with picky children, you can get sneaky, and blame the orange color of the soup on the cheese and not on the carrots (since once it’s all blended up, you shouldn’t be able to taste the carrots anyway). Start with 2-4 ounces of cheese, but feel free to add as much or as little as you want. I suppose you could also have fun with different varieties of cheese, should you so desire. We are purists, however, and stick to the cheddar.

Stir the soup until the cheese is completely melted. Salt and pepper to taste. Scoop up a big bowl and eat it while curled up on the sofa under a blanket, listening to the rain outside.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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Sandy Claws is coming to town

So while we were pulling out all the Christmas stuff this weekend, I stumbled across something I’d picked up at last year’s after-Christmas sales – something that made me stop what I was doing and immediately go try to track down some unsuspecting cat in order to snap a picture for this year’s holiday recap letter (which we are actually going to remember to do this year, unlike last year when it never happened).

I got a lot of not-very-good shots, like these:

Sherman tries to hide in a box

Rosie refuses to pose

And one semi-decent shot like this:

Picture 15

which would have worked if we’d thought to defuzz the tree prior to pulling out the camera. Oops.

But then I finally managed to catch a cat who was just waking up, and too sleepy to do more than just glare at me, instead of immediately trying to remove the offending hat. And I also managed to capture the perfect shot. The fact that the gargoyle in the background also sort of looks like it’s trying to flip you off is icing on the cake.

So here. Sherman has a very special holiday message for all of you. Happy Catmas!

‘Tis the season for Holidailies!

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And next for our plucky party of adventurers

Ever since I saw that they were going to make a TV series out of The Librarian, I have been so excited. I cannot remember when exactly the first movie came out (oh, wait, that’s what IMDB is for – turns out the first one, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, came out in 2004), but I do remember watching it and absolutely loving it. Noah Wyle as a reluctant action hero! Bob Newhart in his very first (and only) fight scene! Jane Curtin as the always exasperated coordinator! It was awesome.

There were two more movies after that – Quest for Solomon’s Mines in 2006, and The Curse of the Judas Chalice in 2008. After that, however, there’s been nothing, and it looked like maybe that was going to be the end of Noah Wylie’s action hero franchise.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Oh, the first episode of the new series was fantastically cheesy, and the special effects were not always the best. But it had everything I hoped it would have: Noah Wylie being an action hero again! John Laroquette as a suitably crotchety replacement for Jane Curtin! Guest appearance by Bob Newhart! Oh, and a quartet of new characters and a plot right out of a D&D game.

In fact, the whole thing felt a lot like a brand new group of people all sitting down together to play their first D&D game. Here is a disparate cast of characters who are drawn together on the flimsiest of excuses, who all cheerfully jump on board with the crazy in a way that people in real life would never do, because that’s the only way that they’ll get to the fun part later on – which is exactly how any new D&D game starts. You roll up your characters, you all collectively decide on how your characters are to be brought together and then you take a bunch of perfect strangers, throw in some magic, and poof, you have a band of plucky adventurers, off to save the world.

Yes, I suppose I could step back and roll my eyes at the fact that the plot was rushed, and more than a bit disjointed; that I really wish they hadn’t thrown in the romantic subplot near the end; that sometimes the cheese made me cringe, ever so slightly. But right now I can’t bring myself to care about any of that. It was exactly what I expected, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies!

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