Still Life, With Cats

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Jennifer

That time of year

It’s getting colder out there, and there are huge piles of leaves lined up along the roads, with thousands more still falling from the trees, or strewn across lawns. It is the sort of weather where I am very glad I had the forethought to knit up a huge selection of afghans to snuggle under, and where I start to dream wistfully of hot tea,  and cocoa with a drop of peppermint stirred in, and oh yes, soup. It is soup weather out there, and tonight I finally did something about it.

We’ve been talking soup for a few weeks now, during trips to the farmers market, but the timing has never really been right. Nanowrimo is one of those things that just sort of sucks all your free time away, and November is a month where home cooking takes a back seat to cranking out words in a novel. But November is over now, and I am recovering (slowly) from being sick, and after the most recent trip to the year-round farmers market under the freeway, we had everything I needed to make soup.

Potato cheese soup is one of those comfort foods I remember from my childhood. There is something very soothing about dipping your spoon into a bowl of creamy potato soup and then slowly eating it, bite by bite. It is also remarkably easy to make, and has the bonus of being almost virtuous, for all of its creaminess. Basically you take four or five potatoes (white, brown, or red-skinned variety – steer clear of the purple, only because it will result in an extremely unappetizing looking dish, although I’m sure it would still taste just fine), peel them, cut them into quarters, and toss them into a big pot. Peel and chunk up a few carrots – 2 big ones, or a whole bunch of the little ones if you’re lucky enough to find them at your local farmers market. Peel and quarter an onion and toss that in as well, and then pour in about 3 or 4 cups of water. Then stick a lid on the pot, turn the heat onto medium, and walk away for about half an hour. This would be a good time to make some biscuits, by the way, since it’s nice to have some kind of bread to go along side, or alternatively, to go check Facebook and Twitter and then get startled when the timer goes off because seriously, it’s been 30 minutes already?

When the vegetables are all soft, puree the whole mess together until it’s perfectly smooth. You’ll notice that it’s got a lovely pale orange color, thanks to the carrots.  The next step is to stir in about half a cup of grated cheddar cheese, then stir the whole thing until the cheese has completely melted. Final step – salt and pepper to taste.

We had big bowls of this tonight for dinner, with homemade rolls slathered with homemade spiced apple pear butter.

Ah, I’ve really missed you, soup weather. You’re quite delicious.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



Re-up

Oh hello again, dusty, neglected blog. It’s December, which means it’s time for Holidailies, and that means daily posting here.

This year I am kicking off the month by being sick. What fun! Or not. It’s been nearly a week now and I am so heartily sick of sniffling and wheezing and occasionally going into a spasm of coughing so forceful that I am almost certain one of these days I am going to actually bring up a lung. This whatever-it-is has been going around, so at least it isn’t just me who occasionally doubles over in a fit of hacking, but that’s small comfort when one is trying to sleep. Or drive. Or work. Or okay, pretty much anything, actually, unless one really was intending to do a bout of coughing, which I pretty much never am. So right now I am just grimly holding on and hoping that this whatever-it-is gets the hell over itself and runs off to bother someone else for a change. Any volunteers? Yeah, didn’t think so.

I did Nanowrimo again this November, and made the 50,000 word goal, just barely (50,027), and only one day early. I was actually having a hard time really getting into the novel this year, so much so that my ‘novel’ actually isn’t really a novel, per se, but instead consists of roughly 3 separate beginnings, 4 prologues that may or may not have much to do with each other, and a whole lot of hastily scribbled ‘oh by the way – drastic plot change occurs here’ notes dropped into the margins. I suppose I ought to be upset about it, except that now that November is over, the chances of me ever actually doing anything with all those vaguely related snippets are just about as high as the chances of me suddenly getting a yen to quit my job and take up synchronized skydiving (which is to say, never). Too many other, more important, things to do (hey, those cats don’t just pet themselves, you know).

Anyway. Now it is December. I have a giant test knit that I’m going to be spending a lot of quality time working on. I have concerts to prepare for, and then perform. I have cookies to bake, and some Christmas presents that still need to be finished, and one of these days I really want to try making another hard cheese (now that it is cold enough for it to cure properly), and there is laundry that needs doing, and house cleaning to tackle since (after a month of being solely focused on Nanowrimo) we shall not even begin to discuss the state of the bottom half of the house (although the term ‘pigsty’ does come to mind), and oh, yeah, this whole daily blogging thing on top of it.

So there we go. Welcome to Holidailies. Let’s see what happens.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies



Old and new

We live in a neighborhood full of old houses (50 – 100 years old) and huge old trees that tower over everything. It is the sort of neighborhood where every house is different (no cookie-cutter development tract homes here) and every house has character and charm.

Someone recently bought a house on a nice big corner lot in the area, and tore it down. The yard was full of giant trees and they chopped those all down. Every. Single. One. They built a new house right next to the old house’s foundation, and put it up for sale. Eventually (from what we gathered today) there are plans to put up a second house directly next door, on the space where the old house once stood, basically splitting the old lot into two significantly smaller ones.

From the outside the new house looks okay. The style does fit the neighborhood, and even though they took out all the trees in the yard, there are still enough ‘city’ trees (the ones between the sidewalk and the street) to provide a good amount of shade. But the inside….wow. Just…no. Color me underwhelmed, with an emphasis on the ‘under’.

There was an open house today, and because I love peeking into other houses – especially in neighborhoods where every house is unique – we stopped to take a peek. This is not the first time we’ve done this and sometimes we wander around raising an eyebrow at the previous owner’s decorating choices, or wonder quietly to ourselves what someone was thinking with some particularly strange sort of add-on, but most of the time, the houses are cute, and full of character and charm, because that is what you get when you get old houses, and that is the thing I love the most about them.

But this house has very little charm. The cabinets and finishes all looked cheap, and the bedrooms were like tiny shoeboxes. It reminded me of something I’d see in one of those cookie cutter tract homes – not the model homes where they pull out all the stops with all the best finishes, but one where the buyers went with the lowest priced, lowest quality options throughout.

But what’s worse than the uninspiring interior (because some of it could be fixed if the buyer had the inclination is that there is no yard. Literally. They have paved pretty much every single bit of it. If the people who buy it have kids, there is literally NOWHERE for the kids to go outside and play (unless they want to romp around on concrete). Nowhere for the new owners to plant a vegetable garden. Just…concrete, and a tiny strip of landscaping that separates the new house from the street and it’s soon-to-be neighbor.

I look at our own house, which is roughly 100 years old and which (like any old house) will always have a huge project that needs doing. Our yard is a mess of lawn and raised beds and who knows how many desiccated drip hoses buried in the dirt. Our back deck has so much dryrot the stairs (it’s a 2nd story deck) have completely collapsed. The floor downstairs isn’t level, and don’t even get me started on the walls.  But I would take our house, any day, over the thing we just toured. Our house has character. It has charm. Heck, it has a yard (no matter how much of a mess it might be), and not just a bunch of ugly concrete.

We wandered the house beside another couple who’d also stopped by to check it out, and they were muttering the same thing under their breath as we were. Why? What were they thinking? Who would *do* this? For the price they’re asking, the house ought to be gorgeous. It ought to be the kind of place that impresses you the minute you walk in. But it’s not. And it makes me sad, to see a little piece of the beautiful neighborhood in which we live be transformed into *that*.



Goal, Set

I like setting goals for myself. I do not always meet them, but sometimes I manage to check all the boxes and do what I set out to do. Case in point – I have now done 2 of the 4 5K runs I promised myself I would do this year. The first was in January, and the second was in May (I didn’t manage to run the whole thing in January, but I *did* run the whole thing in May. Go me!). We’ve registered for the 3rd (in October), and I have an idea for the fourth (which, depending on my own ability, might actually be a 10k, but let’s not get too excited about that just yet), plus I’m looking out more long term and have agreed to run Bay to Breakers next May with a group. I am currently ignoring the fact that Bay to Breakers involves at least one nasty hill, and more importantly, that it is actually a 12K route, but I have plenty of time to panic about those pesky little details later.

GentlemansFancySocks

Richard decided he was going to embark on another Story-A-Week challenge, starting in July, I decided I needed to set myself a weekly goal as well. Spurred by the fact that my yarn stash is still a bit on the large side, I decided I would try to do finish one sock per week (or if not a sock, roughly the equivalent in stitches / yarn knit).

The first sock done was the second in a pair for Richard – these rainbow colored Gentleman’s Fancy Socks. The pattern comes from the book Vintage Socks, with my own modifications; I did not do as many calf decreases as called for in the pattern, and I used my regular slip stitch heel instead of the stockinette heel called for in the pattern.

Yarn is some form of Trekking XXL that’s been in the stash for a very long time.

 

InlaySocks

 

For week 2, I decided to cast on a pair for myself. Since we spent that weekend attending a local Science Fiction/Fantasy convention (Westercon), I knew I’d have a lot of available knitting time while sitting in panels, or relaxing in the lounge in between sessions. So I cast on for a pair that would be complex enough to keep them interesting, but not so complicated that I couldn’t knit them while still participating in discussions.

Turns out that I had more time to knit than I thought, plus even with all the twisting of stitches, these knit up a lot faster than I was expecting, so instead of finishing just one sock, I actually finished the pair. Bonus – this puts me one sock ahead, which I am sure will come in handy later in the year when I am super busy with work and life and do not have as much time to knit.

Pattern is Inlay. Yarn was from the stash (Opal, I think).

PeriParadox

After that I realized I had a lace knitting guild meeting coming up and I really needed a new lace pattern to cast on, so I decided that lace (or in fact any) projects that use up sock yarn work for this challenge.

I cast on shortly before heading off to the guild meeting, and had so much fun with it I kept on working on it pretty much every night and then suddenly it was done. Bonus – it used nearly 3 balls of sock yarn from the stash.

 

 

Having no more sock yarn on the needles, I promptly cast on for yet another. Alas, I only finished one of the two before month’s end – Gentleman’s Half Hose in Ringwood Pattern (also from Vintage Socks) in a vintage yarn (dark blue) from the stash (if by ‘vintage’, I mean ‘discontinued’, but why quibble over the details).

Grand total for the month – four socks knit, plus a bonus 3 balls of sock yarn removed from the stash for the shawl. Game on.



One year

2012-05-11 ShermanOne year ago today we went and picked up a tiny little scrap of grey fluff. He met all the cats and immediately decided that Rupert (the Highly Caffeinated Cat) was his Very Best Buddy in the whole world. And it didn’t take long for Rupert to figure out that here was a small minion he could take under his wing and mold into his own image.

 

2013-03-31 ShermanOnBlanketOver the past year Rupert has energetically taught Sherman all of his tricks (racing  around on the railing around the opening to the stairs, leaping to the top of the refrigerator cabinet, racing around on the ledges over the windows and doors, conducting the daily Great Race up and down the stairs and into and out of every single room at top speed and volume, dashing in between our feet when we’re walking – especially when going down the stairs, and, well, you get the drift).

 

2013-05-03 ShermanSleepingThere are days when we watch the two of them tearing around, leaving destruction in their wake, and wonder what the heck we were thinking. And then there are days when we realize that Rupert actually has someone who will *wear him out* (and for a cat whose full name is Goddammit Rupert Stop That, NO!, that’s saying something) and we agree that getting Rupert a Sherman was the best idea we could have ever come up with (even if that hadn’t been the intention in the first place).


In no particular order

Things I have learned:

Things I wished I hadn’t learned:

  • Science Diet  is awful and I will never attempt to feed it to a cat again. Ever.
  • Apples do not belong in chili. No matter how intriguing the recipe sounds.
  • There is no way in the world that eggplant will ever be made edible.
  • Slamming your foot into the corner of the dishwasher door really hurts.
  • Exercise-induced asthma is really, really, really annoying. And frustrating. And did I mention annoying?

Things I wish other people would learn:

  • There is no such thing as a ‘miracle’ food.
  • There is no one diet that will work for everyone.
  • There is no one exercise that will work for everyone.
  • None of the rest of us care what you had to eat, or more importantly, how many calories were in it.
  • The number on a scale is not, and has never been, the One True Definition of your health, despite what the media wants you to believe.
  • Just because someone enjoys different things from you doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with them.
  • Claiming that you are joking does not make it any less insulting. In fact it makes it worse.


Present future

An electronic version of the book we did for Richard’s birthday is now available for purchase through Amazon. Getting this thing edited and formatted and printed and published has been quite the learning experience for me – ISBN numbers, and what should or shouldn’t be on a title page, and the limited number of contributors one is allowed to have on any given publishing software / site, and how no matter how many times I check and double-check, and triple-check the text and the images, I will ALWAYS miss something and have to go through the whole process at least one or two times more, and on and on. But I at least managed to get the eBook version up and available, and I’ll fight more with how to get the print version available later this month. And even though the process has sometimes been extremely frustrating, it still really strikes me, how absolutely amazing it is that a bunch of people can write a book and stick it out on the interwebs for everyone else to read and other people can download it instantly and never in a million years would I have thought, lo those many years ago when I was a painfully awkward kid in junior high school, always scribbling stories in notebooks, that this sort of technology would exist.

There are so very many things in our lives that are evidence of how we live in the future – computers so tiny they can live in our pocket, yet so powerful we have a world’s worth of information always at our fingertips, for example. One of those ‘future’ things I admit I usually don’t give much thought is the International Space Station, which has been floating around up there above our planet, with continuous human occupation, for more than 12 years. It’s kind of amazing, if you think about it, which I suspect most of you don’t, because hey, like that amazing device you have in your pocket, it’s just….there. It was mind-blowing when it first went up, and if you think hard about it, it is still a little bit mind-blowing that it’s still up there and that people are living on it, year round, but most of the time it’s just not something that most of us dwell on at all anymore.

But there’s this one astronaut – Commander Chris Hadfield – who has been tweeting the most amazing pictures, from the ISS, of that funny little blue marble on which we all live (if you are on twitter you really ought to be following him – his handle is @Cmdr_Hadfield). He has a wonderful sense of humor (as evidenced by this series of tweets shared with actors from Star Trek), and as it turns out, is quite musically talented too. He and Ed Robertson (from the Barenaked Ladies, who happen to be one our favorite musical groups) collaborated on a song and then the two of them, plus a local college choir and the rest of the Barenaked Ladies, all sang it together – Commander Hadfield from space, and the rest of them from, well, not space. You can see / hear it here.

And over the past few months, looking at the pictures Commander Hadfield has been posting, and then this morning, watching that video, it just struck me, how amazing it is to live in the future. Maybe by the time my niece and nephews are my age, this sort of thing will all be old hat and people will be zipping up to the moon for quick jaunts and the idea of a musical collaboration between earth and space will be nothing more unusual than a bunch of friends getting together to write a book for someone they know, but right now, this moment, the future we are living in is pretty damn awesome.



More tortoise than hare

Saturday morning I completed my first 5K of the year.

My friend picked me up and we headed over to the starting line, which was right next to the Crocker Art Museum. We pinned our numbers to the back of our jackets and stood around anxiously checking the time, willing the minutes to speed by because it was *cold* standing out there. And then they gathered everyone together and gave us all a little pep talk, and we were off.

My friend left me behind pretty quickly, but I wasn’t surprised. I knew I wasn’t going to be very fast, so I tried to stay off to one side and let the faster people pass me by. I had really hoped to be able to run the whole thing straight, but I couldn’t keep up even the snail’s pace I’d started, so I did end up walking in some parts. Ironically, I suspect I actually went faster during the walking periods than I did during the running periods (I can walk pretty darn fast, and I was really pushing myself to keep up the pace no matter how I was doing it).

There was a big digital timer right by the finish line, and I crossed it just as the numbers flipped over to 47 minutes. I know there were plenty of people behind me the whole time, and plenty more I managed to pass as I trudged along, but it would have been nice to have been able to do what I wanted – to not have had to stop.

I came home and finally set up a playlist for the Zombies! Run! app on my phone (now that I have headphones again – wireless ones that Sherman (hopefully) cannot destroy), in preparation for more regular practice. And I started looking online, making plans, working out which one I should sign up for next.

Like I said above, this was just my first for the year. That means it can only get better from here.



Eggs. Stir. Mix. Bake.

For Richard’s 40th birthday, 5 years ago, I threw him a surprise party and made him a Cthulhu cake. For this most recent birthday, I decided to make an army of Daleks.

We used a recipe I found on the BBC website as a jumping off point (yes, I made Richard help me, but only because assembling these things took a lot longer than I’d been expecting). The day before the party I made 2 dozen cupcakes and one regular sheet cake. Then we peeled all the papers off the cupcakes and used an appropriately sized biscuit cutter to slide out 24 cylinders from the sheet cake, and I whipped up a batch of chocolate butter frosting and applied a crumb coat to all of the cupcakes and the cylinders, and then we stuck them in the fridge overnight to set. The day of the party I made a second batch of frosting and assembled all the bodies. Richard was in charge of applying peanut butter chips down the sides to mimic the side bolts of the Dalek body, and I assembled arms and eyestalks out of pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate.

dalekcupcakes

As should be painfully obvious from both the Cthulhu of five years ago, and the Dalek cupcakes of just a few days ago, no one will ever accuse me of being a cake decorator. But it was fun to put together something a little out of the box that fits into Richard’s nerdly sensibilities, plus pretty much everyone there recognized what they were right off the bat. Also they were tasty, which is really the most important qualification when it comes to cake.



The best gift I’ve ever given

In 2011, somewhere around November, I had this really fun idea. Richard is a writer, and he has a whole lot of friends who are also extremely talented writers. So I sent out an email to a bunch of his friends, just to see if anyone else might be interested in playing along. I wasn’t sure, at first – it was kind of a big commitment I was asking everyone to do, but the responses came back fast and furious. Yes, yes, oh please yes! Every single person I contacted was all in.

So during the month of December, 2011, we hashed out a schedule, and worked out all the details. And then January 1st, the first person got started, and when she was done, four weeks later, the first chapter of the collaborative book for Richard was complete. Over the course of the year, the book continued to take shape. Twelve amazing writers wrote chapters, in succession, each one picking up where the other left off.  A thirteenth wrote a wonderful forward. And another talented friend did the cover art. By November, the writing was done – a complete book by a whole group of his friends, written using the style and themes that Richard uses in his own work.

I am so incredibly grateful to all of the awesome people who agreed to do this. Every single one blew me away with what they did with the characters, the story, the whole thing, and I looked forward to every single chapter as it came in, eager to find out what had happened next. Truthfully, I had the easiest job in all of it, I know. All I had to do was maintain the schedule in Google docs, and send out halfway reminders during each person’s time period, and do some cursory editing as it was sent along. At the end, I (and one of the other writers involved) did a final round of editing and then I got it all uploaded and formatted for print via Lulu.com. And then I ordered fifteen copies – one for Richard, and one for every other person who was involved – and sat back and impatiently waited. I have never been so excited to see a box show up on our doorstep as I was when they arrived.

2012 December Return of the Kings

Back in November (of this year) I broached the idea of having a combination New Year’s Eve / birthday party. And as he sent out invitations, I was quietly making sure in the background that as many of those involved in the project (who lived locally) could be there, and working out a time at which we knew everyone would have arrived.  In the morning, I told Richard one of his presents wasn’t going to be coming until that night. And then an hour or two into the party, we gathered everyone together into one room and presented the gift.

Richard is lucky to have so many extremely talented friends. If we’d started even earlier, I suspect I could have had nearly twice as many chapters as we did (because there are so many other seriously talented people who I know would have been just as excited to be involved), but four weeks per person was pushing it as it was, considering they had to work this around jobs and family and other writing projects, and all the rest of the obstacles life puts in the way. I cannot begin to thank all of them enough for jumping in, head first, with such enthusiasm, over a year ago, and being willing to see this through.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.




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