Still Life, With Cats

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Up for air

This has been kind of a crazy sort of week, and I feel as if I’ve spent pretty much every day running from one thing to the next without getting much of a chance to catch my breath. Rehearsal has started back up again for Vox Musica, which means my Monday nights are now spent with music and singing in preparation for our upcoming trip to Chicago . I finally got notification that I was approved for a class I signed up for (work related), so that means that all my Tuesday nights for the next few months will now be spent sitting in a classroom, and my weekends will include heavy reading and doing homework. Wednesday night was dinner out with four of our friends, in order to take advantage of this year’s Dine Downtown, so that (plus an impromptu trip to the vet for Checkers because her eye still isn’t getting better) took care of Wednesday. Thursday night was knitting group, and Friday kicked off with me getting a flat tire on the freeway on the way to work, and ended with a frantic dash out to go shopping and run errands that neither of us had any time to do earlier in the week.

The flat tire on Friday means that today included a trip to the closest tire place, and the unexpected purchase of four brand new tires for my car. Ouch. Plus, the ‘maintenance required’ light, which pops up every 5000 miles to tell me it’s time to take the car in for a check-up, blinked on the minute I turned on the car to drive it away from the tire shop. Considering the fact that the car just recently passed the 100,000 mile mark, and the tire shop guy was muttering darkly about ‘possible oil leak’ and some kind of belt or something that could be cracked, I suspect we’re about to get another ‘ouch’ for the car real soon.

But in the middle of all this running hither and yon, there’ve been some bright spots. Dinner on Wednesday was a lot of fun, since we got to introduce some friends to other friends, and it was several hours of laughing and talking and delicious food and fun. And today included a baby shower, with even more laughing and talking and delicious food, plus the bonus of a few adorable babies to coo at and pass around.

Oh, and also, today just happens to be the 11th anniversary of my very first post to this little corner of the internet. So yay for that.

That whole resolution thing

I usually do not do resolutions. Or rather, occasionally I do them but I fail to write them down and then I end up forgetting what they were by mid-February.

Regardless, I’m going to give it another shot this year. Also, posting this here helps me meet the last goal on the list  (at least for this week), so yay for multitasking, or something.

Eat better – We’re doing fairly well at this right now, but it could definitely be better. We have this tendency to default to sandwiches more often than I would like to admit when it comes to dinner (the fact that the rolls are homemade doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things, alas), and we didn’t get to the farmers market nearly as often as I wanted to last year. So this year the goal is to do the bulk of our produce and meat shopping on Sunday mornings at the farmers market (thus encouraging that whole ‘eating local’ goal I’m trying to chase), and to minimize the number of times we just give up and call for pizza.

Finish the Level 1 Master Knitter program – the sad part about this one is that I actually signed up to do this back in 2008. I got all the information, bought myself some yarn, and then….nothing. I thought about it here and there, as in ‘gee, I should really work on that’, but the year passed and I did not even knit a single swatch. Massive Fail.

I’ve renewed my membership to TKGA and am waiting for them to email me the information. When it arrives, I’ll print it out and then get to work on it. My goal is to have this thing completed *before* December of 2011. We’ll see.

Knit 1 pair of socks per month – I have an embarrassingly large stash of sock yarn that needs to be dealt with. I’ve been, over the last year or so, working on knitting primarily from the stash, but the sock yarn drawer hasn’t really been touched. I’m not going to commit to any particular sock pattern – I’ve tried that whole ‘kit a month’ thing you do yourself and it failed miserably. All I care about is that by the end of the year, there are (at least) 12 fewer balls of yarn in the sock yarn drawer.

Blog weekly (at least) – Long time readers (if there are any of you still out there) likely have noticed that posts to my usual little corner of the internet have been few and far between over the past year or so. I am committing to posting at least once per week. I suspect that less time spent on Twitter and Facebook will help with this. We’ll see.

What we did on our winter break

When it comes to Christmas, Richard and I do not get each other gifts. Or rather, officially, we only do stockings for each other (you can stuff a lot of books and things from ThinkGeek into a stocking, in other words). And then we get a joint Christmas present, like tickets to go see Jonathan Coulton perform, or a really fancy dinner out. Or, in the case of this past Christmas, a whole pile of brand new office furniture.

When we moved into this house, we did not have computer desks (the desks in the old house had been built into the room, so they weren’t exactly the kind we could take with us). We found some extremely cheap desks on Craigslist and bought them, figuring they’d work for the short term.

This was my half of the office.

And this was Richard’s half of the office.

The cheap desks were too low and a bit wobbly and the keyboard shelf on mine had a tendency to fall off at random, spilling keyboard and mouse onto the floor and inducing panic in the cats (at the noise) and swearing from me (as I often had to crawl under the desk to retrieve the mouse trackball which would inevitably roll into the one area under the desk that was hardest to get to). The desks were only meant to be a temporary fix (those and a random assortment of bookshelves acquired over our college years from various garage sales, and a file cabinet whose gorgeous exterior hid the fact that the bottom of the drawers tend to fall off if you look at them cross-eyed), but what with the kitchen remodel ending up costing a bit more than expected (thanks to the need for the giant supporting beam in the attic) and the recent round of furloughs and paycuts, we’ve been dealing with them for a bit longer than we’d expected.

The furloughs and paycuts, however, had a silver lining. We learned how to live on a lot less, during the past twelve months, so that when we had our full pay restored, suddenly we were able to put a lot more into savings, and this year, Christmas brought a trip to Ikea.

We came home with seven very heavy boxes. Or rather, since Ikea has a delivery service, we came home with a receipt and the next day, a pair of extremely strong young men carted those seven very heavy boxes up the full flight of steps to our front door.

We started putting together the first desk on the morning of Christmas Eve, and then finished it up on Christmas Day. The first bookshelf followed, then the second desk and bookshelf (which went significantly faster than the first set, due to the fact that there was far less staring cross-eyed at the directions and a random assortment of hardware, muttering things like ‘wait, is it supposed to go like this, or like that?’). A new cabinet to hold all the routers and various electronic gizmos necessary for running network / cable / phone, a new file cabinet to live in the coat closet, a new window perch so the cats can still have a comfy place to watch the squirrels dash up and down the giant elm trees on the street, and today, we finally were done.

This is my side of the office.

And this is Richard’s side of the office.

Notice how the desks have doors, not only to hide the fact that neither of us is a particularly organized person, but also to keep cats out when we’re not there to supervise them. All the electronic gadgets are safely tucked away in that low cabinet along the wall, again out of reach of cats (some of whom were very good at turning off surge protectors). As an added bonus, all the new furniture is low enough to the ground that cat toys cannot be shoved underneath (and Ingrid was especially happy that when we moved out the old desks, we unearthed one of the little Cow toys she adores).

Fa la la

Because Vox Musica is going to Chicago in March, to perform at the National Choral Directors Association’s annual conference, we’re currently in major fund-raising mode. To that end, one of the things we’re doing during December is caroling. Basically, if you pay us, we’ll pull together a quartet and come sing lovely music in two-, three- or four-part harmony for you at your private party.

On the plus side, Christmas carols are far easier than most of the music we perform. On the down side, it was all new. So before any gig we’ve done so far, we’ve tried to make sure we had enough time to meet beforehand so we could work our way through a few songbooks to nail down a set list and make sure we were all confident in what we were doing, before we were off to perform.

We had our first gig last night, at a party up in Roseville. It was harder than I had expected to pull together a quartet, but only because since last weekend was our winter concert, everyone in the group postponed all their reasons for being out of town until this weekend. And when there’s only twelve in the group to begin with, that makes it that much harder.

Anyway. Managed to get three others who could juggle schedules to do it with me, so off we went, first to one of the singers’ houses to practice around her baby grand, then to perform at the house (where they gave us cheers and applause and also clementines and bars of dark chocolate). And that was last night.

Today I had two more caroling gigs to do – both much longer than last night’s. Four of us met up to go over music and scribble down a set list and figure out which songs we could definitely do and which songs we should definitely avoid, and then we all caravaned off to the first house to sing. They were loud and funny and sang along with us when we encouraged them to and we all had an incredibly fun time with the whole thing. Then once that was over, we all piled back into our cars and drove off to the next performance, which was at the Barnes & Noble at the Arden Fair mall. They put us back in the children’s section, where there was a little stage, and we worked our way through the songbook of the more complicated stuff, mainly just because we felt like it. One doesn’t really get a sit-down audience in a bookstore, but people would pause in their shopping to listen and smile, and every once in a while someone would come sit and watch for a bit. So that was fun too, in a calmer, quieter sort of way.

I am, at this point, done with the caroling gigs – there’s another next weekend but since there’s plenty others who can do it, I’m bowing out. As for back home, well, the only thing we managed to accomplish is to pull all the boxes of Christmas decorations down from the attic and stack them neatly in the guest room. And now I am hoping that maybe if we leave them there, at some point the elves will magically appear and decorate the house for us.

Yeah. Not holding my breath on that one.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I decided that if we had any hope at all of getting all our packages to where they need to be in time for Christmas, we needed to get them into the mail this weekend. So this morning we got up and after dashing off to get badly-needed haircuts (with a quick side trip through CostCo because I actually *ran out* of flour -a fate too horrendous to contemplate if one loves to bake, like I do – and they have been carrying some organic unbleached white flour I really like), we dragged out all the presents and then we sat down and had a massive present wrapping party I call it a ‘party’ because at least some of us were having fun with the entire process. And if by ‘some of us’, you think I might actually be referring to those of the furry, four-legged variety who think anything having to do with paper must be a Game For Cats, you would be right. For Richard and I, however, it was more an exercise in futility, trying to cut paper while simultaneously protecting the paper and scissors from curious paws. I am just going to pretend that the random claw holes are simply added decorations, and leave it at that.

We got everything all wrapped up and distributed into all the appropriate piles, and then we gathered up all the presents for my older sister and her family into a box and dashed back out to meet them. They were all in Sacramento because the oldest nephew had a baseball game in the area. So we figured we should try to take advantage of the situation and go see them. Plus it was also the perfect opportunity to swap presents, since this is an in-law Christmas this year (in that each year we rotate, so every other year my family gets together for the holidays, and the interim years we spent the holidays with our respective in-laws).

We got a chance to hang out a little bit with my sister and brother-in-law and watch the oldest nephew’s team play for a little bit, which was nice, but then we had to run off yet again, this time so as to make sure to make it to the Fed Ex store before they closed. Which we did. Phew.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


The first few days of this week I spent trying to get things dealt with before I left for my meeting in Yosemite (the land of very little cell phone reception) – things like coordinating meet-ups with my older sister and her family this weekend, or trying to get all of our domains switched over to one single domain registrar because they’re all coming up for renewal next month and we thought it might be nice to have them all in one (less expensive) place (my mind is still trying to wrap around the concept that I have owned for nearly 11 years, because that is really an impossibly long time in internet-years), and also trying to coordinate with some of the other singers for several caroling gigs this weekend.

It has been hectic and frustrating, and not made any easier due to the fact that everyone else seems to be just as rushed and harried these days, so there’s been a lot of phone and email tag being played on everyone’s part. It does not help that I also have a self-imposed knitting deadline for a project that I really, really want to have done by next Thursday, and I should be at least halfway done by now, and I am not, plus with the way things have been working for my schedule and for Richard’s, one of us has either been out of town or had something we had to do every single night of the week.

Thank goodness for online retail, at least. Even though we haven’t done a single thing to decorate or otherwise get into the holiday spirit, and I am truly not sure when we will have time to even *start* on that, at least all the gift shopping is complete.

‘Tis the season for Holidalies.

Shades of dark

After years of spending most of my time on the road, I am the queen of packing light. I can make an entire week’s worth of clothing fit into a carry-on bag and as for just one or two nights – heck, that can all be crammed into something the size of a large purse. Naturally it helps that I have absolutely no sense of fashion and can fit all my beauty product needs into a tiny bag the size of a bar of chocolate, but even with all that in mind, there was this tiny, niggling thought in the back of my brain yesterday that even with my mad packing skillz, my overnight bag seemed a bit on the light side.

This morning is when I discovered that the reason my bag seemed even lighter than usual is that I forgot to pack pants. Oops. Luckily I wore dark jeans yesterday and they were still clean (despite the puddle incident), so I was covered. Also luckily, the top I wore was black, so when I then spilled coffee on myself at breakfast, it didn’t show. I am nothing if not the epitome of grace and coordination, in case that wasn’t obvious.

It was cold and gray and drizzly outside all day today, with mist still clinging to the tops of the trees, but the meeting room was warm and luckily those wearing jeans were in the majority so my lack of proper business attire went completely unnoticed. And also, having taken care of my coffee-spilling requirement early on, I successfully avoided any more small catastrophes the rest of the day. All in all, a double-win.

Because half the group had their annual work holiday party during the lunch hour, we took an extra long break in the middle of the day, and while they all went off to their party, my coworkers and I took the opportunity to drive up to the Ahwahnee. I didn’t have my camera with me, since the little flap that covers the battery slot is currently missing (and I am sure none of the cats have *any* idea where it might have run off to. None at all), but I did have my phone, and it has a pretty decent camera built in. So I snapped a few shots, just to document the fact that yes, it’s cold and misty down here. And also there is snow.

Yosemite Falls, as seen through the mist. There’s snow and ice piled on some of the rocks near the water, and even from as far away as I took this shot, the water was crashing down hard enough to spray us.

I know, perhaps I ought to have taken a picture of the actual Ahwahnee itself, since it’s a huge and impressive lodge and the interior was gorgeous, but…look! Snow!

I and another coworker had made reservations for tonight, just in case the meeting ran late, or the weather was foul, but timing and the weather all worked out in our favor, so instead we checked out and drove home tonight. And as we traveled, we were both struck by something.

In the park, there is very little lighting allowed. This has the benefit of (at least when it’s not foggy, that is) offering some absolutely stunning views of the stars in the sky. And the first hour or so of driving out of the valley that deep, heavy blackness remained, such that the headlights from the car are literally the only illumination and you could not see more than a few feet beyond the edge of the road.

But then we crested over a hill and far off in the distance I could see a glow, lighting up the entire sky. A bit more driving and there we were, back in the heart of civilization, with neon signs everywhere you look, casting enough light so that despite how late it was, we could still easily see far off in the distance. I’d never really noticed how drastic a difference it was before, and it was a bit disconcerting to realize how easily most of us get used to the distinct lack of a true night sky.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I am writing this from a hotel room in Yosemite. It’s a cozy little room, with a little patio right outside where I could sit, assuming it was about 40 degrees warmer and not raining and soggy out, but for a cold and wintery sort of night like this, it’s also just as cozy for curling into bed with lots of pillows and my little netbook and cranking the heat up high.

My coworker and his wife and I drove down this afternoon – a three hour trip involving lots of windy hills and enough change in elevation to kick off all sorts of lovely sinus pressure pain. It was mostly clear out until we started to descend into the valley, at which point the fog crept in and we drove along roads so dark that all you could see were piles of snow directly to either side of the road, the faint outlines of trees, and every once in a while, the pale ghost of a deer poised warily on the side of the road. By the time we arrived it was incredibly dark and the fog made it that much harder to see, which is why I promptly stepped into an icy puddle about two minutes after we got out of the car. Good thing I remembered to pack extra socks.

It’s cold and damp outside, but I am okay with that. Tomorrow will be an all-day meeting, so as usual there will be very little time (if any) to do any sight-seeing, but walking back from dinner to our rooms, we could hear the sound of the falls, even though it was too dark to see them, and this is likely to be my only chance to see snow this winter, even if it will only be a few short glimpses here and there.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies


Do you know what is more fun than a cat coming down with something that requires a vet visit and medication? A cat coming down with something that requires a vet visit and medication, shortly before you are going to be out of town. And do you know what is even more fun than that? If the cat needing medication is the cat that won’t let anyone but me touch her. Sigh.

The cat in question for this little bit of excitement is Checkers, the extremely opinionated little tortie who lives downstairs in the master suite and who refuses to step one dainty paw outside the bedroom door (her choice entirely – the door is always open but, well, let’s just say that she has Issues and leave it at that). It started with just some sniffling and sneezing, but since she’s the sort of delicate creature that comes down with at least one cold per year, I know to just keep an eye on it because most of the time it just goes away on its own. Except this time, I noticed that her left eye was starting to look puffy and inflamed, and despite crossing all my fingers and toes and leaving it alone for a day or two, it wasn’t getting better. In fact, it was getting worse.

So this afternoon I left work early, dashed home, had an exciting few moments of chasing a furious cat all over the bedroom, was reminded yet again why it is that I am eternally grateful we do not have carpet (as she promptly peed all over the floor to express her extreme displeasure at this entire situation), stuffed the indignant cat into a carrier, cleaned up the floor, and set off to the vet.

The verdict – an eye infection of some kind. Luckily it doesn’t appear that she scratched anything, so it’s just a ‘simple’ matter of pinning her down and putting drops into her eyes twice a day. The vet indicated I needed to do it for 10 days, but knowing Checkers I will be lucky to get a full week in before she makes it impossible. I am just hoping it’s enough, because while I can dose her tomorrow morning, I’m headed out of town for another short work trip, and she’ll miss several doses until I return.

The one silver lining to all of this is that, while clipping her claws at home involves the two of us locked into a bathroom, a lot of screaming (on her part), swearing (on my part) and bleeding (also on my part), when at the vet, sheer fear turns her completely docile, and I was able to take advantage of the situation and hack off all her lethal weapons. Medicating her over the next week or so is going to be all kinds of fun (ha ha!), but at least now I have a fighting chance of coming out of this only minimal damage and loss of blood.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies


Well. NaBloPomo went well, hmm? Or…not. On to Holidailies, then. We’ll see if this goes any better.

Every year I try to make pomegranate jelly. Pomegranates are usually insanely expensive in the stores, which is especially galling considering how well they grow around here, so I usually try to find someone with a tree who wants to get rid of them (it always surprises me how many people have pomegranate trees but don’t like pomegranates). For the last few years, I’ve gotten pomegranates from a friend of my mom’s. She passes along a bag of fruit, and I pass back a few jars of jelly in payment once I’m done processing them. She gets rid of her pomegranates; I get to make jelly, and we’re all happy.

This year Richard and I went out to their house to pick them ourselves, since the trees had gotten a bit huge. We were a bit unprepared for the sheer scope of what we were dealing with. In the past we’ve been given a paper sack or two, with enough pomegranates for just a few batches of jelly. This time, however, we were faced with two huge trees, loaded with pomegranates – some of them of massive size. And they really wanted us to take them all.

This is what we came home with:

That is 107 pomegranates. Do you have any idea how long it takes to shuck 107 pomegranates?

So far I have made 3 batches of pomegranate jelly, 1 batch of pomegranate syrup, and 1 batch of grenadine. I had no idea grenadine was made from pomegranates, but then I am not a drinker, and before this past month I had never actually had a Shirley Temple.

There are still about 1 1/2 dozen pomegranates sitting on my kitchen island, waiting to be shucked, but I am so heartily sick of shucking pomegranates that I admit sometimes I try to pretend I just do not see them. Maybe if I leave them there long enough the magical elves will come along and shuck them for me. Or maybe I’ll just get tired of Rupert and Ingrid flinging the smaller ones onto the floor and finally deal with them myself.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies