Still Life, With Cats

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Every year for a while now, Richard and I spend a bit of time in October looking for some fun new advent calendar (one for him and one for me). In years past we’ve had one that was all caramel, one that was all coffee, one memorable one that was all cheese, and even one that was all jigsaw puzzles. This year, however, we decided to go for a theme – escape rooms.

The one on the right has been a huge disappointment – it’s all pencil type drawings with minimal instructions that only serve to confuse instead of assist, so after the first couple days we have given up on that, but the one on the left has been absolutely fantastic.

The premise: you’re an elf in Santa’s workshop. A huge storm and earthquake has caused a lockdown of the entire premises, and you have to move from room to room, opening a new door each day. Each day you have a puzzle you have to solve, that will tell you where the next door is in the calendar (they are labeled with codes, not numbers). The fun bit is that the ‘rooms’ themselves, despite being only about 2 inches square, are extremely detailed (see below as an example – there’s details on all sides, plus ceiling and floor, behind each little door you open), and sometimes the puzzles are interactive (for the room displayed below, we had to ‘sew’ a button – don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler as that’s part of the initial instructions for the room).

Admittedly, we had to use a hint for the first two days, as we figured out just how the whole system works (also I am blaming this just a little on COVID brain, because after avoiding it for the past three years, guess what we both came down with at the end of November, sigh) but this morning we got it with no hints at all, phew, so I think we’ve finally gotten the hang of it.

It makes each morning that much more fun, opening a new door and checking out what’s hiding behind. I think this advent calendar might actually be my favorite one yet.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I love our house in Sacramento a lot, but one thing I really miss about the old house in Dixon, every year around this time, is that the roof was configured so that Richard could climb out above the porch and put up Christmas lights. We didn’t bother putting lights around the entire house, but at least around the front porch we could be festive.

This house, however, has a much steeper pitched roof around the edges, and as both of us are very much not a fan of heights, this means any roof lights just haven’t happened since we moved (15 years ago).

This year, however, I wanted to do *something*, because sometimes it’s a bit sad being the only house on the block without any holiday decor. So this afternoon we dug up some old lighted garlands and wrapped them around the railing and posts of the front porch.

In the grand scheme of things, I know just a couple sparkly garlands isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.

Now we just need to get some lights up inside the house (since the Christmas cat tree doesn’t have any) and it’ll feel a little more like Christmas.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Oh hi again

Woohoo, it’s December, which means it’s time for Holidailies again! This is the 24th year, and we’re still running it, and every year I’m so happy to see all the familiar faces (plus some new ones) logging back in to their somewhat dusty spaces on the internet to update us on their lives.

Not a whole lot has changed around here since last year. We’re still fostering kittens, I’m still singing with the vocal ensemble, we’re still both working from home, and I’m still doing a lot knitting and baking.

So speaking of cats and kittens, for the past 12 or so years we’ve put up a tree but not bothered to do much in the way of decorating, because ever since we got Rupert and Ingrid, we’ve had cats in the tree and there was just no point in putting anything on it since they were going to climb up and whap it off anyway. We have joked that our tree has been self-decorating, and last year we even leaned into it and basically decorated the entire tree with sparkle ball toys, which the cats then industriously knocked onto the floor and scattered all over the house throughout the month of December. It was highly entertaining for everyone involved.

This year, however, we are trying something different. This all stemmed from me stumbling across this a while back, and on a whim, I posted to Facebook ‘Who do I know who can build this for me?’

Fast forward a couple months and a string of emails with an awesome guy who does woodworking as a hobby and was happy to take on the challenge for a little cash, and here is our new Christmas tree.

It’s multiple wood pieces that can be disassembled for storage. There’s holes in the outer edges of all but the bottom tier, so we can hang ornaments (or in this case, jingle bell cat toys), and there are pieces of carpet scratching material on the main sections of each tier so the cats have something to grab onto when they’re jumping up. Plus we still have a ginormous bag of sparkle balls from last year so I spread out a dozen or so among the shelves.

The cats weren’t too sure at first, because it was different and new, but after a couple days, now we occasionally hear bells jingling and see paws coming up to whap at the toys, or hear someone thunk onto a level in order to steal yet another sparkle ball from the ‘branches’.

We’ve still got our fake tree, so maybe some year we’ll go back to that, but since it’s basically been a seasonable climbing structure for over a decade anyway, now we’ve made it official. Plus it makes the house feel a little more festive, without shedding little plastic needles everywhere, and it’s entertaining the cats, so I call it a win.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Tonight for dinner I made Lemony Shrimp with Snow Peas and Pasta. I started with frozen shrimp because I am always more than happy to let someone else be responsible for cleaning them, and we used penne pasta since that is what we had, plus we left out the grape tomatoes because they are Not Food.

First you get the pasta started. Then you sauté the snow peas in just a little bit of oil. Once those are heated, they get put into a bowl on the side, and then you cook the shrimp with some garlic, salt, and pepper. And while the shrimp are cooking you mix up the dressing, which is just lemon juice and zest, a bit of the water the pasta was cooked in, olive oil, and some seasonings. Finally, everything gets combined into one pan (I added just a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce a bit) to stir around until the sauce coats everything.

Verdict – two enthusiastic thumbs up from both of us. Everything is bright and flavorful, with just enough lemon flavor to make it pop, without being too tart or acidic. I could see swapping out the snow peas for other veggies, like perhaps some broccoli. This would also work just as well served over a side of rice or orzo instead of stirred into pasta. This is one I’d happy make, and eat, again.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 9 mandarin orange, 17 tangelos, 14 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Flavor, and the lack thereof

This morning for breakfast I made Lemon Poppy Seed Scones.

I’ve made scones oodles of time in the past, but I believe this is the first time I’ve ever put poppy seeds in them. Otherwise, they came together pretty much the same way as all the other scone recipes I’ve tried – you mix your butter into your dry ingredients (you could do this with your fingers, or a food processor), then stir in the wet ingredients only until just mixed, then form into a circle, cut into 8 pieces, separate slightly, and bake. Then you make a glaze (lemon juice plus powdered sugar) and drizzle that over the tops once they’re cooled.

My scones always look a bit slumped – I suspect I should chill the formed dough prior to baking it, except that I am usually in a hurry and don’t have time for that.

Anyway. I was rather disappointed by this recipe. The scones themselves have almost no flavor; the only flavor (such as it was) comes from the lemon glaze, which although lovely, is just not enough to make eating a tasteless breakfast pastry worth it.

Citrus used: 1 lemon

Total citrus used so far: 1 mandarin orange, 10 tangelos, 6 lemons

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

All that glitters

Yesterday we had folks out demolishing concrete and digging big holes in the yard in order to replace our sewer line. This is one of those things that has been on our list to take care for quite a while, so….Merry Christmas to us (we decided it was our joint present, because Adulting), so while listening to the occasional jackhammering, and not being able to flush anything down the drain for a few hours was minorly annoying, it was worth it to finally get it done.

They came back this afternoon to fill in the holes, and at some point later this week they’ll come back again to replace the cement that they had to dig up, but hooray, at least it’s done.

In less expensive news, the Christmas ornaments for this year’s tree theme finally arrived, so this evening we took roughly 90 seconds to decorate.

Doesn’t that look festive and lovely?

I know you’re wondering what they are. Here’s a closer look – can you guess?

So it turns out you can get a bag of 50 sparkle ball cat toys for less than $10 if you poke around long enough on the internet, and the beauty of using sparkle balls is that they require no hooks for hanging – you can just tuck them into the branches, and when they are (cough) ‘liberated’, you can just gather them up and replace them as you walk by.

It took Guffaw a few minutes to figure out what was going on, but once he realized what they were he was extremely excited, and over the course of the evening he plucked three from the tree and then chased them all over the house until he wore themselves out.

I think this year’s decorating scheme can be considered a qualified success.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Filling the space

Tonight was the final concert in the back-to-back three-in-a-row performances we’ve been doing for the season. The first was Saturday night, at our ‘home’ space (where we’ve been rehearsing), while yesterday’s was down in Oakland, so most of us headed down early to meet for lunch at rather tasty little Brazilian restaurant near the venue. Tonight was back in Sacramento.

This concert has been one of my favorites we’ve sung since I’ve been in the group (16+ years). The music was absolutely gorgeous; this particular group of singers blends together better than I think we ever have, and then you throw in a gifted organist, a stunning soprano soloist, and an absolutely amazing celloist, and it was just magical.

It’s a little bittersweet to be done, but also a bit of a relief. I feel like this month I have been running at full speed, and now I can see the end in sight – only a few more days of work before I get some much-needed time off, and can actually relax.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Properly clad

Our concert attire for the group in which I sing is all black, including black shoes. I bought my last pair an unknown number of years ago and they’ve been doing fine, although in the past few years, they’ve been starting to look a bit ragged, and they weren’t the most supportive things to be wearing when standing for long periods of time. But as performances are just about the only time I need dress shoes these days, I figured it wasn’t a huge deal to just keep using them, since it’s not like anyone was really ever staring at our feet.

But yesterday, after the performance for the TV snippet, the sole on my right shoe came off completely, and I knew it was time to finally replace them. Problem was, however, that I looked at the calendar and realized that with working full time, there was basically going to be no time at all to try to do any sort of shoe shopping between now and next weekend, which is when our string of back-to-back concerts takes place, and the thought of shopping for *anything* in person at this point in December filled me with dread.

Thankfully, however, there is Amazon. I know, I know, they are extremely problematic as a company, but when you are in a panic and need something right away, they are who you have to turn to, especially when the shoes arrive less than 24 hours after ordering, and even better, returning them is super easy if they didn’t fit.

So now I have a comfortable pair of new black shoes, suitable for concert attire as well as any sort of dressing up that I might have to do in the future, and I did not have to actually enter a store or deal with actual people in order to acquire them, and sometimes, living in the future really has its perks.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

Down time

We had grand plans for today. It being one of the only days in December where neither of us had anything planned, we were going to check off a whole bunch of things on our list – putting up the tree, figuring out the Christmas Card photo, doing some much needed chores around the house.

But after yesterday’s white-knuckled drive in the pouring rain, we were both exhausted. So instead we didn’t do much. Well, except for transporting foster kittens to the center for vaccines and deworming and lime dips (hooray for mystery skin crusties!), and also I baked some cookies while on video chat with my sisters. Or rather, I made cookie dough while on video chat, but all the doughs needed to chill, so I only ended up baking one type – molasses crinkles – which I overbaked anyway. Sigh.

On a bright note, however, I did get to have a vocal coaching session. Our director got permission for all of us to have a half hour with an absolutely fantastic vocal instructor, and I scheduled mine for this afternoon. And for the first time, I actually now understand some of what various choir directors over the years have said about breathing – because when I mentioned that my music background was instrumental instead of vocal – including the oboe, his eyes brightened and he immediately explained it in those terms, and not only did it make sense, I was then able to immediately put it into practice for him. Who knew my ancient history with a double reed would be the key?

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Today’s mini puzzle is a small child sleeping on a couch while two dogs play tug of war with some ribbon.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Today was the in-law Thanksgiving dinner, so I made some potato rolls (which didn’t turn out nearly as well as the last few times I’ve made them, ah well), and dropped off the incontinent diaper-clad foster kitten at the center for 24 hours of diaper-free time, and then we headed down to the Bay Area for another round of turkey and all the trimmings.

The dinner gathering was nice – we got to meet the newest nephew, and it’s always lovely to get to hang out with family members we don’t see very often. But getting there and back was….well…

At this point I should note that we here in the Northern California are smack in the middle of a rather nasty rainstorm. I know the folks getting slammed with snow and losing power might be scoffing right now, but considering our forever-drought status for the past couple years, a heavy rainstorm is actually kind of dangerous.

Naturally, the best thing to do in a heavy rainstorm, after long periods of no rain when the freeways are super slick and people have forgotten how to drive in it, of course, is to do a five-hour round trip on said freeways, with half of it being in the dark.

It wasn’t too bad on the way down – people seemed in general to be paying attention and driving slower due to the condition of the roads and the lowered visibility. But on the way home, I lost count of the number of accidents we passed, including one with the car literally hanging off the center divider of the freeway.

We made it home, safe and sound obviously, or I wouldn’t be typing this, but ugh. Welcome to winter.

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Today’s mini puzzle looks like part of the roof of the building, with the moon in the background, and a raindeer silhouette.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.