Still Life, With Cats

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The return of the self-decorating tree

We finally put up the tree. We’d actually been dithering about whether we wanted to do any sort of decorating at all since Thanksgiving, considering the state of the world (waves hand vaguely), and also the number of excitable foster kittens still in residence, but then we came up with An Idea (which I will talk about tomorrow), and so tonight the tree went up.

Foster kitten Chantilly and resident cat Guffaw took on the roll of Tree Inspection Brigade as we attempted to unpack the pieces.

Once completed, foster kitten Pickle joined the Inspection Brigade to make sure that the tree was assembled correctly.

And then we sat back and waited. Want to take a guess who was first up the tree?

Nope, it wasn’t who you think.

Yes, that would be Timmie, the largest cat in the house, who launched herself halfway up the tree. There are many reasons why we are glad we switched to a fake tree lo, those many years ago, but one very important reason is that they are extremely sturdy.

Don’t worry, though. Guffaw made *quite* sure to live up to our #GreyOnesAreTrouble lifestyle.

And thus, the self-decorating tree continues for another year.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Winter weekend

It’s been a very cold, and occasionally damp weekend. So except for a couple outings (another cookie exchange with friends, and taking a sickly foster kitten in for a check), I have stayed inside where it is warm and cozy and dry.

The cookie exchange assortment. There were a lot of cookies!

Also I made a few things

Apple pancakes with boiled cider sauce, because when one makes boiled cider and also purchased an entire case of apples, one needs to then find ways of using those ingredients up. I shred the apples instead of chopping them because I find that makes them more likely to cook all the way through in this sort of application. They turned out super delicious and we’ll be eating these for breakfast for the next couple days.

Lemon Soup. We add sliced carrots to ours, but otherwise follow the recipe as written. Paired with homemade biscuits, it is the perfect comfort lunch for a cold day.

This awesome jigsaw puzzle. It’s ‘The Winter Fair’ by Jan Van Haastaren, and someone on my local Buy Nothing group was giving it away. Since these are my absolute favorite types of puzzles, I threw my name into the hat, and I won. I managed to assemble this in one evening, despite the ‘assistance’ of several excitable foster kittens.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


These past eighteen months have been just so weird. I’m a hermit by default, and was already working fulltime from home, so the lockdown didn’t impact a lot in that regard, but even with that I did *occasionally* leave the house – to go to rehearsal, for example, or to some random meeting place for my knitting group.

Things have improved a little – instead of rehearsing online, we’ve been rehearsing in person (and had our first actual real, live, in person concert this past weekend – which will be available for streaming next weekend if you’re interested in something more than the same old boring holiday carols for your seasonal music), and my knitting group has been able to gather once or twice. But it still feels a little strange to consider planning any sort of gathering.

That being said, as we’re all vaccinated and boosted, and masking up everywhere and being smart, the knitting group decided we would give our annual cookie exchange a try again, in person (Last year we did the exchange but met outside just to hand over little bags of cookies while staying the requisite six feet apart).

It was a small group of us, but it was lovely. We all nibbled cookies and drank mulled cider and hot chocolate and (decaf) coffee, and snuggled kittens and even broke out the knitting (which is harder to do while simultaneously snuggling kittens, but everyone made it work).

It is late now, and I should be going to bed, but the house smells delicious and there are still kittens to snuggle, and hopefully by this time next year it won’t feel so strange to think about gathering together in person again.

Baking Sisters – the 2021 Cookie Edition

Yes, yes, I know that we’re all done now with the Great British Baking Show for another year, but there’s just one more baking-related catch-up I need to do. At least this one is more recent, as in from this past weekend.

Each year since we’ve been doing our monthly Baking Sisters video bakes, my sister and I pick some sort of general theme. But then we hit December and we’ve already got a lot of holiday-related baking to do, so December usually is just cookies – whatever kind we feel like making. This past Saturday we baked our cookies together over video chat, and had a lot of fun.

This apparently being the year of ignoring traditions, I asked Richard if there were any cookies he absolutely had to have at Christmas, and he and I agreed that it might be nice to have something ginger-flavored but otherwise no. So since I’ve got two cookie exchanges going on this year instead of the usual one, I decided I’d take this opportunity to try out a bunch of new recipes, to see if any of them might work.

Conveniently, King Arthur Baking Company recently posted a list of 14 new recipes, some of which sounded super interesting, so I picked four:

I made the chocolate molasses dough first, since that had to chill for a couple hours, and then moved on to the alfajores, which only had to chill for one hour. Next I mixed up the rye ginger dough and got those into the oven, and then moved on to the lemon shortbread…except that the recipe calls for masa harina, which I don’t have and didn’t want to have to go buy (there’s only so much room in the freezer for flours that don’t get used very often), so instead I did some quick Googling and found these Whipped Lemon Shortbread cookies and decided to try those instead.

After the rye and the lemon cookies were cooling, then I made the chocolate molasses thumbprints, filling them with a molasses and chocolate ganache after they were cooled. And finally, I rolled out the alfajores, and once they were cooled, sandwiched a couple with some of the dulce de leche I made earlier that morning.

So how did they all turn out, you ask?

Well, as tasty as chocolate and molasses might *sound*, I did not actually like those at *all*. Nor was I a fan of the Rye Ginger – there was something very off-putting about the texture of the rye in those cookies. As for the Whipped Lemon Shortbread, something was wrong with that recipe because they literally crumbled into pieces when I tried to remove them from the pan. Delicious pieces, mind you, but somehow I doubt anyone in either cookie exchange would be happy to get a bag of crumbs, no matter how tasty they might be.

The alfajores, however, were a success. The cookie is thin and has a delicate flavor of spice (interestingly the coffee didn’t come through much at all) and the dulce de leche added just the right amount of creamy texture and sweetness.

As for the rest, well luckily Richard liked them, so they’re all his.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Two for one

I had a plan for yesterday’s orange thing, except that yesterday morning we got a call that our new-to-is car had arrived. We scheduled a time after dinner to drive out the CarMax in Roseville to pick it up, and figured since everything had already been taken care of, it would be a quick trip – plenty of time to make orange things once we got home. Ha. NOT.

On the plus side, buying a car online means significantly less time spent getting the hard sell for all the extra stuff they want you to pay for. On the negative side, we were still stuck there for several hours, because they took it off to be detailed and that took soooo long. So by the time we got home it was super late and I just didn’t feel like trying to tackle anything in the kitchen.

But at least now we have a car – a 2017 sea foam green Prius. I drove it home and it felt just right – everything where I expected it to be (unlike the rental), with a couple huge improvements over my old recently squashed 2004 Prius – backup camera! Automatic bluetooth synching with my phone! Heated seats!

Anyway, today I made up for missing yesterday by making two orange things. The first was this scrumptious Orange Walnut Bread, which I didn’t photograph because I got distracted by work and kittens, and ah well, just take my word for it, it’s super tasty and if you happen to have some oranges floating around in your fridge that need using up, you should whip up a loaf of this right away.

The second was the thing I intended to make yesterday – Orange Sesame Brittle. The concept sounded very intriguing – who doesn’t love a good brittle, after all. You toast the sesame seeds and zest an orange, then you make a caramel, and then you stir the seeds and zest into the caramel with some butter, and finally you pour it onto a pan and let it cool.

It certainly *looks* pretty.

But once it was cooled and we broke off a piece to taste, we both looked at each other and shrugged. It’s just….eh. It needs *something* – maybe some salt, or some additional flavoring? No idea, nor am I motivated to try to figure out what was missing. Ah well, not every recipe we try can be a winner. And at least the bread was a smashing success – yum!

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

It’s the little things

Things that make me happy today.

This arrived, yay!

My sister got hers too. So between now and Saturday I’ve got a cake to bake and some rice krispie treats to form into specific shapes, in preparation for the main, live, virtual decorating event, but at least now I don’t have to worry that this box (like some others) somehow got lost in the mail).

I get to cuddle with these for nearly one more week.

Of these four kittens, I bottle fed the front three, and the one 3rd from the front is a kitten I have raised since he was only 1 day old, making him my youngest bottle baby ever. So it’s going to be especially bittersweet to send him off to the adoption center next weekend, but it’s okay because this is why I do what I do (fostering).

And the very best thing of all today – news that the Electoral College confirmed (yet again) the Biden-Harris win for 2020. I admit I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for the despicable orange shitgibbon to screw that up somehow, but he couldn’t. I’m not sure how many times this means the Biden-Harris ticket has won (and more importantly, that Trump has lost), but every time it happens again I feel a sense of giddy relief. January 20th can’t come soon enough. I expect I speak for the vast majority of the entire planet when I say that.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Unintentional hot rod

Yesterday afternoon I headed out to my car, got in, started the motor, pulled out from the curb, and then stopped because holy moly it sounded like I was trying to rev up a jet engine, and since this is a (very, very old) Prius, something was very wrong.

Several neighbors popped their heads out of their doors, drawn by the unexpected noise, and a few nodded their heads.

“You’ve had your catalytic converter stolen” my next door neighbor said, as he got down on his hands and knees and peered underneath my car to verify.

So I reversed my jet engine back to the curb, and then went back inside and started the process of setting up an insurance claim and filing a police report.

Turns out, catalytic converter theft is a big problem right now, especially for older model Priuses and Hondas (I had no idea!). The police officers who came to take my report last night said it’s usually a two-person team – one jacks up the car just enough so the other can slip underneath and saw it off – and the process takes only a couple minutes.

Thankfully, since Richard’s currently working from home, I can use his car (technically mine is driveable but seriously, my neighbors do not need to have to listen to that racket any more than necessary!), and my insurance company is awesome, and I’ve already filed the claim and scheduled a time to drop it off at a body shop tomorrow. And in the grand scheme of things for the year, this is small potatoes. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying to have to deal with. Ugh.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Unforeseen hazards

One of the things about kitten fostering is that even if you have one room solely dedicated to the kittens, sometimes you have to separate some out for whatever reason, and then there will be kittens in the bathroom. Due to a kitten recovering from a leg amputation (her femur was shattered prior to her being found and brought to the rescue through which we foster), our upstairs bathroom has been a secondary kitten holding space for the last few weeks.

The thing about having kittens in the bathroom, of course, is that then any trip to use the facilities takes significantly longer.

Usually this is because it’s really hard to just zip in and zip right out when there are adorable kittens demanding attention right there in front of you.

I mean, honestly, how are you supposed to resist sitting down and giving these adorable little cuties a snuggle?

But other times it’s because, well….

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Let the hall decking begin

In the past eleven years we haven’t done much decorating for Christmas, primarily because we got Rupert and Ingrid in the fall of 2009 and that Christmas marked the beginning of the self-decorating tree trend, which began with Rupert and Ingrid, and continued on with Sherman, Nutmeg, and finally Timmie.

But this year, now that Rupert is eleven and fairly calm, and Sherman is eight and also showing signs of slowing down, we thought that maybe, just maybe, we could try decorating like normal people. Also, there’s this pandemic raging through the world outside and having a little extra sparkle and cheer in the house would be nice. So we bought ourselves a new tree (and donated the old one to someone who was thrilled to get it), and this past weekend we put it up.

In years past Sherman has been extremely involved in tree assembly, but this year he was mostly interested in the box.

Cornelius M. Peabody, however, was all in on helping to make sure the top was perfectly straight.

So far the furry contingent have left the tree (mostly) alone, so this might finally be the year we can drag out the nice stuff that’s been gathering dust in the attic for over a decade.


Fingers crossed.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

For you have slipped the surly bonds of earth to dance the skies

I have wanted to write this for months, but have been unable to find the words. Perhaps the first day of Holidailies isn’t the best time, but here we are. There are so many things that will burn 2020 into our memories, but for my family, the one that burns the most is that this is the year my dad died.

I hold my grief deep inside. I cried once – when my older sister called, before it was certain (although I think we all knew the final outcome), but otherwise I grieve dry-eyed and quiet. Loss is a thing that sneaks up on you when you least expect it, and I have found myself looking for memories of him, wanting to remember him how he was, years ago before his slow decline.

There are so many things that connect the two of us. The analytical makeup of our brains. Our fear of heights. The shape of his eyes that stares back at me from the mirror. Every time I write something down, there is his handwriting – eerily similar enough to have fooled (inadvertently, usually) more than one person over the years.

The memories keep sneaking up on me, these past few months. Riding in the back of that ancient VW bus, that would pour cold water from the cooling system onto those of us in the back seat every time it went uphill. Building things in the garage. Laughing until we all were crying. Playing duets on the piano, or gathering together as a family to play together, on whatever instruments we had on hand. Him teaching us to ride bikes. Singing together in the car. Playing together in the recorder ensemble – both the one he formed, and then later the one in Sacramento. All the instruments he built over the years; all the ones he taught himself to play, just for fun – including banjo and bagpipes, among the dozens of others.

He told me for years I should try programming and when I finally, in desperation, did so, it turned out he was right. His gentle nudging shaped my entire adult career.

This is the year my father died. Perhaps at some point it won’t feel so strange and wrong to write that. I’m not sure I believe in the traditional version of heaven, but I do hope that somewhere out there, some part of him still exists. And if that’s the case, I hope that wherever he is, there is music.

*Title is taken from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.