Still Life, With Cats

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Yesterday, after I went for the run, I tackled a whole list of other chores. I wrapped all the presents for my little sister and her family, and packed them into a box, and drove off to the post office to pop that into the mail to them. Amusingly, I packed their presents into the same box in which my sister mailed me ours – it arrived yesterday morning just as I was about to get started with the wrapping, and it turned out to be exactly the right size I needed. Some of the wadded newspaper she packed inside ended up on the floor for the cats; the rest went right back into the box before I shipped it back to them.

I also peeled a few dozen apples and cored and sliced them and then crammed them into the crockpot to make apple butter. A pile of apple pieces so large that I can barely get the lid onto the crockpot will eventually simmer down into a thick paste of a bit less than half the volume.

I had fully intended to can the apple butter this morning, but yesterday afternoon I sat down with all the pieces for a test knit I’ve been working on, and as I started putting them together, I realized that, even though I *did* knit a gauge swatch, and I have been checking and measuring gauge all along, somehow the knitting gremlins got involved and everything was very much the wrong size. Because – and this is something a lot of knitters learn – gauge swatches lie. Always. Every. Single. Damn. Time.

Panic set in. Swearing followed shortly thereafter. I set it aside and thought maybe if I checked it later it might all be a bad dream. I checked it later. Still all wrong. More swearing.

And then at that point I realized there was really only one thing left to do. So I turned off the crockpot and put the mostly-finished apple butter in the refrigerator to deal with at some point in the near future. And then I sat down and gritted my teeth and I ripped out fully three weeks worth of knitting, down to the very last stitch, and started over.

I knit all Friday evening, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more. And then I got up this morning and I knit some more. I took a few hours of break to head off to practice for the Christmas cantata, but then I came back home and kept on knitting. I went down a needle size. I measured obsessively. I checked and double-checked, and as pieces came off the needles, I measured and triple-checked again, and this time things looked like they were supposed to look. We finally caught up on season 7 of Supernatural, and a few episodes from season 5 of Charmed, and I kept on knitting. I had other things I really wanted to do today – baking cookies and doing laundry and maybe finally tackling the Christmas cards and annual wrap-up letter, but ah well. Those will all keep. They will have to keep.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I got up this morning and even though I really, really did not want to, I went for a run. Granted, I went for a run after I had already lounged around and read half a book online and caught up on all my RSS feeds and Holidailies reading, but the important thing is that I went for the damn run at all. And more importantly, that I am going to keep on getting up and going for runs – at least in the short term, until the 5K in January is over, and then likely I will grimly sign up for another one, just to have a reason to continue to force myself to keep doing this thing.

It has been a little over a month since I last went running (and for future reference, when I refer to ‘going for a run’, it is actually me going for a ‘slow jog’). It is not exactly my favorite activity, but then pretty much no exercise-related thing rates high on my list of favorite things to do. If only knitting, or baking, or canning, or reading burned more calories, I would be in the very best shape. But even though I harbor an extreme dislike of the whole jogging/running thing, back in September and October I actually made it through the entire 9 week Couch to 5K program. And all because of zombies.

You see, a few years back, I heard of the Zombie Run somewhere over on the east coast (Boston, maybe? Who the heck knows), where it was a 5K but there were zombies, and I thought that looked like a whole heck of a lot of fun. And I said to myself, hey, if one of those ever happens in my area, I ought to sign up and take part!

And then this summer I stumbled across a Facebook post about this run, and I remembered that promise I had made to myself, lo, those many years ago, and I signed up. Not as a zombie, mind you. As a runner. And I am SO not a runner. Plus I convinced a bunch of friends to also sign up (some as zombies and some as runners), because if one is going to go through pain, one should never do it alone.

But I downloaded the C25K program onto my phone and I forced myself to get up three times a week, and oh it was hell for the first few weeks. But then I got to the week where I ran for ten minutes straight and while there wasn’t that mythical runner’s high, I did feel pretty awesome about that particular accomplishment, considering that only a few weeks prior, simply running for a full minute straight was pretty awful. And by the end I was jogging along (slowly, oh so very slowly) for the full 30 minutes, and while it was never enjoyable, at least I wasn’t collapsing into a heap in the middle of the road, so yay for that.

Then run day came. We gathered in the middle of our particular pack of runners. They fired the starting gun, and we took off. And they tossed giant handfuls of some kind of pink powder into the air as we went running past. I suspect it was supposed to look a bit like blood. But I managed to inhale a bit of it, and then had to do an immediate sprint to try to duck around the first crowd of zombies who were trying to steal our ‘lives’ (flags).

Do you know what you never do during the Couch to 5K program?

Sprinting, that’s what.

So…yeah. I tried really hard to run, at various points along the rest of the route. And I did at least walk the entire thing. But the combination of the sprint plus inhaling whatever the heck that powder was, did me in. By the time I was about halfway through the run, I was having a hard time catching my breath. By the time I got home afterwards, I was wheezing, and coughing every time I tried to breathe more than shallow. This, my friends, is what is called an attack of exercise-induced asthma. It is also not fun.

Years ago, a doctor told me I have asthma. I am not entirely sure *why* he told me that, as I’ve never had an issue with it (maybe he figured it was the reason why I was allergic to the world – who the heck knows), but he gave me an inhaler to use. I only ever used it when exposed to some of the things that made my allergies flare up so bad I couldn’t breathe (exposure to critters of the rodent / rabbit variety). But since I went on the shots regimen, I haven’t had an issue with that anymore. I stopped carrying allergy pills and an inhaler around with me a few years back.

Luckily I live with an asthmatic, so he tossed me one of his extra inhalers as I came in the door. After a few puffs of that I could breathe normally again, although the medication made me all kinds of jittery for a few hours afterward.

But anyway. Back to the running. After the zombie run was over, I told myself, hey, running isn’t all that bad. Maybe I can keep on doing it. But the problem is, without having the deadline of a run to prepare for, my willpower was shot. Plus November was full of Nanowrimo, so an entire month went by and no running was done.

My friend and I signed up for another 5K in January – this time without zombies, or stupid pink powder, or any of that crazy sprinting crap. It’s going to be an ordinary 5K, where we can shuffle along at our snail-like pace.

So I am back to going running. It’s not fun, and I wish I was doing a bazillion things other than running the entire time I am outside, but at least I am doing it. Because they say exercise is good for you, and unless I manage to stumble and break something (and bear in mind we are talking about the woman who managed to snap a bone in her foot walking barefoot down a carpeted hall, so don’t think it can’t happen), it’s something that I am going to try to keep on doing because it doesn’t require any equipment, and it doesn’t require any skill, and it counts as exercise.

But next time we do a 5K, I am going to bring an inhaler with me. Just in case.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Over and over

At about 7 this morning, a herd of elephants went rampaging through the house over my head, thundering around and crashing into things. This may make no sense until I explain that we live in a roughly 100-year-old high-water bungalow style house that, at some point in the past was raised even higher, so the main living space is on the second floor (as is the front door), and the bedrooms are on the lower level. We also have no carpeting anywhere in the house (a combination of six cats + allergies + we much prefer the look of wood even without the first two issues), so activity on the upper level can often be heard down below.  Completely unrelated (of course – ha), it is always astounding to me how much noise an animal who weighs less than 15 pounds can make when they put their minds to it.

Richard can sleep through anything. Alas, I lost that ability shortly after I left college. So I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was now wide awake, and went upstairs to try to make some significant headway on a particular knitting project.

However, today was apparently one of those days where I was incapable of either counting, or reading a chart correctly. I finished up a sizable piece of knitting this morning, and then I went off to the monthly lace knitting group meeting, where I hit the wall in terms of chart reading (let’s just say I would be *done* with this lace piece by now if I hadn’t had to keep ripping back and redoing the same damn three rows, and the fact that I finished the meeting further ahead than when I started is only due to my ability to knit extremely fast). And then when I got back home I picked up my yarn and needles for the project I was working on this morning and discovered that actually I had done it all wrong, and needed to rip it all out and start again. Grumble.

But the day was not entirely lost. It is not as if I have to have either of these projects done tomorrow. I got to sit on the couch under an afghan and a cat for several hours today, doing something I love, and then go hang out with a bunch of awesome people and do more of it (minus the afghan and the cat, but with bonus added chai). And then this evening we went out to dinner to a new-to-us ramen place downtown with some friends, and we sat there and slurped noodles and talked about life, the universe, and everything including cats (okay, a lot of it was about cats, but that is how we roll), and we finished the evening with house-made mochi and black sesame ice cream and an agreement that we definitely have to go back there again. Soon.

And then Richard and I came home and watched The Next Iron Chef, where the drama of this week, where one of our least favorite chefs was booted off, almost (but not quite) made up for the drama of last week where our very favorite chef was eliminated (sob), and I plugged away on the thing I screwed up on this morning, and this time it all worked just fine and there was no more ripping out to do.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

That time of year

November is over; has been over for hey, over a week now, but there was still one more thing to do when it comes to Nanowrimo – namely, the TGIO party.

Since Richard is one of the Municipal Liaisons for the Sacramento region, we usually host the TGIO party. Most of the time, at least in the more recent years, I haven’t been able to attend because 1) it is usually in the evening, and 2) it is usually the weekend of Vox Musica’s Christmas concert, so most years my contribution to the party has been to help get the house cleaned up, occasionally remember to bake something if I have the time, and then scurry off to perform in the Vox concert and miss the actual gathering completely.

This year, however, the first weekend of December started on the 1st of the month, which was a little early to try to do a party, considering everyone was more likely going to spend that weekend trying to recover from the month prior, plus there were other time constraints. So we all put our heads together and decided to make it this weekend. And because this is also apparently the Weekend Everyone Schedules Their Holiday Parties and we (Richard and I, at least) already had other plans for the evening, we also decided to make it during the day.

So this morning I got up and made a double-batch of scones, primarily because it seemed like a good morning for scones, and also because I knew they would be a tasty addition to the party table and we did some quick tidying around the house (which mostly consists of rounding up all the bazillion cat toys, empty boxes and paper bags that are left out for the cats because there are no spoiled cats in *this* house, not a single one) and stuffing them into a closet out of sight). People starting arriving at about 11, and eventually there were enough of us to fill the living room and spill into the dining room.

(As an aside, we always do these parties potluck, mainly because it’s easy and less stress on whoever happens to be hosting, and it is always amusing to see which way the food skews. Some events there is a fairly equal distribution of healthy (veggie trays, fruits, that sort of thing) versus unhealthy (which we all cheerfully refer to as the ‘death’ side of the table – namely items of the baked or chocolate variety). This time the selection skewed pretty heavily toward the ‘death’ side of the equation, despite the fact that some of the group made valiant an argument that the spinach in the spinach dip actually counted as a vegetable.)

Anyway. It was fun. Mostly everyone just sat around and talked about all sorts of things – the IRC channel, trying to get word count, whether anyone had done Camp Nano before (and what they thought about it), the annoying stupidity of acronyms like YOLO (look it up), and all manner of other things that involved a lot of laughing.

After that was over, and everyone left, then Richard and I did the post-party clean-up and released the cats from where they’d been locked up downstairs (mainly to keep Sherman from running out the door, and Rosemary from jumping up on the table to steal food and/or shamelessly begging for food from everyone there). Then it was off to come up with some suitable gifts for the white elephant exchange at the next social gathering in our agenda, try to make a dent in the mountain of laundry, and oh yeah, sneak in a quick nap (or at least make an attempt, no matter how futile.

This evening we headed off to one of those aforementioned holiday shindigs, at the home of some friends. It was a wonderful evening. Lots of people, lots of chatter, delicious food, silly party games, and just a good time over all. We hugged our goodbyes and walked out into air so cold you could see your breath in front of your face, and then headed home to turn on the lights on the tree and curl up under afghans and pet the cats, and reflect that oh, it has been a lovely day.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I had this silly idea that once November was over, things would get a bit calmer.

November was, of course, Nanowrimo month, so we were out nearly every night and every weekend attending write-ins, or else hunkered down in a coffee shop somewhere, typing furiously away on our laptops, chasing the all mighty word count. It was all kinds of fun, especially the write-ins where there would be crowds of us, all silently typing away, occasionally giggling because we were also socializing with each other; we were just doing it on an IRC channel set up specifically for our region.

November also was crunch time for making sure I had all the music for our first concert down, so mixed in with the write-ins there was also rehearsal time and a sectional here and there, and hours spent hunched over the piano at home, picking out the notes and trying to drill the more difficult parts into my head.

There was knitting, too, since there is always knitting, but it had to take a back seat to the rest of the month. Much like everything else always does in November.

But November is over now, and as of the first weekend of December, so is the concert. And yet I do not feel any less busy. Granted there is no more music I need to be learning, and no more novel looming over my head, but there are knitting projects that have looming deadlines, and a massive editing project I volunteered to do, and we are careening quickly into the season of parties and socializing; of baking and decorating and trying to figure out what to get everyone on the gift list, and what to write in the annual yearly recap letter.

So maybe once Christmas is over, things will get a bit calmer. Except for the fact that rehearsals for the next concert start up soon, and I told a friend I would do a 5K run with her in January (no, I do not know what I was thinking either), and I really need to take advantage of the cooler weather to try my hand at making a few more wheels of cheese, and hey, if there’s a free weekend, maybe we could finally tackle the wasteland that is the backyard, and…and….yeah.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


We trickle in to the restaurant slowly, over the course of half an hour or so. There is no rush; there is plenty to do while waiting for each other – cakes and pies and pastries to ogle in the bakery case, and catching up, one on one.

We ponder cookies and truffles and whether we should save room for dessert. We ponder the fact that the place has a ‘polenta of the day’. We ponder the menu and wonder how we are supposed to pick just one thing.

We order our food and find a table; the only one large enough for the group. This is especially challenging because we’re still not entirely sure how many people are coming, but we will make it work. We always do.

We eat pulled pork sandwiches and grilled shrimp caesar salads and giant cheeseburgers and butternut squash soup, and we sip our drinks, and in between bites we silently eye each other’s plates and think to ourselves ‘Hmm, maybe next time I will have to get what she is having,” and there is never any question that there will be a next time.

We chatter between bites, sharing stories about kids and pets; about families and jobs and travel and good things and bad. A chance meeting with a friend results in a surprise plate of cookies brought to our table and we finish our dinners and then nibble on delicate cookies crusted with bright green crystals of sugar. The cakes and pastries and truffles are forgotten.

There is laughter, because there is always laughter when we get together. There is knitting, because that is also a given too. We are surprised and instantly apologetic when a waiter comes over to let us know they’re closed, and we hastily gather our things, having completely lost track of time.

The air outside is cold, and in the time between when we arrived and when we left, there has been a bit of rain; just enough to cover the cars in a light sprinkle of individual drops. We call out our goodbyes to each other as we each head off in a different direction, climb into our cars, and head for home.

Tis the season for Holidailies.

By stealth

The building in which I work prepares for a holiday by decorating. But it is done very, very slowly.

First, there was a tree. A fake one, obviously (less mess that way), all white and sparkly in the light of the building lobby. That went up shortly after Thanksgiving. Just a single tree.

Next came the ornaments – just a few here and there, over the course of a few days, until the tree was festooned  with a collection of beautiful red and gold and silver baubles. Here is where I admit to being a little bit jealous, since the only ornaments we can have on our tree at home are the sort of cheap plastic where if the cats (three of whom consider the Christmas tree an exciting jungle gym), or rather, *when* the cats break some, there is no great sense of loss.

Now that December has come, the decorating is kicked into higher gear. Yesterday someone hung garland – great, long strands of it around the ceiling. And tonight, as I walked out, I saw that the normally sterile ‘air lock’ between the two sets of entry doors had been transformed with holiday decor. The number of giant poinsettias on the floor has been slowly growing in number as the days pass. And at some point during the night an elf has been sneaking in and stenciling holiday cheer onto glass office doors.

I wonder if somewhere in this building there is a series of boxes, each labeled with a specific date. And if at some point someone devised a specific decoration schedule. Tree may only be erected on X date. Garland must not be hung until X days later. No poinsettias may be placed anywhere until two weeks in.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


There were a lot of things I needed to do today, before I headed off to sing.

There was laundry that needed doing. And dishes in the dishwasher that should have been put away. And a refrigerator that needs a good cleaning. And something on the floor over there that I probably do not want to investigate too closely (always a hazard in a house with cats). And knitting that needs to be finished. And…and…and.

But the past two days have been so busy. Work -paid and volunteer. Dress rehearsal and the first concert of the weekend. A five-hour marathon editing session.

So instead of doing the things that I should be doing, I did things I wanted to do instead.

I sat in my pajamas and caught up on my blog reading.

I drank a lot of  coffee.

I watched Rupert and Sherman scramble up the Christmas tree, one after the other, and was too late fetching my phone to get a picture.

I read four books on my tablet, one right after the other.

I ate leftover apple butter streusel cake.

And just for a few hours, I pretended that all the other things – the shoulds and the musts and the need-tos – were someone else’s problem.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


It is December 1st, which means that once again, it is time to kick off Holidailies – the annual project where a bunch of people do their best to post daily blog entries for the entire month of December. Or in my case, where I start the month full of energy and enthusiasm and then fizzle out a few days in and instead spend my time reading all the blog entries everyone else manages to still keep writing, with far more clever turns of phrase and witty banter than I could ever produce. I say this, of course, with the knowledge that a significant number of the other Holidailies participants are posting pretty much the same sentiment. Who knows. Maybe one of these years we’ll all rub off on each other and find that writing mojo that has been slowly fading for far too long.

But I digress. Welcome to December, and to Holidailies. If you’re new here, I would recommend checking out the About page, except that I never got around to scribbling more than a paragraph or two there, so…yeah. Hi. I’m Jennifer. I live in a 100-year-old house in a city full of trees, with my husband and six cats. I knit, a lot. I bake when I am bored. Sometimes I do a lot of canning. I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you. I sing low alto in a women’s vocal ensemble. I recently made cheddar cheese. I like Brussel sprouts. I read really, really, really fast. I know all the songs in  “A Shoggoth on the Roof” by heart. I have no clue how to wear makeup. I prefer caramel over chocolate. You will pry the Oxford comma out of my cold, dead hands.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies

Normal now

I went out for lunch today.

It sounds like such a small thing, I realize. People do it all the time – get up from their desks and gather with their coworkers and go through the endless discussion of ‘where shall we go?’ and ‘what sounds good today’. Why would I even mention something so mundane.

I haven’t been out to lunch in months, however. Not since the majority of my coworkers got laid off. Now it’s just me here, sitting in my cube, in a big maze of cubes of people who are in completely different departments than me. And so I eat my lunch by myself, in the break room. I do my work by myself. I enter the building and I leave and days will go by where I have not spoken to another person the entire time.  Oh sometimes I’ll trade an inane pleasantry with someone on the elevator, or murmur a quick ‘hi’ when passing someone down the hall, or share a nervous laugh when a door opens too quickly and someone – maybe me – is nearly hit by it. But otherwise, it’s just me, all by myself. I have nothing in common with anyone else here. We do not work together. I am just…here.

It wasn’t such a big thing, before this. The big company bought our little company, but we were all still in our same groups, in our same offices all around the country. There was never more than a handful of us in my old office, but we all liked each other, most of the time (and on days when deadlines were looming and tempers were frayed, we were all very good at keeping carefully out of each others’ way). The big company has all the usual Big Company processes and procedures, but we were isolated by our location.

Not so anymore. I work in a cube maze, where there is never any escape from the people who bathe in far too much perfume or cologne, or the people who like to stand up when they take phone calls, so as to make sure that their voices carry further, or the ones who put conference calls on speaker, or the ones who cluster together to have loud conversations right next to someone else’s cube; someone who might be trying very hard to listen to a conference call or get something urgent done; someone who really wishes that everyone would shut the hell up and go away. I work in a building where the prevailing belief is that the air conditioning should be cranked as high as it can possibly go, so that half of us huddle over space heaters, or don sweaters and fingerless gloves, even in the heat of summer. And I work in place where in a sea of people, I feel completely alone.

Today I went out for lunch because I was so very cold that the thought of going outside in the late summer heat was preferable to staying inside and shivering over my usual peanut butter sandwich in the break room. I walked a few blocks away and bought myself a slice of mediocre pizza (mainly because it was cheap and quick) and then sat outside and tried to soak in as much warmth as possible so as to make the rest of the afternoon more bearable.

I do not speak of a lot of things on this space. I deal with change by turning inward, and then working out how best to handle it on my own. I do not want, nor need, advice, no matter how helpful the giver thinks they might be. This situation I am in is not unique; I am not the only one who hates working in cube farms but has no choice; not the only one who wishes things were different; not the only one who swore they would never work for a Big Company again but then somehow ended up there anyway through no fault of their own. This is my normal now. And today I went out for lunch.