Still Life, With Cats

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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.


May is Bike Month. And ever since our office moved downtown, for the very first time I now work close enough to home that biking to work is a doable thing. I calculated out roughly about how many miles, total, it would be if I rode my bike at least 3 times a week, through the entire month of May. And then I took my bike in for a much-needed tune-up (since it hadn’t been touched in an embarrassingly large number of years) and I took a deep breath and signed up on the site, and then I got to it.

Most mornings it is still a struggle to not just hit the snooze button and get just a little bit more sleep (because biking to work means I have to get up at least half an hour earlier than I’ve been used to). I still get really nervous every time I approach an intersection and see a car waiting to turn, and wonder if they’ve seen me, or if I would have enough time to swerve if they didn’t. And I am nowhere near confident enough to try biking after dark, or in the rain (although luckily the second problem, at least, seems to be over for the foreseeable future). But Sacramento has a lot of other bike commuters, and this month there’s even more than usual – or maybe it’s just that now that I’m one of them, I’m actually paying more attention. So I remind myself, every morning, that I actually *like* the ride once I get out there, and I strap on my helmet and do my best to catch the eye of drivers at intersections so that I know they know I’m passing right in front of them, and I nod and smile at passing cyclists and pedestrians, and I catch myself starting to come up with reasons to bike somewhere instead of drive, and I dutifully tracking my miles on the website, with every round trip that I accomplish.

More than 50% of my goal ridden, and the month is barely half over. It’s that easy. What do you know.

That one time? At nerd camp?

So that whole write-a-letter-a-day thing in February? Um. Yeah. I think I managed to eek out about a dozen letters, and that included the trio of postcards I mailed out from Aruba to family members. But I did get a good handful of letters from other people, and I used up some of the stationary that’s been lurking in my cupboards for mumble-mumble years, so even if I didn’t exactly hit the letter (ha!) of the challenge, at least I gave it a try. And it was kind of fun.

And now is the point when you say ‘wait, Aruba?’. Because one reason I had a hard time doing the whole letter-a-day thing is that Richard and I went on a cruise for a week during February. To the southern Caribbean. Just us and a giant boat and a whole pile of extremely elderly people, and oh yeah, a total of 541 nerds, with concerts and performances by the likes of John Hodgeman, Wil Wheaton, Jonathon Coulton, Marian Call, and so on and so forth. I know, I know, most of you likely have no idea who any of those people are but trust me when I say it was a level of nerdy, geeky awesome beyond compare.

The cruise itself was the random idea of Jonathon Coulton, the singer/songwriter responsible for the ending credit songs on both Portal games, such classics as ‘Re: Your Brain’s’ and ‘Code Monkey’, and a host of other songs about math and science and giant squids and monkeys and crazed news anchors, and all sorts of things that warm the cockles of a geeky nerd’s heart. The first JoCo Crazy Cruise was in 2011, and we did not go because we found out about it too late, and also, cruises are kind of expensive. Then they announced that they were going to do it again, and we sat down and pondered and pondered and looked at the finances and pondered some more and eventually figured out that we could make this work. And after we finished doing a little giddy dance of joy, we signed up and have spent the better part of the past nine months eagerly waiting to go.

Of course, the first thing everyone else wanted to know was where we were going, and no amount of ‘On a boat! With lots of nerds! Nerds on a boat! Squee!’ seemed to satisfy them, because apparently non-nerds do not comprehend that Nerds On A Boat with Bonus Extra Nerdery was enough of a reason to get on a cruise ship, and we really didn’t care one bit where the boat was actually headed. And then there was the added fun of trying to explain who all the special performers were going to be. Okay, see, there’s Jonathon Coulton. Yes, he’s the guy that wrote that song about the zombies. And..uh…Wil Wheaton. He was in that movie, Stand By Me. And…uh…John Hodgeman. Do you watch The Daily Show? He’s an occasional correspondent. No. Okay. Um…You know that commercial? I’m a Mac and I’m a PC? He was the PC. No? And then it would all break down and we were right back to our starting point of Nerds! People just like us! Nerds! On a boat! With singing. And also a boat!

But preparing for the cruise – even reading stories about the first cruise, and hanging out on the forums, watching the excitement grow as everyone else – all these strangers from the internet that would soon become 541 of our new friends – wasn’t enough to remotely prepare us for how amazing the trip was. There were fezzes. There were mustaches. There was gaming, and cookies, and singing waiters with Baked Alaska. There were a whole lot of extremely confused elderly people who couldn’t quite figure out who we all were and why we were on their boat with them. There were random zombies, and karaoke, and fancy pants, and an event sign that turned into the most awesome Word Jumble game ever. I am still working out how best to summarize all of it, and even though I didn’t take very many pictures, I still need to go through them and get them all edited and uploaded. So eventually I will tell you all the rest of it – the thing about the dolphins, and about how we met our very first Sea Monkey, and how we made Jonathon Coulton giggle, and on and on. But this is what you’re going to get for now. A placeholder. Nerds! On a boat! I am still not quite sure how else to explain.

Challenge accepted

A few weeks ago, Mary Robinette Kowal posted an idea to Google +. For the entire month of February, write one letter a day. It can be as simple as a postcard, or a quick scribble, or it can be a lengthy missive; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that each day, you sit down and write out something and the put it in the mailbox. In an age where the majority of communication is electronic, getting anything but spam or a bill in the mail is always a bit of a shock. So sending someone a handwritten letter (or postcard) would be a fun surprise for the recipients. It took off, it got picked up all sorts of sites (newspapers, the US Post Office, etc.), and she created a site to collect all the information together, where people could interact, make plans, and share ideas.

I pondered for a bit. I used to write letters, years and years ago, back before the age of computers and email and Twitter and Facebook and all the other ways we all communicate these days. But I stopped doing it, mainly because email is so much easier. My handwriting – never very beautiful to begin with – has gotten worse the less I use it, and these days I can type so much faster than I can write (Plus the bonus of typing is that it is virtually guaranteed that I can *read* it later. Not so much with anything hand written).

But then I decided. Why not. Getting any letters written at all, even if it isn’t one a day, is still better than my current record (in case it wasn’t obvious from the above, these days that would be a big fat zero).

Of course, there is the issue of finding people to whom to write. So if you’re interested in doing the challenge, go here and sign up. If you want to exchange a letter directly with me, send me an email to jenipurr at gmail dot com with your mailing address. And even if you don’t sign up, or don’t intend to write a letter every single day, why not take this month as an excuse to write at least one letter. It can be to anyone at all. Just try to send at least one, and see where it takes you. You might brighten someone’s day.

I can’t promise that I’ll get letters out to everyone, especially if I end up with more than 29 people on the list. But I can promise I will try. You might get a story about Rupert (the cat who is smarter than his own good and also immune to trauma) and his latest escapade. You might get a short little blurb about something I’m knitting, or the latest awesome recipe I found, or something else entirely. Who knows – there’s 29 days in February, so by the end I might be really struggling to come up with something more witty than ‘well. it rained today.’ But I’m up for the challenge. How about the rest of you?

Warm hands

Last year, one of my fellow knitters and I both bought yarn, specifically to make stranded colorwork mittens. Except that then we never actually got around to *making* those mittens. So this year, we decided that January would be the month of mittens. Anyone who wanted to join in could do so, using whatever pattern they wanted, just as long as it was mittens.

I suspect I may be the only one who’s actually *doing* this so far, but that’s okay. I’ve been having fun. A lot of fun. Apparently I had forgotten just how much I enjoy doing stranded color work. No, I really am not kidding. There’s something kind of magical about it. It always takes me a little bit to get back into the swing of carrying two strands at once, and some parts of colorwork (corrugated ribbing, for example) can be really fiddly. But eventually I slide right back into that rhythm and I’m off.

I made some fingerless gloves years ago, but who knows where they ended up. The temperature at my office tends to fluctuate wildly, depending on the weather, and whether or not the wall gauges actually feel like working that day. The front half of the office gets lots of direct sun, but the back half, where I am, is like a little frozen cave, and there have been days when I sit at my computer with my coat on, huddled next to the space heater that technically I’m not supposed to be using (shh), trying to type and use the mouse with icicles for fingers.

So my first goal this month was to whip up some new fingerless gloves. Luckily I found the yarn I bought last year (KnitPick Chrome), so I was all set. Normally I wouldn’t be willing to make something utilitarian out of a yarn that has to be handwashed, but since these were for me, I can be pretty sure that the person using them will refrain from tossing them accidentally into the washer.

The pattern is Wintergreen Gloves. The yarn has long color changes; hence the shift in hue from dark orange to light. I made some minor modifications by lengthening the hands just a bit, since as I mentioned previously, I get icicle fingers.

I finished these in just about a week, and I’ve been wearing them in the car (it’s been really cold out lately) and at the office ever since.

Once I finished these, Richard starting making sad noises about his own chilly hands, so next up were these.

The pattern (Men’s Fair Isle Mittens) was for full mittens, and has a solid color cuff, but Richard only wanted fingerless gloves, and I didn’t feel like slogging through three inches of solid color ribbing. So I switched things up a bit and did some corrugated ribbing, topped with a Latvian plait, for the cuff, and then tacked on a tiny bit of solid-color ribbing at the top for hand and thumb. I whipped these up in only a few days (see above re. getting back into the rhythm of colorwork).

The third pair (so far) this month I actually started about a week ago, and finished the first one before getting side-tracked by the mitts for Richard. When I saw the pattern, I knew I needed to make myself a pair.

The pattern is Recess for Grownups, because puppet mittens aren’t just for kids, after all. It took me just a hair over two balls of sock yarn to make these and the mitts for Richard.

Here’s the palm side.

There are only seven days left in the month, and next month we’re jumping into helical socks and leaving mittens behind. So I am pondering whether or not I want to try for one more pair, or if maybe the mitten obsession is done for a while. Although I am so very tempted by these. And these. And…well, you get the idea.

Let it be happy

A brand new year, spreading out fresh and bright before us. I know, I know, it’s an arbitrary number on a calendar that really has no meaning in the grand scheme of things, but there is something that is always delightfully refreshing about looking at a clean slate.

We heralded in the new year in a quiet fashion, Richard and I. December 31st is his birthday so this year (oops, *last* year) – okay, yesterday – we drove off to San Francisco and went to the zoo. We both love that zoo, especially the lemur habitat, so we got there just a bit after it opened and then spent a good long time watching lemurs go about their business, followed by the Emperor Tamerins (another favorite) and then we went to find the penguins and the river otters, until we were distracted by a rather strange and loud booming sound, which turned out to be the noise a very, VERY large rhinoceros makes when chasing an equally large ball around its enclosure. That’s something one doesn’t see every day.

Most of the critters still had extra branches and trees and toys in their enclosures from Christmas, and it was amusing to watch them playing. It was, as always, lazy cat time in the tiger and lion exhibits, but one of the river otters was industriously smashing branches into a nest, interspersed with diving into the water and swimming through a giant tube over and over. There were some cute little critters that were the South American equivalent of a raccoon (cannot recall the name) who were having a grand time playing hide and seek with several large towels. And we caught a glimpse of a rather small gorilla baby who is apparently known for harassing the others. But then considering his age, I suppose that’s to be expected for a toddler.

After the zoo we headed off to The Stinking Rose for a rather early dinner. We both love this restaurant because we are both huge fans of garlic, and their motto is that they season their garlic with food, and they really aren’t kidding about that. We kicked off the meal by splitting their signature appetizer, which is a little pan filled piles of roasted garlic, to be spread on fresh baked rolls (so, so very delicious), and then followed that with delicious entrees (lots more garlic in those, of course). We did pass on the garlic ice cream for dessert, as intriguing as it sounded, and instead split a large martini glass filled with the most amazing layered chocolate mousse of the sort where every single bite you had to stop and close your eyes and savor it slowly because it was just that good. And then we headed back home; the entire trip (and dinner) having been carefully planned so as to allow us to get back without having to deal with New Year’s Eve traffic (and the drunk drivers that come with it).

We were discussing what we wanted to do once we got home, but then on the way, Richard checked his email and hey, a note from Best Buy, telling us our order was ready to pick up, and that took care of that. This is because each year instead of doing presents for each other (beyond the stockings, which actually turns out to be the same thing anyway because we tend to go overboard at times but it’s the *principle* of the thing, you see), we get ourselves one big joint present. Last year it was all the furniture for the office (which we then had to assemble – hooray for Ikea), for example. This year was *going* to be new phones, as we’re due for an upgrade from Verizon, but since both prefer the slide-out keyboard, and since Verizon, for some obscure reason, pushed the release of the Droid 4 back beyond December, we decided instead to get something else. So off we went to Best Buy to pick up our new toys. Yay!

I have been dithering for the better part of a year (I like to take my time on these things) on whether or not I wanted to get an eReader. I like the idea of a tiny tablet sort of critter, but I wasn’t sure I wanted a Kindle because I want it for color items as well, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get just an eReader because I read a LOT (no, really, I am not exaggerating, last year I checked out 223 books from the library alone and that does not include all the books I read that didn’t come from the library, which would likely have brought the total up to over 250, and admittedly, it’s felt like kind of a slow year for me in the reading department), and while a lot of books are available for electronic checkout, there’s still not a big selection when compared to actual paper versions, and that new thing with Kindle where you can borrow one book a month just makes me laugh (I can read several books a DAY if I put my mind to it). But a tablet – ah, that gives me options beyond just an eReader. I went to play with the Nook, and I did like that, but it locks me into Barnes and Noble, which I didn’t like. And then we went to Best Buy so I could play with the Kindle Fire, which I had fully expected to love (even though I have some major reservations about the fact that they force the user to keep practically everything in the Cloud, and not having physical copies of things can make me a bit twitchy). But I was quite shocked to discover that I actually did *not* love it, not at all. I have thought wistfully of tablets in the past, but they usually are wincingly expensive. But while I was standing there in Best Buy, frowning grumpily at the Kindle Fire, there it was, the cute little Acer Iconia, just about $10 more than the Nook Tablet, but with the added benefit of it being far more functional. I poked at it and oohed and aahed and started to fall a little bit in love with it, and Richard started playing with it and then I broached the possibility of us getting these instead of the phones, and he said something to the effect of ‘gee, twist my arm’, but they didn’t have them in stock right that moment, so instead they ordered them for us, and yesterday they came in. Merry Christmas!

So here we are, a brand new year, with five cats that make us laugh every single day, and a 100 year old house we adore, and jobs we both enjoy, and a brand new shiny toy to usher it in. I think I am giving up on making any sort of resolution, or setting myself any goals, since that hasn’t worked so well in the past year or three. Instead I think I will simply say that my hope is to keep on doing what I’ve been doing, except better, and take it from there.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies

A bit of this and a bit of that

I like to cook. I am not a gourmet chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I prefer to use fresh ingredients when possible, and we’re really focused on minimizing the use of anything from a can or a box (unless it was something I canned myself). I subscribe to dozens of food blogs and bookmark tons of recipes and I love trying to make new things. Sometimes they’re successful; other times, not so much, and then that’s why delivery pizza is such a wonderful invention.

I cobbled together two things recently that turned out pretty tasty. The first (which I tossed together on Friday) involved some chicken breasts and mushrooms and a large onion, chopped, plus a few frozen cubes of Meyer lemon juice (from last year’s crop), and a bunch of garlic, tossed into a crockpot and cooked slowly all day. I tasted it near the end and it was kind of flat, so I tried adding a bit more garlic, and then I tried adding in a bit of thyme, but nothing really seemed to do the trick, plus I was really looking for that lemon flavor, and then I remembered that last year, when faced with a bumper crop of those aforementioned Meyer lemons and not wanting to make another metric ton of lemon curd (and I do love lemon curd but seriously, there is only so much of that we can consume in a year, and our tree, while small, is prolific), I put up a whole half-gallon jar of preserved lemons. And they have been sitting in the refrigerator for about a year, because I had no clue what to *do* with them.

Preserved lemons, by the way, are nothing more than lemons cut into quarters, seeded, and packed into a jar with a whole lot of salt and then left in a dark corner of the refrigerator to sit and marinate for a while. The salt extracts the juice and breaks down the rind, so that when you finally dredge out a piece later, the rind is soft and pliable. They are very salty (obviously) and very bitter since you’re basically eating the rind, but they have just the strong lemon flavor I was looking for. I pulled out four segments, tossed the slimy pulp and then chopped up the rinds up into teeny pieces and stirred them into my chicken creation. Perfect! Granted, I have no clue how to recreate this, since aside from the lemon components, I didn’t bother measuring anything else I threw in there. Ah well.

The second was what I had for lunch today. We had a leftover yam in the fridge, and I was hungry, so I chopped up about one quarter of it, tossed it in a pan with a little olive oil, and just about as it was almost cooked, I added in one egg whisked with a dash of soy sauce, and a few heaping spoonfuls of brown rice. The soy sauce made the eggs a little grey, and a few of the yam pieces got a bit burnt when I was distracted removing a certain grey tabby cat from the dining table where he was trying to shove the box of jigsaw puzzle pieces onto the floor, so it wasn’t the most attractive of dishes, but oh my was it tasty. And at least this one I should be able to recreate again if ever I am in the mood.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.