Still Life, With Cats

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Fresh coat

Every few years I get a yen to mess around with the layout of this site. The last time i did it was back in September of 2010, when I merged my old regular blog and knitting blog into this single location. I’d been using WordPress for years by that point, and each time I decided to poke around at it, there’d be more and more features I could play with, and fewer things where I needed Richard’s knowledge of PHP to finish things off.

This time around the part that took the longest amount of time was actually scrolling through the bazillion available themes to pick the one I liked, followed shortly thereafter by the time it took for me to install a theme, poke at it, decide it was almost-but-not-quite what I was looking for, and then go do the same with the next contender.

Way, way back when I first decided to get this domain and start playing around on the internets (January of 2000, to be precise), I did every single bit of the design and layout by hand, writing out the html scripts using Notepad. There were WYSIWYG editors available back then but I figured if I was ever going to learn how to write web code, I had to do it from scratch, and so I stubbornly clung to my arcane ways until the advent of Greymatter. Suddenly someone else did the heavy lifting and all I had to do was a bit of tweaking here and there, and by then, hey, html was a piece of cake, so why not. I moved on to MoveableType at some point, until that sort of imploded, and that’s when Richard installed WordPress for me, and I’ve never looked back. But through all of that, there’s always been bits I have had to either edit myself, or get Richard to edit for me.

But it turns out, these days, WordPress themes have these nifty things called Widgets, where all you have to do is drag and drop bits of functionality into the various parts of the page, and poof, it just happens all on its own. This is so very awesome! I don’t have to even *touch* the actual code to make it do what I want it to do. It is magic, I tell you, sprinkled with unicorn farts and fairy dust, or something equivalent.

Anyway. That’s what I did this morning – set myself up with a shiny new layout, complete with randomizing header images of our cats (either current or past) . And yes, I do see the irony in having now firmly embraced the WYSIWYG editor, 13 years on, but I am old and set in my ways and I no longer care!

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I got up this morning and was full of plans for being super productive. But then I got sidetracked by Plants vs Zombies 2, which sort of killed most of the morning. So really, all I managed to do today was scrub down the shower stall (because hoo boy did it need it), go to the library to turn in books and pay my fine (the result of being sick / too busy to go drop stuff off or pick stuff up), and swing by the grocery store to get sour cream and elbow noodles. And then I came home and I spent a couple hours knitting, all the while telling myself that this wasn’t going to work, this really wasn’t going to work. But we knitters, we are a perverse bunch and sometimes it takes a while for us to finally grasp reality. Eventually, though, I finally hit that point where I accepted the inevitable with no small amount of muttered swearing under my breath, so I set it down in disgust and distracted myself by making this Carroty Mac & Cheese for dinner (primarily because we seem to have acquired a rather startlingly large volume of carrots over the past few weekend trips to the farmers market), and oh by the way, you should go to your kitchen right now and make it and then do your best to avoid standing at the counter and shoveling the entire pot into your mouth with a spoon because it is really that good.

Thus fortified with cheese and noodles and enough carrots to surely counteract the rest of it (shut up, leave me my delusions) and having postponed the inevitable as long as I could, I finally sat down and proceeded to rip out exactly 15,680 stitches (yes, that really is an accurate number) and started over again from scratch.

Thankfully there was leftover lemon cake and ice cream to tide me over. Leftover cake and ice cream can soothe a lot of ills, especially when it involves ripping out vast quantities of knitting.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Send off

Richard has been part of a writers group for over ten years now, since long before we moved to Sacramento. Most of the people in the group have also been involved for just as long. I have gotten to know most of them over the years, through various gatherings hosted at our house, or due to the fact that a significant number of them also take part in Nanowrimo ever year.

One of the women who’s been in the group since the beginning is going to be moving soon, out of state, and it is likely that we won’t get much chance to see her again. So since tonight was a regularly scheduled writing group meeting anyway, the rest of them decided to do a little something to surprise her. And to go along with that, I decided to make a cake.

The little Meyer lemon tree in the backyard was extra prolific again, so I decided to make a lemon cake. It’s a pretty simple recipe, really – just a standard yellow cake (out of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook), but with the addition of a few teaspoons of lemon zest added to the batter. You then frost it with a lemon butter cream, which is exactly the same as a regular butter cream, except that instead of adding milk, you add fresh squeezed lemon juice. It all adds up to a yummy cake with a very light tartness, and the addition of the lemon juice and zest to the frosting keeps it from being too overly sweet.

I am not a cake decorator by any stretch of the imagination, so I decided to do something a little bit fun with the cake (because seriously, any attempts from me to decorate a cake would look more like something that should be appearing on Cake Wrecks). So instead of trying to do anything fancy, I filled up a pastry bag with tinted frosting, and then I wrote “We’ll miss you” on the top of the cake. I put my name down in the lower right corner (cleverly shortening it so as to avoid having to somehow pipe out the entire thing legibly), and then I handed the pastry bag around to each person as they came in the door, and had everyone ‘sign’ the cake as well.

It turned out pretty awesome. Watching each person clutching the pastry bag and trying to pipe out their name was pretty hysterical for everyone involved (as an aside, it is harder to pipe your name in frosting when you are laughing than you might think), and at the end, well, maybe the cake still looked a bit like something that should appear on Cake Wrecks, but a cake for a writer, from a bunch of other writers, should have writing on it, and this one certainly did. And it definitely made her smile, and that’s all I was aiming for anyway.

(picture ‘borrowed’ from the recipient’s Facebook account because I did not actually remember to take a picture of my own – oops)

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Ten sizes too small

In honor of it being Grinch week on Holidalies, here is a list of things which I do not understand, and have no desire to ever understand, presented in no particular order:

  • Nyan cat – nope, sorry, not funny, not cute.
  • Piano cat – also not funny, or cute. Mainly I feel sorry for the cat.
  • The wearing of Ugg boots with leggings – Idiotic. I don’t care how comfortable they are. Also, unless you can measure your age in one single digit (hint  – that means you are under the age of 10), leggings are NOT PANTS.
  • Pinterest – I tried. Yes, really. Annoyed the crap out of me. A sheet of pretty pictures is not an organizational strategy my brain likes. I’m happy it works for the rest of you, but if you ‘Pin’ something, do not expect that I will ever see it because…just…no.
  • The current ‘paleo’ diet craze (that has nothing whatsoever to do with how they ate things back then, according to people who actually *study* that era). I find it especially annoying because we all know that the people who are the most rabid about it are only going to go leaping off into the next diet craze as soon as that one pops up.
  • Kale chips – they are an abomination unto the tastebuds (actually kale in general is a highly overrated food)

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

(note – we’re messing with the theme over here, so things might look a bit weird for a while until we get it all sorted out. And by ‘we’, I mean Richard who is doing the bulk of the code poking, while i peer over his shoulder and offer ‘helpful’ suggestions like ‘hey, how come it’s doing that? can’t you fix it?’


Long proof

Nothing much happened today beyond going to work and knitting. So instead I shall tell you about this year’s Sisters Only Weekend, which actually happened back in July.

For those of you who are new to my little corner of the internet, my two sisters and I have been going away for a weekend (just us, no husbands and no kids) for 11 years now. We started it because we all live relatively far apart (one sister lives in a completely different state, and one sister lives a few hours’ drive away from me) and are all busy with our own lives and it was hard to try to keep in contact and maintain some sort of connection. Now, each year, the emails start flying back and forth in January, and we find something fun to do that is within a short drive or plane flight, and that can be done over a weekend. In years past, we’ve gone to Vegas,  rappelled into a cavern, wandered through pitch-black lava tunnels near Mount Saint Helen, and explored Sacramento on Segways. Each year we try to do something different, with the added caveat that the weekend has to include something a little out of the ordinary – a mandate which was started the first year, when on a whim the three of us did kareoke (something none of us had ever done before).

This year, my older sister and I flew up to Washington, my younger sister picked us up at the airport, and we all headed off to spend the entire weekend baking.

The baking part is not necessarily something new for all of us. My younger sister is actually a trained baker, and I do a lot of baking just because I really, really enjoy it. My older sister, however, hasn’t played with yeast quite as much as us (although we all grew up learning how to make bread from my mom), and we all figured whatever our initial skill level, it would be a lot of fun (and also delicious).

We got there a bit later than expected, since traffic on the freeway was all manner of rush-hour exciting, so we missed the first round of mixing up sponges for a lot of the doughs we’d be working with over the weekend. But we didn’t miss everything – once we’d dropped our suitcases off upstairs, we came immediately back down to the kitchen and were put to work mixing up whole wheat dough, and working on bagels, because we had a *lot* to get through over the weekend. The bread was baked that night, but we put all the bagels onto trays and then played refrigerator Tetris trying to get them all tucked away for the night.

I was really excited about doing the bagels, because I have tried them several times at home and they always turn out flat and disappointing. Alas, these ended up over-rising, and even though we boiled and baked them in a wood-fired oven the next afternoon, they just didn’t quite work out. They were still quite tasty, though.

Saturday was pretty much a crazy whirlwind of baking. We got up, ate breakfast, and then immediately set to work. First up was white bread with cranberries and walnuts (although I opted for only walnuts in mine because I am not a fan of cranberries). We also made foccacia dough, which is an involved process involving a bazillion turns in an oil-filled container. In fact, most of the breads involved a whole lot of turning and resting, turning and resting, and the majority of them started out a much stickier, softer dough than I’m used to using. The lady who runs the place trained under German bakers, so it was definitely fun to learn some new techniques.

Here is where we also inadvertently got to do a thing we’d never done before. Friday night we’d been talking about how we do this weekend every year and mentioned some of the crazy stuff we’ve done, and somehow the possibility of taking rides in the bucket truck came up (there just so happened to be a bucket truck on the property because they were doing some work to one of the barns). I thought we were all just joking around, but Saturday morning, the handyman showed up and then before I knew it, we were all standing around outside, taking turns going up in the air in the bucket truck. I suspect the older gentleman who was also part of our class had never imagined that a 3-day course in baking would include a side trip up into the air in a bucket truck, but he jumped right in and had a blast.

After that was done, though, it was right back into the kitchen, mixing up even more dough for the next day, as well as for that night’s dinner. Perhaps the easiest of the yeast doughs we made the entire weekend was the one we used for the pizzas we made for dinner, shaping the dough and then rolling it out onto peels and sliding those into the wood burning brick oven she had on the back patio. Dinner was eaten outside, at a table set up in a gorgeous field, where we could see alpacas in the distance and enjoy the breeze.

Sunday was a rushed day. We tackled scones pretty much as soon as we got up. I’ve done scones before, and learned early on that the key to avoiding a tough, chewy scone is to work the butter in by hand, and then just barely mix in the rest of the ingredients. Her recipe was even lighter than the ones I’ve made – in part, I suspect, because of the inclusion of heavy cream. Everyone got to pick what type of scones they wanted to make, so there was quite an assortment of flavors to nibble for breakfast and the rest of the morning. Then we immediately tackled sweet breads, twisting dough that had been started the day before into complicated shapes filled with cinnamon sugar. And finally, we made beignets, starting with a sweet brioche dough and ending up with a maple and pecan glaze.

This is when it occurred, belatedly, to my older sister and I that we had no clue how we were going to get all this bread home with us (note to self – when attending a baking weekend, bring an extra suitcase next time). So they somehow scrounged up a huge box, and she and I fit every single bit of our baked goodies into it (there was a LOT), and then it was time to head back to the airport and catch a plane home.

I don’t know how long everything lasted at my sisters’ houses, but I stashed most of what I brought home in the freezer and then Richard and I worked our way through it for more than a week after. And also, the following weekend, using the recipe she’d given us, I finally managed to make perfect bagels.


My sisters on the left, me on the right, and the poor guy who was in the class with us (I think he was a bit overwhelmed – my sisters and I tend to do a lot of being goofy when we’re off on our Sisters Weekends).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Today I only had two uncontrollable coughing fits, which I know might sound bad, but hey, I am counting this as improvement (and no worries – when this happens at work, I either immediately gulp down a ton of hot tea, or else scurry away from the main area, because I really am trying to minimize how annoying I am to my coworkers). Yay. Amusingly, I keep running into other people who are also counting such milestones as progress, since they’re all suffering from the same Lingering Cough of Joy ™. “Wow, that cough sounds really bad.” “No, this actually means I’m getting better, I swear!”

Richard, on the other hand, is in full on wheeze mode (hooray for asthma, or something). So between the two of us, because I’ve still got the aforementioned lingering cough of joy, and he’s got the usual winter upper respiratory infection settling in his lungs (because it’s not winter if Richard’s not getting up close and personal with his nebulizer at *some* point!), if we start laughing, it just devolves quickly into a coughing fit, which then makes us laugh harder, until we’re both bent over, unable to breathe. Ah, fun times. Also, I do not recommend doing this while driving.

Anyway. Speaking of driving! Tonight we headed off to Vacaville to hear my Dad perform. This past year he joined the West Valley Chorus, which is basically a group for guys who love to sing, and enjoy doing barbershop type music. I hadn’t been sure I could make it, due to illness and the fact that all prior Monday nights have been busy with rehearsals, so we actually got to surprise the rest of the family when we showed up.

The group is a lot of fun. They were all wearing silly Santa hats and holiday scarves or ties or other accessories, and it was obvious that they were all having a grand time singing. I especially enjoyed it because as someone who sings in a group composed of only women, it was kind of fun to hear those really deep notes that only the basses can hit, and also because it makes me happy to see my dad getting involved in music again.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


On the drive to the farmers market this morning, a Volkswagon bug passed us, going the opposite direction. It was followed by another one, and then another, and then a pair of Volkswagon vans. As we all watched, mouths agape, the vintage Volkswagons continued to putter on by, several dozen of them.

Was there some kind of Volkswagon convention? Was there a parade? Had we just driven by the first wave of the vintage Volkswagon invasion? We have no idea. But it was such a wonderful, lovely thing to see, all those adorable cars and vans driving by.

* * * * *

When one reaches the end of a row and discovers that one still has exactly the number of stitches one was supposed to have, it is perfectly acceptable to give a tiny, impromptu cheer. And if one is doing this at a Lacy Knitting Guild meeting, no one there will even blink an eye, because one is surrounded by people who have plenty of experience knitting things with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stitches per row, and know only too well the pain of this same scenario *not* working out so well.

* * * * *

I love knitting lace. Seriously, I adore it. It is a toss up between lace and cables which one I prefer more. It is similar to writing a lengthy stored procedure. You have to make sure all your increases / decreases / yarnovers  (or for cables, all your right or left crosses) line up exactly, or else things will go rapidly south, and you will find yourself hunched in a chair over a mess of knitting in your lap, counting backwards down the rows, muttering to yourself and saying words that one probably should not say in polite society, to the point where your spouse recognizes the signs and wisely stays out of the room until you look a bit less stressed. Much like you have to make sure all the parenthesis or end tags line up just right in your code, or else you end up sitting on the floor with sheets and sheets of paper all spread out around you, highlighting tags and muttering to yourself under your breath as you try to track down that *one* thing that is causing everything else to break.

Which, I realize, to a layperson, probably does not sound like fun at all, but seriously, I swear. The time I am happiest when knitting is when I am doing lace or cables, and the more complicated the better. It’s where the magic happens.

* * * * *

Your cat picture of the day – Ingrid, in her preferred sprawling position. She cracks us up when she does this, every single time.


‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Last night all the weather reports were full of excitement about the current cold snap we’re experiencing here in the Sacramento Valley. On Facebook, people were posting pictures and reports of snow in places like Redding, Grass Valley, and so on. The forecast for Sacramento itself suggested that there was the teensiest possibility we might actually see snow. And it *did* start raining yesterday evening.

Alas, if it snowed, however, it didn’t stick around long enough for me to see it. Oh sure, they’ve got snow up in Roseville, but none made it to Sacramento. Sigh. I admit I was really, really hoping.

Ah well. Not that we would have been able to do much about it one way or the other, as today was the TGIO party for Nanowrimo, which meant that we spent most  of the morning scurrying around the house cleaning and getting things ready, and doing hasty runs to the grocery store because we were out of eggs, and gah, how can I bake anything without eggs, except that then I found this recipe that I’d bookmarked ages ago, and hey, as it so happens, I made a whole bunch of apple butter just recently, so I whipped up a batch of those . By the time people arrived, we’d cleared away most of the cat toys and paraphernalia, and lured five of the six cats downstairs with plates of wet food, and the house smelled like cinnamon and baking, and we were all set.

It was a fun group of people. Mostly the party consisted of everyone standing around in the kitchen and eating (Nanowrimo parties are always potluck) yummy things. A few people were brave enough to read snippets from their Nanowrimo novels, and Nutmeg (who has neither any interest in people food, or in trying to run out the door, occasionally wandered through and ignored every single person who tried their best to get her to come over for a pet.

It is funny how every year we all get together and do this crazy thing, and for a whole month we all look forward to seeing each other at bakeries and coffee shops, or virtually over IRC, and we cheer each other on, and catch up on each other’s lives, and then the month ends, and we all wave our goodbyes and most of us won’t actually see each other again until the next November, where we will do it all over again.

* * * * *

On a completely unrelated note, here is a picture of Rupert and Sherman at the top of the cat tree in the office, being, well, very much Rupert and Sherman.


‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Today I:

  • Worked from home because of the coughing. I am sure all my nearby cubemates were grateful not to have to hear it.
  • Successfully tracked down people to handle some complex stuff, of the sort that would have been a whole lot easier if I’d been physically in the office, but hey, see previous bullet.
  • Finished and submitted my final for the Business Analysis class I’m taking (and the beauty of doing it all online is that I then immediately got my grade back for the final – a nice, solid A. Go me!).
  • Did a bunch of knitting of the type that I am not allowed to talk about, because this is December, and the majority of my knitting is either going to be for people for whom I would like to maintain *some* element of surprise, or the sort where, contractually, I really am not allowed to say much about it. So. Just imagine random knitting (any size needles, any color / type of yarn), and yeah, that’s what I was doing. Mm hmm. Yup.
  • Tormented Sherman horribly – at least, according to Sherman. He has become, lately, an escape artist, and we are bound and determined that he remain an indoor-only cat. So any time someone comes to the door (such as the mail carrier), or one of us goes outside (such as when Richard left for work, or when I went outside to drag in the trash bin and throw out some garbage), Sherman immediately dashes for the door. It makes getting in and out of the house a more complicated process than it should be, and if we are doing something like carrying in groceries, the first step is to open the door, hands completely unencumbered, catch Sherman, shut him into a room, and only once that is done, can we then go back outside and resume carrying stuff in or out. If someone is coming to the house, one of us has to first catch Sherman and keep a tight hold him before the door is allowed to be open (luckily most of the people who come to our house already know this and the first words out of many a visitor’s mouth has been ‘Do you have him? Is it safe?’). Once thwarted, however, Sherman will express his dismay loudly, but either pawing at the door, or (to our amusement) by flopping on the floor in front of it, all the while singing his woe to the world. Mowowowow! Woe is he!  Ah, fun times. Lucky for him he’s pretty darn cute. And also easily distracted.


‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Step by step

Tonight we put up the tree.

As you can see, this is a very involved process. First, you must give all of the parts a thorough inspection before you remove them from the box.

Next, you begin assembling the tree. First the base gets placed into the stand, and then the middle section, and finally the top part.

Hmm. Funny. The top part of the tree doesn’t look quite like the rest. Better check the instructions again.

Some Assembly Required

(Yes, those *are* tiny stuffed dragons on the ledges above the window. They are flying animals, after all.)

The Branch Inspector takes her job very seriously. “Excuse me. I believe this one is a little bit crooked.”

Branch Inspector


The Quality Control officer, however, remains decidedly unimpressed.

Ingrid Is Unimpressed

“Yeah, yeah, it’s a tree. Can I go back to napping now?

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.