Still Life, With Cats

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The best gift I’ve ever given

In 2011, somewhere around November, I had this really fun idea. Richard is a writer, and he has a whole lot of friends who are also extremely talented writers. So I sent out an email to a bunch of his friends, just to see if anyone else might be interested in playing along. I wasn’t sure, at first – it was kind of a big commitment I was asking everyone to do, but the responses came back fast and furious. Yes, yes, oh please yes! Every single person I contacted was all in.

So during the month of December, 2011, we hashed out a schedule, and worked out all the details. And then January 1st, the first person got started, and when she was done, four weeks later, the first chapter of the collaborative book for Richard was complete. Over the course of the year, the book continued to take shape. Twelve amazing writers wrote chapters, in succession, each one picking up where the other left off.  A thirteenth wrote a wonderful forward. And another talented friend did the cover art. By November, the writing was done – a complete book by a whole group of his friends, written using the style and themes that Richard uses in his own work.

I am so incredibly grateful to all of the awesome people who agreed to do this. Every single one blew me away with what they did with the characters, the story, the whole thing, and I looked forward to every single chapter as it came in, eager to find out what had happened next. Truthfully, I had the easiest job in all of it, I know. All I had to do was maintain the schedule in Google docs, and send out halfway reminders during each person’s time period, and do some cursory editing as it was sent along. At the end, I (and one of the other writers involved) did a final round of editing and then I got it all uploaded and formatted for print via And then I ordered fifteen copies – one for Richard, and one for every other person who was involved – and sat back and impatiently waited. I have never been so excited to see a box show up on our doorstep as I was when they arrived.

2012 December Return of the Kings

Back in November (of this year) I broached the idea of having a combination New Year’s Eve / birthday party. And as he sent out invitations, I was quietly making sure in the background that as many of those involved in the project (who lived locally) could be there, and working out a time at which we knew everyone would have arrived.  In the morning, I told Richard one of his presents wasn’t going to be coming until that night. And then an hour or two into the party, we gathered everyone together into one room and presented the gift.

Richard is lucky to have so many extremely talented friends. If we’d started even earlier, I suspect I could have had nearly twice as many chapters as we did (because there are so many other seriously talented people who I know would have been just as excited to be involved), but four weeks per person was pushing it as it was, considering they had to work this around jobs and family and other writing projects, and all the rest of the obstacles life puts in the way. I cannot begin to thank all of them enough for jumping in, head first, with such enthusiasm, over a year ago, and being willing to see this through.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

2012 in review

So. 2012. Nearly over. Yay, or something.

Okay, I kid. 2012 was actually a pretty decent year for us. We both have the same jobs we started with – something I suspect I may never be completely confident will happen for a very long time (thank you Dot Bomb of the early 2000’s). We both still enjoy doing what we get paid to do, and we both have found avenues here and there to also get paid for doing the things we love to do (outside of work, that is).

We did a little bit of traveling this year.  We took our yearly trip up to Seattle to visit my younger sister and brother-in-law and niece, and my sisters and I did our annual Sisters Only weekend this summer, to Bodie, California, where we did things like wander around a ghost town and wade in Mono Lake with brine shrimp, and drive white-knuckled through Yosemite in the pitch dark on windy twisty roads where the wrong turn would send you over a cliff. Okay, possibly that last part was not necessarily a highlight, but hey, we made it through alive, and Yosemite is really pretty during the day when you can see where you are going.

The highlight of the year though, in terms of travel, was when we went to Nerd Camp At Sea, otherwise known as the JoCoCrazy Cruise II. It is kind of hard to explain if you aren’t into this sort of thing, or have never heard of performers like Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm and Wil Wheaton, and Marian Call, but just imagine roughly 550 of the sort of people who are passionate about computers and science and gaming in all its myriad forms, all traveling on a giant cruise ship somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean, and you might be about 10% of the way to understanding what it was. There were a lot of other people on the ship as well, and since it was a Holland America boat, that means that most of the rest of the passengers were…um…how do I put this delicately….the sort who are at an advanced age where they are still a little befuddled by that whole crazy internets thing, and then there were the JoCoCrazy folks who were all three or four decades younger than the rest of the passengers (and as we are in our early 40’s and are roughly right smack in the middle of the general JoCoCrazy Cruise demographic, that’s saying something), wearing snarky message tees and often sporting fezzes (because fezzes are cool) or other hats or crazy colored hair, or randomly breaking out into song in the elevator. Before we left, everyone kept asking us where we were going on the cruise and seriously, we really had no idea, because it wasn’t important. We were on a boat, with several hundred of Our Kind Of People, meeting awesome new friends and hanging out with a crowd where if you sat down and started talking about databases or Dr Who or Red Dwarf, they were right there with you, and not giving you weird looks. Also there were performances nightly (and sometimes also during the day) from awesome people like the aforementioned Coulton, Paul and Storm, and Wheaton, and a talent show where I sang in a human beat box, and the Mustache Formal (where everyone wore fancy duds and a mustache and a fez, yes really), and at one point I got to go swim with some dolphins, and there were islands and it was really freaking humid, and we had NO INTERNET FOR AN ENTIRE WEEK OMG and it was quite possibly the best  thing ever, the end.

Phew. Anyway. 2012. I am still doing the Master Food Preserver thing, which is awesome because occasionally I get to demo canning techniques like making jam (the gateway drug to canning) to newbies and get them all excited about it too. Also this year I decided to try making hard cheese, and so far I have made two wheels. The first one was kind of a flop,but the second one turned out okay. I have been making noises about digging a cheese cave somewhere in the back yard, but so far Richard has been pretending he can’t hear me (possibly because there really isn’t anywhere to actually *dig* a cheese cave, but details, details). I did a lot of knitting- socks and lace and hey, even a sweater – although most of it is the sort I can’t show pictures of, or talk about, because a lot of it was test knitting or sample knitting.

We did not put in a garden this year because we were kind of overwhelmed from last year and are also still working our way through all the sauce and dried veggies that I put up in 2011 (although I am happy to report that we *finally* used up all the tomato sauce from 2010, phew). We did, however, get the front yard all ripped out, so that there is no more grass – just a bunch of drought-tolerant plants (don’t ask me what kind – we hired a nice man who showed us pictures and we did a lot of nodding and saying things like ‘ooh, pretty’) and also a tangelo tree and a mandarin orange tree because the red grapefruit and the Meyer lemon tree do not overload us with enough citrus as it is.

Let’s see. What else. We adopted Sherman in May. I failed to escape the zombies in October. We both did Nanowrimo again in November. And now it is the end of December, and hey, would you look at that – I have blogged more this month than probably all of last year. Way to end things on a high note.

And there you have it. 2012.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Flip side

Things that remind me why life is good:

  • The woman who slowed her car down beside me as I was wheezingly running down the sidewalk this morning (and wondering, yet again, why on earth I signed up for that stupid 5K in the first place), and called out the window to me “You can do it! You are awesome! Never give up!”
  • French bread pizzas for lunch, made with sauce from home-canned tomatoes we grew in our garden, on bread I made myself
  • The cats, who never let a day pass without making me laugh at least once
  • My husband, who is the most awesome husband in the world (and I am not biased at all)
  • My family, because when we get together over the holidays, we do this, and even having some of us in a different state will not stop us from continuing the tradition (that is, after all, what Google Hangout is for).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Putting on my cranky pants

Things that currently annoy me, in no particular order (and for no particular reason except I had to go to work today, and even though the office was nearly empty, the woman who marinates herself in perfume, and the guy who paces while on the cell phone were still there, and I’m crabby about it):

  • Elf on a Shelf – the entire concept is creepy and disturbing, and yet a bazillion parents out there actually purchase this thing, *voluntarily*, and then subject their small children to it. Why? No, really, why?
  • The use of lip liner without lipstick – Is this supposed this supposed to be somehow attractive? If you draw a visible line around your lips – a line that is not the same color as your lips, is it supposed to draw attention to them so that guys will magically want to kiss you, and not, say, ask if you’ve been drinking punch and need a napkin?
  • Uggs – I can only assume that these are a practical joke being played on the clueless. Yes, perhaps they are comfortable, but so are bedroom slippers and those weren’t meant to be worn in public either. Yes they look cute on little girls, but no one over the age of, oh, say, 6 really ought to be caught dead in them.
  • Crocs clogs – see above re. Uggs. Shudder.
  • The ‘war’ on Christmas – Really? Are you so self-centered that you are that incapable of recognizing that there are lots of other people out there who are not just like you; who might celebrate different holidays than you; who worship differently than you or even, GASP, don’t worship at all? Here’s a suggestion. Open your eyes and look around you. Guess what! America is a great big melting pot and there are all kinds of wonderful people out there with interesting cultures and fascinating stories. If you can manage to pull your head out of your own ass long enough, you might actually learn something.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Post eve

December 26th, which means time for the sacred tradition long held by all the women in my family – the after-Christmas sales. Because why pay full price for your decorations, cards, bows, and wrapping paper when you can get it for 50% off or more? Plus, it’s fun!

I remember, years ago, going out to the Hallmark store to pick up cards (before a lot of the department stores used to carry them) and fighting the mob; watching women send their little kids to crawl in underneath everyone else and grab boxes before anyone else could get them. These days, however, so many places put everything on huge sales a few days before Christmas that by the time the 26th rolls around, there’s really no crowds to speak of. But yet we still do it every year, on the day after Christmas, because that is tradition, and it is awesome. I like to think that eventually, my niece will be old enough to join us without being horribly bored, and we can pass on this tradition to the next generation.

This year my mom and my older sister and I met up at the first store at 7 in the morning. I remember years when the stores opened earlier, but I have to admit to being rather happy that they’ve stopped that particular trend. I was running a bit late, since I got a late start out the door, but I got there just a few minutes after the doors opened, and caught up with my mom and sister once I made my way to the back where all the Christmas stuff was gathered.

I’d already done a quick inventory before I left home, so I knew I needed to pick up a few rolls of wrapping paper (shockingly, we were finally running low from the last time I did a wrapping paper buying spree), and a box of cards for next year. Plus ever since we got Rupert and Ingrid and our days of an unmolested-by-cats Christmas tree died, I always keep an eye out for a few more cat-safe, unbreakable ornaments to add to the pitifully small collection I’ve accumulated so far, and every once in a while I find something to toss into the box for next year’s stocking stuffers.

After the first store, we all piled into one car and inhaled a few Christmas cookies while we headed off to the next place – one of those little shops that has all manner of cute little pieces of furniture and home decorations of the sort where I usually wander through fingering everything wistfully and pretending that I live the sort of life where these things would fit (hint – I do not, and I’m actually quite okay with that). But this time of year they also have tons of absolutely gorgeous Christmas decorations for sale, so we wanted around and oohed and aahed and pointed out all the shiny sparklies and generally had a wonderful time.

We hit a few more shops, since I wasn’t the only one who came with a list of specific items to find, but by then we were all starting to fade, so we gave up on shopping and instead went and got lunch. We ate eggs and bacon and biscuits and toast and chatted for an hour or more, and then eventually it was time to all head our separate ways – back home to put everything away and pet the cats and ponder doing something vaguely more productive but then finally just giving up and instead taking a nap because it’s a day off and why the heck not.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Merry Christmas. We have had a rather lovely, low key sort of day today – the sort where you stay in your pajamas all day and never once step a foot outside.

I made doughnuts in the new doughnut pans that my younger sister gave me for Christmas, and we opened our stocking gifts to each other – silly books and toys and t-shirts and so on. And then I decided to start some sourdough bread, which is a several-day process, so I figured I could at least get the sponge going and then stash it in the fridge until I had a chance to finish it off later this week. I also got dough started for french bread, and as the afternoon progressed, turned that into two long loaves in preparation for dinner.

We nibbled veggies and dip during the afternoon, and then made pizza fondue for dinner, and dipped in cubes of freshly baked, toasted french bread. We had purchased the parts for s’mores for later, but were both too full after the fondue to even think about dessert, so those will just keep until much, much later.

Otherwise, we have spent the day doing very little at all. I finished half of a sock, and read a few books. Richard did a lot of reading. I caught up on my RSS feeds. We watched the Dr Who Christmas special and both liked it a lot (although I admit I say that while deliberately tamping down a lot of ‘oh come *on*, really?’ thoughts in my head, but I am trying to give Moffat the benefit of the doubt here because he has rarely disappointed in the past). Also, is it wrong of me that the killer snowmen made me squee from their adorable evilness?

I had intended to try to get a few other things done – a load of laundry, perhaps, or heck, even going for a run, but….ah well. I haven’t been as good at going running as often as I should be, considering there’s a 5K looming in my very near future, but…eh, it was Christmas, and it was raining, and while I don’t mind running in the freezing cold, I draw the line at running in the freezing cold while getting drenched. And naturally the rain didn’t end until it was getting dark outside, and considering we are talking about a woman who broke her foot walking barefoot down a carpeted hallway, I know better than to risk running in rain-soaked streets in the dark, where I cannot see.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I am sitting at my desk in our home office, typing this entry. Behind me, on the floor, lies this toy, and a pair of cats, and I do not have to turn my head to know that they are busily playing with it, because I can hear the soft smack of paws against the track, and the gentle rattle of the ball as it rolls back and forth. They have, in fact, been playing with this toy since we got home and I put it together, nearly 1 1/2 hours ago – oh, not all six cats at once, of course, but in twos and threes, trading off who is flopped on their side, wildly smacking at the ball or stuffing their paw into the track, and who is lounging off to one side, watching the entire process intently. It is rare to have a toy that enthralls the cats for so long, but at least in this household, this particular toy gets six paws up.

The toy was acquired during the annual Christmas Eve festivities at Richard’s parents’ place, where we spent most of the day. We drove down this morning, collecting all the presents and the biscuits I made yesterday, and a jar of spiced pear butter I made this fall, and a CD of Christmas music to play in the car. Presents were exchanged and pets were entertained. We chatted and laughed and ate delicious brunch food, and drank coffee, and it was a lovely, low key afternoon.

So now we are back home, with new books to read and DVDs to watch and a toy where I am not sure who is more entertained – the cats who are playing with it, or the humans who are watching them and laughing at their antics. Time to curl up with hot chocolate and laptops; with eBooks and knitting, and allow the day to fade quietly away.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Eve eve

As I type this, Ingrid is sitting atop the tall bookcase beside my desk. Occasionally she chirps at me, although I’ve no idea what she is trying to tell me. Cat communication often errs on the cryptic side, at least to us humans.

Today’s focus has been on getting everything out of the way in preparation for Christmas. We did a massive grocery shopping trip (the sort where the final total makes you wince, but at least we’re all set for a while now. Or at least that’s the hope). We bought stamps and applied them to the giant stack of cards that will be dropped into the mail tomorrow. I made two batches of biscuits to take with us to tomorrow’s family gathering, using those as an excuse to pull out a few of the gadgets I don’t often use – the bands that go around the rolling pin that let me roll the dough to just the right thickness. and my circular biscuit cutters. And then, on a whim, I also whipped up a batch of English toffee which necessitated pulling out the thermometer and stirring constantly until the mixture of butter and sugar turned just the perfect shade of golden brown.

Otherwise, it’s been a fairly low key sort of day. We got all the presents for tomorrow’s gathering wrapped. We did a bunch of laundry and ran a few loads of dishes in the dishwasher. I did a whole bunch of knitting and finally caught up to where I needed to be by this time of the month. And I turned a bunch of leftovers into a scramble and we ate that for dinner while watching the finale for the current season of The Next Iron Chef.  It was a satisfactory ending for the show – both of us were ambivalent about which of the two final contenders we wanted to win, and to be perfectly honest, I think I could have been perfectly happy to have stopped watching once I found out who those two were, since I had more hoping and wishing riding on that decision than on who got to stand on the podium and see their giant picture on the stadium wall. Admittedly I kept hoping that a miracle would occur and Faulkner would somehow be back in the game, and then proceed to wipe the floor with the rest of them and take what should have been her rightful place a season ago, but as I do not rule the world, I have to settle for the next best outcome.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


It feels, this year, as if Christmas has just sort of snuck up on us. It is not as if I haven’t known, all along, that the 25th is exactly 25 days into December, or the date of each day as it passes, and we took care of a majority of the shopping early on in the month. But as for the rest of it – all the preparation for Christmas, like putting lights up around the porch, or mailing out presents, or writing the holiday letter and sending out the cards – all of that has been on hold for ‘some time in the near future’, until suddenly, here we are, the weekend before Christmas, and time has suddenly run out. Oops.

So today was all about trying to deal with all the last minute stuff that is still worth doing. We wrapped and shipped the last of the gifts that needed to be mailed (and paid an arm and a leg for the ability for them to arrive by the afternoon of Christmas Eve. We made a grocery list of everything we will need for Christmas day, along with the usual assortment of items like dishwasher detergent, and toilet paper, and cheese. And we finally sat down and dealt with the Christmas cards.

In years past, doing the holiday letter has been a several-day process. One person comes up with a bullet list of what to write about, the second person adds to the list; one person writes a paragraph or two about each item, and then we each edit the other’s contributions, until we get it all into one page, sometimes with a picture (usually of one of the cats). Today, however, we whipped that thing out in record time; printing them all out took longer than it did to write it. So while the letters were printing, we sat at our respective desks and addressed a bazillion Christmas cards, and then we sat in the living room and signed and stuffed and sealed all the envelopes while watching another episode or two of Charmed via Netflix streaming.

I took a few moments, during the process, to read back through the previous years’ letters. We still have copies, going back to the year we were married, and it was rather fun, to read through them all. Holiday letters only give a brief glimpse into a life – the highlights of the year, condensed into a one-page format. But even those brief snippets were enough to spark memories.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Every so often, I get a yen to do those things that mature, responsible adults are supposed to do around the house – you know, things like checking the fire extinguisher, or replacing the batteries in the smoke alarms, or cleaning the gutters (although with a two-story house, we pay someone to do that last one for us). Tonight I decided it was high time we flipped the mattress.

I have to assume that in other households – normal ones, that is – flipping the mattress is a quick process that is done by two adults, who swiftly and efficiently pick up the mattress, turn it, and flop it back down with a minimum of fuss and bother. I suspect that in these (normal) households, making the bed is also a quick, albeit boring, procedure, where sheets and blankets do not mysteriously sprout lumps that randomly attack you when you try to smooth them, or purr when you poke them, but I digress. The point is that normal households likely do not have the following extenuating circumstances when trying to flip their mattresses:

  • An 8-foot ceiling with a a light fixture directly over the foot of the bed
  • Six hyperactive cats.

Step 1:

Start by dragging the mattress off the bed. The mattress immediately became three cats heavier. The instant an inch of space opens up at the top of the bed, a fourth cat dives directly into the space, meaning that you no longer have the ability to drop the mattress back down. Try to do this while giggling uncontrollably.

Step 2:

Discover that you cannot lift the mattress, even on its side, high enough to flip while still *on* the bed, due to the aforementioned light fixture. So after some careful rearranging of other furniture, get the mattress completely off the bed, and on its end. The *instant* it starts to go upright, it is immediately scaled by two cats. I will leave it to your imagination to guess which ones but I will give you a hint – they are both grey.  All remaining cats (that would be four, for those of you who are counting) immediately bounce onto the exposed box springs, because this is a New And Exciting Place For Cats. Take a moment to recover from laughing before you accidentally drop the mattress on your spouse.

Step 3:

Try to shoo the cats off the box springs. Fail. Try to jiggle cats off of top of mattress end. Also fail. Decide to sloooowly tilt the mattress back down (after turning it around, still adorned with cats, on its end) and hope that the cats figure it out before they get squished. Try to do this while not dropping mattress from even more laughing, because third cat  decides to scale Mattress Mountain, from below, as it is tilting back toward the bed.   Get mattress nearly onto the bed, but then one human must hold mattress slightly askew, while second human crawls *under* the mattress to rescue a cat who has decided that diving around between the box springs and the slowly descending, heavy mattress, is Very Exciting and who does not actually *want* to be rescued.

Step 4:

Finally extricate all cats. Position mattress fully onto bed. Do quick headcount to make sure that no one got themselves trapped. Heave sigh of relief and cross it off the list of Things Responsible People Remember To Do for another mumblemumble length of time.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.