Still Life, With Cats

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The blackberry vines we planted last year are currently going crazy. Basically, they have spent the last twelve months going from two puny little stalks to doing their level best to take down the fence between us and the next door neighbors. The vines have been covered in flowers, and berries are popping out all over. Only recently, however, have some of them been ripe enough to pick, although admittedly it’s taking us a little while to figure out exactly when that might be. My excuse is that I think berries are horrid, nasty tasting things full of seeds, but Richard loves the little suckers, so I’d have thought at least one of us would be better prepared to distinguish a ripe berry from a not-quite-ripe one. Ah well.

Anyway. Aside from the random strawberry or three every few days, so far the only thing coming out of our garden right now is blackberries. Lots and lots of blackberries. Last night, we picked a great mound of them – big, fat berries that stained our fingers red. So what does one do with a giant pile of blackberries? Do you really have to ask that question? Obviously, I had to make jam.

Time between when they were picked off the vines and when the jars were pulled out of the boiling water bath to cool on the counter – just about two hours. Richard licked the spoon when I was done filling the jars and pronounced it delicious. I did not share his opinion, but that has more to do with the fact that I cannot stand the vile little fruits than any actual commentary on the state of the jam itself.

There are still oodles more of them on the vines, so it’s pretty obvious that we’re going to be dealing with large quantities of blackberries in the near future. I’m looking forward to giving other recipes a try – perhaps some blackberry syrup, or blackberry jelly, or even (if they get too out of hand) squeezing some of them down to juice and using them to dye some yarn (several kitchen towels are now sporting spots of the most beautiful blue).

From the oven

Let’s say you are in the mood to bake something. Maybe cookies. Shortbread is really quick and easy and only takes a few ingredients – all of which you always have on hand (you *do* always have these on hand, right?). Except you’re also in the mood for peanut butter.

This is what you should make.

Peanut Butter Shortbread

1 cup flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter (4 tablespoons)
1/4 cup peanut butter (whatever kind you like best)

Stir together flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, or your hands, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Knead dough with hands until it comes together.

Press dough into an 8×8 inch baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until lightly brown at the edges.

Let the shortbread cool completely before cutting into 20 – 32 pieces. Yes, really. I’m serious on this one. While you might be able to get away with eating regular shortbread straight from the pan, if you try a piece of this one while it’s still warm, you will have hot peanut butter goodness immediately coat your entire mouth and will be unable to do anything but make vague squeaking noises until you gulp down something to drink. As a side note to Richard’s writerly friends upon who I foisted this experiment, please accept my apologies for not realizing this would be an issue before I gave you still-warm-from-the oven cookies.

Should you decide to sprinkle about half a cup of semisweet chocolate chips on top of the cookies as soon as they are removed from the oven, and then once melted, spread that chocolate all over the cookies before you cut them, more power to you. Is it possible that one of us is considering adding a thin layer of additional peanut butter in between the cookie and the chocolate, just to ramp things up a bit? Maybe. But how about we keep that our little secret for now.

And On And On

The longer I go without writing, the more difficult it is to start back up, primarily because I start to feel as if I have to cover everything from the time I missed, and it gets too long and unwieldy. So I shall, instead, summarize.

Cats: Zucchini started losing weight at an alarming rate and his fur was matting something awful. At his age, I knew it was only a matter of time before he came down with one of the Big Three (hyperthyroid, diabetes, or kidney disease). The verdict – advanced kidney disease. He was nearly 17. We buried him in the backyard with the others.

The numbers in the house, however, are still the same. We picked up a new kitty at the shelter – a little one-year-old siamese mix. We’ve named her Nutmeg. She’s surprisingly quiet, for being part siamese, but she is adorable and has bonded with Richard (she is very much a Daddy’s girl) and loves to skitter all over the house chasing balls and if we could just get Ingrid to stop antagonizing her by growling every time she catches a glimpse of her, everything would be peachy.

As for everyone else – let’s see. Checkers’ eye finally cleared up, much to my great delight because I was getting seriously tired of chasing her down to dose her twice a day. Rosemary is hyperthyroid, but luckily she tolerates the pills just fine, so (fingers crossed) it’s an easy treatment for now. And Rupert has figured out how to scale to the top of the new office desks – the seven foot tall office desks, mind you – so we’re now slowly adjusting to looking up to see a fuzzy little face peering down at us without freaking out about it.

House: The downstairs bathroom sinks have faucets with lever handles. One of the sinks doesn’t drain very well. Rupert and Ingrid are extremely smart cats who like to play in running water. Do you see where this is going?

So basically after they flooded the entire master bedroom, we turned the water off under that sink and then hightailed it to Home Depot and ordered an entire new counter (because if we were going to replace the faucets, we might as well replace the sinks that we hate, and if we’re going to replace the hideous sinks, we might as well also replace the hideous tile). The counter is currently sitting in a giant box downstairs, and we are nearly done hacking off the remains of all the mortar and junk that was underneath the tile, so that we can install the new stuff. Possibly it will happen this weekend. We’ll see.

Everything else: Vox Musica went to Chicago to sing at the ACDA National convention. It was stressful. It was crazy. It was also kind of fun. We performed twice, in front of several thousand people. We did a lot of walking all over downtown Chicago. We got to see a few other groups perform. Alas, what we did not get to do was hold an official music-burning party once we returned home (let’s just say some of us are heartily sick of some of those songs at this point), but maybe we can still try for later on that one.

I finished my Estimating class and got an A+ (much to my shock, but hey, I’m not going to quibble!). So now I have my Tuesdays back, but I’ve lost my Saturdays for a few months because I’ve been spending them in training sessions to become a Master Food Preserver. I suspect it will come as no surprise to anyone that I am having far more fun in my MFP classes than I did in my Estimating class.

Knitting – sigh. I feel as if I’ve lost my direction there. Nearly all the knitting I’ve done lately has been test knitting patterns for someone else. I’m poking along slowly at two pairs of socks, but not really feeling the love on either of them. I have ideas for patterns in my head but I haven’t worked up the energy to actually play with them and work them out onto paper. I have a giant lace project that *must* be done by mid May, and I haven’t touched it in weeks. I know it’s only a matter of time until I’m back to my old level of enthusiasm – this isn’t the first time I’ve hit a lull and I know it won’t be the last – but when I’m in the middle of it, it’s just generally frustrating.


Clickety click

So, I was right – the 100,000 mile check-up did include another ‘ouch’ for my car. Turns out a cracked drive belt can be expensive. Ugh. But I am consoling myself that, all things considered, the ‘major’ repairs on this car have been few and far between, so it isn’t as bad as it could have been. We’ll see if I can keep it going for another 100,000 miles (although I suspect it’ll take even longer than the first 100,000, since we do a lot less driving than we did when we first got it).

Aside from the wince-inducing auto maintenance, though, the week’s been a decent one. The box arrived for Kathy’s Take and Replace Swap, and even though I need more lace yarn and/or more sock yarn like I need another overly caffeinated turbo-cat (aka Rupert), I could not help myself, and took out these:

That’s two skeins of Knit Picks Shimmer in an absolutely gorgeous red, and a ball of self-patterning sock yarn. I have a laceweight drawer and a sockweight drawer in the paint-spattered old dresser I use for yarn storage, and they are both so full that it is almost impossible to stuff any more yarn into them, but…in the face of shiny new yarn, I am weak. At least with a Take-and-Replace swap, yarn in = yarn out, so total number of yarn skeins in the house didn’t change.

On the plus side, however, last night I did finish a pair of socks (plain stockinette ones, in purple Trekking XL), thereby fulfilling the Sock-Completion-Goal for January. And earlier this week, I handed a few sock pattern books to Richard and said ‘pick the ones you like’, so (using some of the sock yarn that ‘accidentally’ fell into my shopping basket at a yarn-shop-closing event a few weekends ago – ahem), Thursday night, I cast on for a new pair. I’m not holding my breath I’ll get these done by end of month, because Richard has large feet and I have other things I also need to be knitting in the meantime, but it at least gets me an early start for February.

Oh, and speaking of February, since she posted it to her blog, I can show you the thing I was frantically trying to finish up last weekend.

This is Coo and Coy, and you can get the pattern to make your own little duo here (just in time for Valentine’s Day!).

Up for air

This has been kind of a crazy sort of week, and I feel as if I’ve spent pretty much every day running from one thing to the next without getting much of a chance to catch my breath. Rehearsal has started back up again for Vox Musica, which means my Monday nights are now spent with music and singing in preparation for our upcoming trip to Chicago . I finally got notification that I was approved for a class I signed up for (work related), so that means that all my Tuesday nights for the next few months will now be spent sitting in a classroom, and my weekends will include heavy reading and doing homework. Wednesday night was dinner out with four of our friends, in order to take advantage of this year’s Dine Downtown, so that (plus an impromptu trip to the vet for Checkers because her eye still isn’t getting better) took care of Wednesday. Thursday night was knitting group, and Friday kicked off with me getting a flat tire on the freeway on the way to work, and ended with a frantic dash out to go shopping and run errands that neither of us had any time to do earlier in the week.

The flat tire on Friday means that today included a trip to the closest tire place, and the unexpected purchase of four brand new tires for my car. Ouch. Plus, the ‘maintenance required’ light, which pops up every 5000 miles to tell me it’s time to take the car in for a check-up, blinked on the minute I turned on the car to drive it away from the tire shop. Considering the fact that the car just recently passed the 100,000 mile mark, and the tire shop guy was muttering darkly about ‘possible oil leak’ and some kind of belt or something that could be cracked, I suspect we’re about to get another ‘ouch’ for the car real soon.

But in the middle of all this running hither and yon, there’ve been some bright spots. Dinner on Wednesday was a lot of fun, since we got to introduce some friends to other friends, and it was several hours of laughing and talking and delicious food and fun. And today included a baby shower, with even more laughing and talking and delicious food, plus the bonus of a few adorable babies to coo at and pass around.

Oh, and also, today just happens to be the 11th anniversary of my very first post to this little corner of the internet. So yay for that.

That whole resolution thing

I usually do not do resolutions. Or rather, occasionally I do them but I fail to write them down and then I end up forgetting what they were by mid-February.

Regardless, I’m going to give it another shot this year. Also, posting this here helps me meet the last goal on the list  (at least for this week), so yay for multitasking, or something.

Eat better – We’re doing fairly well at this right now, but it could definitely be better. We have this tendency to default to sandwiches more often than I would like to admit when it comes to dinner (the fact that the rolls are homemade doesn’t count in the grand scheme of things, alas), and we didn’t get to the farmers market nearly as often as I wanted to last year. So this year the goal is to do the bulk of our produce and meat shopping on Sunday mornings at the farmers market (thus encouraging that whole ‘eating local’ goal I’m trying to chase), and to minimize the number of times we just give up and call for pizza.

Finish the Level 1 Master Knitter program – the sad part about this one is that I actually signed up to do this back in 2008. I got all the information, bought myself some yarn, and then….nothing. I thought about it here and there, as in ‘gee, I should really work on that’, but the year passed and I did not even knit a single swatch. Massive Fail.

I’ve renewed my membership to TKGA and am waiting for them to email me the information. When it arrives, I’ll print it out and then get to work on it. My goal is to have this thing completed *before* December of 2011. We’ll see.

Knit 1 pair of socks per month – I have an embarrassingly large stash of sock yarn that needs to be dealt with. I’ve been, over the last year or so, working on knitting primarily from the stash, but the sock yarn drawer hasn’t really been touched. I’m not going to commit to any particular sock pattern – I’ve tried that whole ‘kit a month’ thing you do yourself and it failed miserably. All I care about is that by the end of the year, there are (at least) 12 fewer balls of yarn in the sock yarn drawer.

Blog weekly (at least) – Long time readers (if there are any of you still out there) likely have noticed that posts to my usual little corner of the internet have been few and far between over the past year or so. I am committing to posting at least once per week. I suspect that less time spent on Twitter and Facebook will help with this. We’ll see.

What we did on our winter break

When it comes to Christmas, Richard and I do not get each other gifts. Or rather, officially, we only do stockings for each other (you can stuff a lot of books and things from ThinkGeek into a stocking, in other words). And then we get a joint Christmas present, like tickets to go see Jonathan Coulton perform, or a really fancy dinner out. Or, in the case of this past Christmas, a whole pile of brand new office furniture.

When we moved into this house, we did not have computer desks (the desks in the old house had been built into the room, so they weren’t exactly the kind we could take with us). We found some extremely cheap desks on Craigslist and bought them, figuring they’d work for the short term.

This was my half of the office.

And this was Richard’s half of the office.

The cheap desks were too low and a bit wobbly and the keyboard shelf on mine had a tendency to fall off at random, spilling keyboard and mouse onto the floor and inducing panic in the cats (at the noise) and swearing from me (as I often had to crawl under the desk to retrieve the mouse trackball which would inevitably roll into the one area under the desk that was hardest to get to). The desks were only meant to be a temporary fix (those and a random assortment of bookshelves acquired over our college years from various garage sales, and a file cabinet whose gorgeous exterior hid the fact that the bottom of the drawers tend to fall off if you look at them cross-eyed), but what with the kitchen remodel ending up costing a bit more than expected (thanks to the need for the giant supporting beam in the attic) and the recent round of furloughs and paycuts, we’ve been dealing with them for a bit longer than we’d expected.

The furloughs and paycuts, however, had a silver lining. We learned how to live on a lot less, during the past twelve months, so that when we had our full pay restored, suddenly we were able to put a lot more into savings, and this year, Christmas brought a trip to Ikea.

We came home with seven very heavy boxes. Or rather, since Ikea has a delivery service, we came home with a receipt and the next day, a pair of extremely strong young men carted those seven very heavy boxes up the full flight of steps to our front door.

We started putting together the first desk on the morning of Christmas Eve, and then finished it up on Christmas Day. The first bookshelf followed, then the second desk and bookshelf (which went significantly faster than the first set, due to the fact that there was far less staring cross-eyed at the directions and a random assortment of hardware, muttering things like ‘wait, is it supposed to go like this, or like that?’). A new cabinet to hold all the routers and various electronic gizmos necessary for running network / cable / phone, a new file cabinet to live in the coat closet, a new window perch so the cats can still have a comfy place to watch the squirrels dash up and down the giant elm trees on the street, and today, we finally were done.

This is my side of the office.

And this is Richard’s side of the office.

Notice how the desks have doors, not only to hide the fact that neither of us is a particularly organized person, but also to keep cats out when we’re not there to supervise them. All the electronic gadgets are safely tucked away in that low cabinet along the wall, again out of reach of cats (some of whom were very good at turning off surge protectors). As an added bonus, all the new furniture is low enough to the ground that cat toys cannot be shoved underneath (and Ingrid was especially happy that when we moved out the old desks, we unearthed one of the little Cow toys she adores).

Fa la la

Because Vox Musica is going to Chicago in March, to perform at the National Choral Directors Association’s annual conference, we’re currently in major fund-raising mode. To that end, one of the things we’re doing during December is caroling. Basically, if you pay us, we’ll pull together a quartet and come sing lovely music in two-, three- or four-part harmony for you at your private party.

On the plus side, Christmas carols are far easier than most of the music we perform. On the down side, it was all new. So before any gig we’ve done so far, we’ve tried to make sure we had enough time to meet beforehand so we could work our way through a few songbooks to nail down a set list and make sure we were all confident in what we were doing, before we were off to perform.

We had our first gig last night, at a party up in Roseville. It was harder than I had expected to pull together a quartet, but only because since last weekend was our winter concert, everyone in the group postponed all their reasons for being out of town until this weekend. And when there’s only twelve in the group to begin with, that makes it that much harder.

Anyway. Managed to get three others who could juggle schedules to do it with me, so off we went, first to one of the singers’ houses to practice around her baby grand, then to perform at the house (where they gave us cheers and applause and also clementines and bars of dark chocolate). And that was last night.

Today I had two more caroling gigs to do – both much longer than last night’s. Four of us met up to go over music and scribble down a set list and figure out which songs we could definitely do and which songs we should definitely avoid, and then we all caravaned off to the first house to sing. They were loud and funny and sang along with us when we encouraged them to and we all had an incredibly fun time with the whole thing. Then once that was over, we all piled back into our cars and drove off to the next performance, which was at the Barnes & Noble at the Arden Fair mall. They put us back in the children’s section, where there was a little stage, and we worked our way through the songbook of the more complicated stuff, mainly just because we felt like it. One doesn’t really get a sit-down audience in a bookstore, but people would pause in their shopping to listen and smile, and every once in a while someone would come sit and watch for a bit. So that was fun too, in a calmer, quieter sort of way.

I am, at this point, done with the caroling gigs – there’s another next weekend but since there’s plenty others who can do it, I’m bowing out. As for back home, well, the only thing we managed to accomplish is to pull all the boxes of Christmas decorations down from the attic and stack them neatly in the guest room. And now I am hoping that maybe if we leave them there, at some point the elves will magically appear and decorate the house for us.

Yeah. Not holding my breath on that one.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I decided that if we had any hope at all of getting all our packages to where they need to be in time for Christmas, we needed to get them into the mail this weekend. So this morning we got up and after dashing off to get badly-needed haircuts (with a quick side trip through CostCo because I actually *ran out* of flour -a fate too horrendous to contemplate if one loves to bake, like I do – and they have been carrying some organic unbleached white flour I really like), we dragged out all the presents and then we sat down and had a massive present wrapping party I call it a ‘party’ because at least some of us were having fun with the entire process. And if by ‘some of us’, you think I might actually be referring to those of the furry, four-legged variety who think anything having to do with paper must be a Game For Cats, you would be right. For Richard and I, however, it was more an exercise in futility, trying to cut paper while simultaneously protecting the paper and scissors from curious paws. I am just going to pretend that the random claw holes are simply added decorations, and leave it at that.

We got everything all wrapped up and distributed into all the appropriate piles, and then we gathered up all the presents for my older sister and her family into a box and dashed back out to meet them. They were all in Sacramento because the oldest nephew had a baseball game in the area. So we figured we should try to take advantage of the situation and go see them. Plus it was also the perfect opportunity to swap presents, since this is an in-law Christmas this year (in that each year we rotate, so every other year my family gets together for the holidays, and the interim years we spent the holidays with our respective in-laws).

We got a chance to hang out a little bit with my sister and brother-in-law and watch the oldest nephew’s team play for a little bit, which was nice, but then we had to run off yet again, this time so as to make sure to make it to the Fed Ex store before they closed. Which we did. Phew.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


The first few days of this week I spent trying to get things dealt with before I left for my meeting in Yosemite (the land of very little cell phone reception) – things like coordinating meet-ups with my older sister and her family this weekend, or trying to get all of our domains switched over to one single domain registrar because they’re all coming up for renewal next month and we thought it might be nice to have them all in one (less expensive) place (my mind is still trying to wrap around the concept that I have owned for nearly 11 years, because that is really an impossibly long time in internet-years), and also trying to coordinate with some of the other singers for several caroling gigs this weekend.

It has been hectic and frustrating, and not made any easier due to the fact that everyone else seems to be just as rushed and harried these days, so there’s been a lot of phone and email tag being played on everyone’s part. It does not help that I also have a self-imposed knitting deadline for a project that I really, really want to have done by next Thursday, and I should be at least halfway done by now, and I am not, plus with the way things have been working for my schedule and for Richard’s, one of us has either been out of town or had something we had to do every single night of the week.

Thank goodness for online retail, at least. Even though we haven’t done a single thing to decorate or otherwise get into the holiday spirit, and I am truly not sure when we will have time to even *start* on that, at least all the gift shopping is complete.

‘Tis the season for Holidalies.