I am a freelancer in the publishing industry, so words are very important to me. I'm a leftist living in a world gone mad, so politics are very important to me. I'm an environmentalist living in a degrading world, so pick up your damn trash, get rid of your gas guzzlers, and don't touch ANWR, you self-absorbed capitalists!

Do leave comments: let's make this a conversation. If you prefer, you can contact me at friuduric at yahoo dot com.

30 June 2006

Last Day of June

...So here's a last Red Foods of June picture:

For some reason, Trixie got very excited about making red currant jelly. So the Consort and I went out with her to pick red currants off our bushes, then she and I stemmed them, boiled them to make juice, then boiled the juice again with sugar to make jelly. (Next time I will add sage leaves. The recipe called for it, but neither the Consort nor Trixie thought it was a good idea.)

She helped make the jelly (except for about 7 minutes during the boiling phase when the Consort's game of Warcraft seemed more interesting than watching sugary syrup bubble and boil). But she came right back to help fill the jars (she held the funnel).

Today, after a 4-H meeting, I promised the girls we would bike down to our local yarn shop. Impera has gotten very excited about making herself a scarf and hat out of this ultra-soft yarn she noticed there. And Trixie has stated she wants to make herself a scarf, then a hat, then a pair of socks. (Could be a case of plans bigger than one's attention span, but who knows?)

Oh, and I got a very nice note from a client of mine, so I'm walking on air! (I really mean to start sending notes to people whose work I appreciate [authors, reporters, etc.] because we none of us get enough encouragement, I think).

That's it for randomness for now.

29 June 2006

Insert Useful Title Here

My blogging is off this week; you don’t need to tell me, I already know. After four weeks of the girls at home, and of the Consort doing “work” from home (yes, he has been very productive, but really, I’m teasing him about bracketing his day with one hour of Warcraft on either end), this relatively anti-social freelancer is getting prickly.

So I’m copping out and offering you a link to the Book of the Zogg. Enjoy.

The funniest part is that I think I remember this Little Golden Book. But I don’t remember being particularly freaked out by the pictures; although seeing it now, I wonder, “What kind of art director thought these were a good idea?!!” (Oh, there they are. I wondered where a few stray exclamation points had gotten to after yesterday’s post.)

[Now, if anyone knows where I could find the Little Golden Book called The Color Bunnies, I’d be ever so grateful. There were these painter bunnies, see, and each two-page spread showed a bucket of color, plus items that were of that color. Its pictures enthralled me as a kid, especially the one at the end when all the buckets of paint swirled together into a rich rich brown. Anybody?]

PS: I remembered something else we learned at the Great Ape Trust yesterday: The male orangutan, Anzi, loves music. So once (before he was at the GAT) Peter Gabriel visited Anzi and they jammed. Lucky devil!

28 June 2006

Great Apes

Yesterday the girls and I visited the Great Ape Trust. It’s a research facility that does intelligence and behavior research (currently with bonobos and orangutans). Now, since most of you don’t live in Iowa, you probably aren’t thinking “Wow! That’s amazing!! They let you in?! I thought it was off-limits to the general public!!!” Yes, you’d be using more and more exclamation points. See, at first they weren’t letting anyone visit:

We’re a research facility, not an entertainment facility. Yeah, but, you sure are taking a lot of Iowa state funds, aren’t you? And we the taxpayers like those “Your Tax Dollars at Work” signs by public projects, see.

Aherm, well, we don’t have enough toilet facilities for lots of visitors to come through. How about if we promise not to pee while we’re there?

We wouldn’t want you to stress out the apes. This is a serious research facility!

Then, someone must have mentioned subtly that any institution that would like to grow and receive money from the outside might want to consider making the tiniest effort to be nice to the folks you’d like to get money from.

So this summer they’ve instituted 2-hour visits. They are free (but who doesn’t buy a cap, t-shirt, or book at the end of the tour?). The rules: You must be 10 years old. You must sign up ahead of time, and once the visit is full, it is full. You must be 10 years old. You must sign in at the security gate, and follow all the directives given to you by the staff. You may not take photographs. You must be 10 years old. The apes understand English, so you must speak respectfully about them in their presence. In fact, in the bonobo house, YOU MAY NOT SPEAK AT ALL!!!!! And, oh, you must be 10 years old.

People, did you know that you visit the blog of a rule-breaker? Yes indeed, Peaceable Imperatrix brought her “will-be-10-in-6-weeks” daughter on the visit. (Come on, Trixie is totally a great ape person. She belongs to Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, and even got to say hello to Dr. Goodall when she visited Iowa last year! Plus, she sat in on a presentation by a woman who is trying to save the bonobos in the Congo [the only place they live, which, if you haven’t heard, is in the throes of violence, with very little responsible control on the part of any of the factions].)

Well, for all my complaints, it was a great visit. Did you know that bonobos love to cook? And that the ones at the Great Ape Trust have learned language since babyhood, and that they are teaching it to the next generation themselves? Coolness.

In the bonobo house, we were taken in groups of four to stand by the window where we could observe the bonobos. When I went, the bonobo came up to the window, looked at us, and then wandered off. (Of course she would! She’s an intelligent person, and there we were standing like mute statues, afraid to even smile at her because we were afraid the staff were going to kick and beat us if we spoke!) But our guide got a group of four kids to go up (my two, our friend, and some random kid), and Kanzi, the “head” of the bonobos, came to the window and signed “chase”. One of the staff played chase with him. But that’s not what he wanted. He wanted the kids to play chase. So they did. He then said “chase, again!” and Impera and Trixie did. How cool is that? Interaction with another great ape! That in itself made the visit worthwhile, in my opinion.

Look, we’re all intrigued by the possibility of communicating with other species, aren’t we? That just feels so magical to me. I would LOVE to raise a bonobo as one of my family (not that we’re allowed to. But hey, once you break one rule … it’s a slippery slope, I tell you). If I had my school days to live over, I would SO study anthropology. In a heartbeat. Supposedly Spain is considering passing a resolution that gives personhood to great apes. And I think: Go Spain! Maybe we should move there.

Anyway, the visit was fantastic. Thanks to my friend D for inviting us along, and for confirming that my rule-breaking is an OK thing to do, if the circumstances are right. (And she’s a lawyer, so hey, if she says it’s alright, then it’s alright!—Right?)

27 June 2006

Conditional Girl

Children are great hedgers. And I think this is a natural protective measure. You never know how stupid an adult can be, so saying things like “I may have broken that dish” or “I just picked up the CD and this big scratch just … appeared out of nowhere!” (or, my own example from when I was a little girl looking through my mother’s jewelry box, having been warned to stay away from the old-fashioned razor blade she kept in there [I still don’t know why she kept one in there]: “I was looking at your rings, on the other side of the jewelry box from the blade; I looked down and–POOF!–my finger was bleeding. Isn’t that weird?”) can maybe avert a scolding. Who knows? It’s worth a try.

My Trixie has brought this conditional treatment to an art form. I don’t know why. It’s not like she needs to prevent physical punishment. Like yesterday, for example. I brought her to the doctor because for the past 6 weeks she’s been complaining off and on that her foot hurts. I happen to have overly flexible ligaments, which instead of preventing strains, allow it (I had to see a podiatrist a couple of years ago, who told me I just needed to stay off my feet for several weeks to heal the stretch [!!!]); I didn’t know if maybe I passed on this extra flexibility to my daughter (the podiatrist had said it was probable other family members had this same problem [hear that, sisters of mine?])

After waiting the requisite 15 minutes in the examination room, the doctor comes in and starts her exam. “Which foot is the one that hurts?” she asks Trixie.

“I’m pretty sure it’s this one.”


23 June 2006

Project Completed. Project Begun.

I’ve finished the socks!

They fit perfectly, and I’m very pleased with them. Lace isn’t as hard as I feared. After I began them, I read about how variegated yarns have a tendency to hide the lace effect, and now that I’m done, I have to agree. You can’t really see the lace with the colors swirling.

Hmmm. I have a ball of Sockotta sock yarn that is a very fun mix of colors, so I guess I should do it in a stockinette (i.e., plain) stitch. But I wonder if that might not bore me to death? I’ll have to report back. But later, because I’ve got a different project on my needles.

See, the reason I got the burst of energy needed to finish these socks was because I had received the package from my Secret Pal. As you remember, it included a cabled hat project, with yarn. Look at this, I’m already halfway done with the cabled band. And cable is fun! It’s a breeze, really. When I did the swatch (for all my non-knitter readers, that’s to make sure that if you follow the directions, you won’t get a result fit for an ogre or for a wee little elf), there was no way I could get 4 inches from 28 rows with the recommended size 8 needles, I was getting more like 6 inches or more. So I am knitting this with size 6 needles; and this is very strange for me because I am usually a tight knitter, so I am often on gauge or below it. I’m not sure if this means that the finished product will be for Impera or Trixie, or if I’ll be able to keep it for myself, as I originally planned. We’ll see.

But, after months of working on size 1’s, working on size 6’s is a snap. (I would have probably finished the band yesterday, but the yarn didn’t come out of the ball easily, so after making half of the band, I had to stop and spend an hour untangling the yarn. Grrrr.

22 June 2006

Unorthodoxy in Cooking

Last night, while the Consort was out playing Ultimate, I did something. Something so amazing and unorthodox that I still can’t believe I did it: I boiled some eggs with the pasta I was cooking for dinner. In the same pot. At the same time. Now, let me warn you that when the Consort finds out about this, you will hear his shock (and he doesn’t read the blog every day, so it may be next week). Even if you are in another state, even if you live across an ocean, his gasp of distress will be heard. Because, you see, the Consort has this “thing” about pasta.

Back when we were poor students,we’d sometimes make boxed macaroni and cheese dinners. This is when I first learned of his “thing” with all things pasta. I’m sure you all know that after you drain the elbow macaroni, you put it back in the pot and mix in the margarine, milk, and powdered cheese. My contribution to making better mac & cheese was to suggest putting the margarine in first: stir it up in the pasta, put the top back on the pot, and let the margarine melt completely in the hot noodles before adding the milk and powder. The Consort’s contribution was to insist that the powder needed to be added gently—grain by grain, almost—without stopping the stirring, or else you’d get clumps. Now, I was young, and in love, so I let him be the Cheese Powder Sprinkler; I never mentioned to him that we had made many a box of it at my house, too (my youngest sister loved that oh so American mac & cheese), and despite dumping it all in at once, we never got the dreaded clumps (or, if you did, you just stirred a bit more vigorously until they were broken up). Whatever floats your boat, babe.

This was a minor fixation, compared to other fixations a live-in boyfriend might have had (drinking til he puked every weekend, baseball on TV [sorry KathyR, I’m just not a baseball person], leaving the kitchen a mess, leather and chains … all that kind of stuff). So I let it be. I figured that in the fullness of time, he would work through his pasta sensitivity. And I am here to bear witness that just a few years ago, he mentioned, on his own, that you know, the powder does dissolve pretty well, even if you dump it all in at once.

But recently, when he was in the kitchen while I prepared pasta, I realized that his pasta sensitivity had not gone away, it had just been transferred. The water was at a rolling boil, so I dumped in the spaghetti.

“Eek!” he cried. “It’s going to stick!”

No it’s not, I told him. I return to my task, and, as the dry pasta softens in the water, Iuse the wooden spoon to press it further into the water, until it is all submerged and I can swirl it around a bit, to prevent that stickiness of which the Consort is so afeared.

“You just dump it all in at once?” he asked.

Yup. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I just can’t imagine how one could “sprinkle in” stiff strands of spaghetti!

Back to last night: it had been hot and sticky all day, so I figured today would be as well. I had a hankering for hard-boiled eggs, so I figured that cooking them in the pasta water would reduce the amount of boiling I had to do and pat two dogs at one time (as Trixie says; she doesn’t like the whole killing birds image).

It did mean I had to be a bit more delicate in my stirring. But no eggs cracked, the pasta was al dente, and I was able to turn the stove off after 10 minutes of one pot boiling, rather than two pots for 10 minutes … or one pot for 20 minutes. The eggs were a bit slippery from the pasta water, but other than that, success.

Now just brace yourself for the gasp.

P.S. In red foods of June news: Yesterday the Consort came back from our little neighborhood farmers’ market with strawberries, so I was able to make strawberry shortcake.

Although the cream I whipped tasted terrible (like metal poison; is that what bad cream tastes like when whipped?), so we had to use—gasp! (my gasp here)—some Reddi Whip we had left over from a sundae evening with Trixie’s friend and her family the other night. The girls were thrilled. I refused to use the Reddi Whip, so I put crème fraiche on mine instead. Very good.

21 June 2006

Summer Has Arrived

For the past six weeks, we've been able to hold off on turning the air conditioner on until, oh, 5 o'clock on very hot days (some days we only needed to turn it on when we went to bed [if we leave the windows open at night, then the car noises and such keep us from sleeping deeply]). Don't get me wrong, it would get hot (90 degrees and up); but our old house kept the cool for much longer than one would think.

We've also been able to bring our sandwiches outside at lunchtime and eat in the garden, and most dinners were eaten out back as well. This is the pleasant part of the year: the weather's fine and the mosquitoes aren't out yet.

But now; now that the Solstice has come, the humidity has arrived. This morning, it looked a bit overcast and gray (showers have been passing through), so I opened the window, to let some of the cool in. Nope. What greeted me instead was a sticky hot breath of "fresh" air. I shut the window quickly. We'll stop the cool from escaping for as long as we can.

I meant to provide a good post today, but the humidity has wilted my resolve. Instead, I'll talk about the red foods of June.

First, we have rhubarb. Our own stalks, plus some from the farmers' market, provided enough to make some rhubarb fool:

The picture makes it seem too yellow, and too whipped cream-y. It was delicious, though. You just make rhubard compote (Peel and cut up rhubarb, add sugar, maybe a smidgen of water, some cardamom, and half a vanilla bean; cook until it's a pink smush; scrape the bean, return the specks to the smush) and chill. Layer with lightly sweetened whipped heavy cream in tall glasses. Serve.

Then, there are the strawberries, with which I hope to make some strawberry shortcake. (And maybe some jam; it depends on how much there is at the farmers' market).

Then, here we have:

Our first harvest of sour cherries off our tree. The Consort started two gallons of cherry wine, and I made a delicious sour cherry upside down cake. This recipe is definitely a keeper. You should try it; the recipe is here. I found it by reading the archives of yarn harlot, which I have recently discovered. (As an aside, does anyone else, when they come across a blog they find interesting, spend the next week or so reading the entries in order from the beginning? No? It's just me? Oh well.)

Have you any red foods of June that you particularly like?

20 June 2006

My Secret Pal Rocks!

Yesterday, the mailman brought me a box of treasures. The girls crowded around as I opened it, and oohed and aahed at all the pretty wrapped rectangles:

(And if my Secret Pal notices that maybe the packing looks different, it’s because I was so curious about what the box of treasures contained that I unwrapped with wild abandon, all the while warning the girls to “Let me do it, this is MINE!” Only afterwards did I think I should have taken a pre picture, so I rewrapped everything for a photo op.)

The unwrapping and finding out what was there was half the fun (well, maybe a quarter of the fun, but enjoyable, whatever the percentage). Can you see how much my Pal was able to stuff into a cardboard box?

There are books—for me and the Imperatrixes-in-Training (Trixie has already claimed Mr. Popper’s Penguins). There is a set of cute blank notecards, as well as a chic photo brag book. There are desk supplies (I love desk supplies, particularly post-it notes; I use them in my work, I leave post-its on packages to mail, I take down the name of books or CDs I come across that I’d like to get from the library on them … although I’ve never left a nagging note on one [I like them too much to use them in such a manner: they should bring joy, not frustration]). There is an innovative (that's what hte publishers call it, and I agree) vegetarian cookbook (wow, this Pal does the homework!) that has a chile-ginger parsnip recipe: I love the sweetness of parsnips, and I’m always hoping to find different ways to prepare them! Plus, when you’ve been vegetarian for 18 years, it’s hard to find recipes that seem new and snazzy, but this book is full of new and snazzy ways to prepare vegetables; innovative!

Of course, this is a knitting-themed exchange, so I also got two skeins of 100% yak milk protein fiber (you can make yarn out of yak milk? I did not know that!), a book on crocheting beaded bags, plus the pattern, worsted yarn, double-pointed needles, and cable needles (!!!) needed to make a very cool-looking hat.

And then, there was the chocolate decadence cookie, as well as a variety of fruit leathers. (Was. Notice the “was”.)

Secret Pal, thank you! I am very excited to get cracking on all this bounty. In fact, I believe I will be finishing that second lace sock that has been languishing for a while, so I can cast on that hat. Maybe even by this afternoon!

19 June 2006

Weekend Recap

This weekend was … rather not what we had expected (I’m trying to find the positive, here, folks). Most of our friends were going off to other states to visit family over the Father’s Day weekend (not that Father’s Day is celebrated all weekend, but that it happens to fall on a weekend, so people are willing to travel back to the old homestead or other fun vacation states for a visit—sorry dads).

Now, there is a group of people that we thought we had things in common with, but that weren’t our normal group of friends. And they were having a group campout this weekend. Since our usual partners in crime weren’t going to be around (so it wasn’t like we were snubbing them or anything [not that they thought so, just that I was worried about any perceived slight of camping with “potential new” friends over doing something with “established friends”…yes, I sometimes indulge in overthinking, but you all knew that]), we thought, “Hey, maybe we should go to the group camping!”

This would have been fine except for a few things: 1) They started the campout on Friday, but we didn’t show up until Saturday afternoon (because of previously scheduled activities), 2) The person who had told me that this would be a great time for us to join up with them and get to know folks wasn’t around this weekend (I was under the impression that he would be) and didn’t mention to anyone that we’d be showing up, 3) These people didn’t turn out to be the most welcoming bunch in the world (some folks didn’t talk to us the entire time we were there; don’t get me wrong, others did, but, mmm, only if we sat down next to them and started the conversation ourselves, and there was one couple and their 13 year old daughter who were very nice, indeed), but mostly, it was that 4) There was a handful of people who stayed up late Saturday night, got incredibly drunk, and, in the tradition of drunk people everywhere, spoke REALLY LOUDLY, kept insisting they were NOT DRUNK, and, with all their inhibitions lowered, used LANGUAGE THAT WOULD SHAME A SALTY DOG. In EVERY sentence. And decided a wonderful topic for this 2 a.m. conversation to be: “Bisexuality, versus homosexuality, heterosexuality, or a mix thereof, does not exist. Discuss.”

The Consort admitted on Sunday that he wondered, “Gosh, just how hard would it be to get the four of us up, into the car, and back home?” (This campout was at a state park only about 20 minutes out of town). But he decided the risk was too high that the camp gate was locked (as many do after a certain hour of the night), and we’d be stuck there anyway.

I admitted that although I really had to go to the bathroom around 4 am (really, from 2 am to 4 am and beyond), I wasn’t sure what scene would greet me if I left the tent, so I just held it in. (I usually have a bathroom run once during the night. This meant that above the loud conversation, the crass discussion of personal mores, and the overindulgence of alcoholic beverages [probably Milwaukee Beast, I’m guessing], I kept thinking about how I REALLY had to go, but I kept shutting up my inner voice [and not turning over onto my stomach or my left side, for obvious reasons]).

Yes, we could have asked them to be quiet, but heck, we felt we had kind of “crashed” their campout, you know? If the rest of them were OK with this (I still don’t understand how all those other folks were able to sleep through it [earplugs, maybe?]; really this was just 2 really loud people and maybe 2 others in for the conversation), then it wasn’t our place to say.

On Sunday morning, we four went for a nice hike down to the lake, and I made sure to tell the girls that not all adults were like these two. Trixie, who I found out went to the bathroom three times during the night (three times! she's a brave one), informed me that “They were pretty loud.” (Luckily, although she heard about the bisexual vs. experimental part, the ‘82 partners part, of which 12 have been of one kind and 70 of the other’ seems to have gone over her head. [Not that that bothers me, just that the language used to describe it was, as I said, pretty salty, and it isn't the kind of thing that need to be elaborated on around kids {and did I mention that there were lots of other kids in this group?}]) Impera noticed that “They smoke a lot!” (True, but not all of it was straight tobacco, chickie…).

So, how can I spin this into a positive, you ask? Well, 1) we are pretty confident we won’t be going camping with these folks again, 2) We all slept very well last night, 3) The weather was perfect while we camped (it wasn’t humid during the day, and it cooled down beautifully at night), and 4) We took the dog with us, let her run off-leash when we were down at the lake shore, and she had a BLAST.

But she’s still recuperating from all the fun:

16 June 2006

Blog Hunting

[whispered British voiceover]

Welcome to another episode of Mutual of Hama-O’s Blog Hunters. We now join our intrepid blogger as she moves cautiously towards the new visitor. The visitor’s silent comings and goings have been noticed over the past few weeks, but it (we have yet to get close enough to determine the sex) has yet to make its visits known publicly.

Our blogger is trying not to disturb the large tufts of free-growing binary grass that encircle the blog site. The visitor, which we think is a
Surfericus New Jersica, is as yet too shy to move beyond the safety of the undergrowth. Can our blogger coax the visitor out into the open? She has begun the ritual of welcoming, but it is an awkward dance which can easily be mistaken for the ritual of taunting; only a confident blogger can attempt such delicate movements. Oh my! It looks like the visitor is taking some tentative steps towards the circle. Can it really be? Will the new visitor become known?

...Oh no! A flock of Robot Spam birds has decided at this moment to perch in the Comment Palms, setting up a squawking that has frightened the unidentified
Surfericus deep back into the binary grass. Our blogger is distraught. Her shoulders droop. All that “welcome to my blog” shimmying for naught. Ah well, such are the trials and tribulations of a blog hunter.

As the sun sets on the whispering grasslands of the blogosphere, we are only left with questions. Will the visitor return? Have the Robot Spam birds scared it off for good? Or, perhaps, was the dance of welcoming too shoddy? Our blogger will contemplate her next move, and we shall see what her plan will be next time on Blog Hunters.

[deep American voiceover]
This episode of Blog Hunters has been underwritten by Mutual of Hama-O and their national subsidiaries, under the Parlin Merkins endowment. Mutual of Hama-O: For Today, and All of your Tomorrows.

15 June 2006

Fat Knees

Oh. For. Crying. Out. Loud.

It seems that some women now are getting micro-liposuction to remove the fat from places such as (get this) their knees.

One woman had a surgeon remove some fat from her lower back (note that this woman, before surgery, was trim and fit and getting whistles when she walked down the street). Another one, 5-foot 10-inches tall and 126 pounds, had liposuction on her upper arms. (I know, you can't get to the end of the previous sentence because you're shocked at the 5'10" and 126 lbs. [Even at my sveltest, say, in those wedding pics, there is no way my 5'9.5" frame was down as low as 126. No way.])

Why does our society exalt the enbalmed (via Botox) anorexic (via liposuction)? Why?

Personally, I think all those plastic surgery babes are scary-looking. Makes me wanna eat a brownie in defiance. (So there, scary skinny babes!)

14 June 2006

Dill Days of June

Our garden is rather prolific in dill right now. See the green fuzziness in the picture? That’s not shaking on my part; that’s dill.

And I’ve run out of dill ideas. We’ve added dill stalks to our salads. We’ve been having lots of raw veggies with:

Creamy Dill Dressing
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
1T minced fresh dill
Fresh ground pepper to taste

1. Mix it up. Chill until needed.

And tomorrow I am making:

Quick Cottage Cheese Dill Bread

2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 heaping T minced fresh dill
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour a 1.5 quart loaf pan
2. In a large bowl mix the first 5 ingredients.
3. In a small saucepan combine the oil and honey, and heat until just blended. Remove from heat and stir in milk, egg, and cottage cheese.
4. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined Scrape into prepared pan and press down on batter to remove any air pockets. Smooth the top, then give the pan a good thump on the counter. (You’ve got to wake those drowsy baking spirits).
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until golden on top. Or you can test with a knife. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack before unmolding, and let it cool at least 1 hour before slicing.

I expect we’ll try to dry some, too, for Mother Wolf Soup in the winter. But I sure would like to have some other recipes for dilly stuff to make now. Anyone have any to share?

13 June 2006

Happy Anniversary, Consort

Fourteen years. Two kids. Five Macs. Not a bad start, indeed.

You still make me laugh. (You still drive me crazy.) And that's the way it should be.

And for those who thought I was just making up the whole Imperatrix thing, I offer you this:

12 June 2006

For my Secret Pal, But You Others Can Read and Commiserate as Well

Dear Secret Pal –

I’ve visited a few of the participants’ sites for SP8. And I finally got the questionnaire from my spoilee. And I feel I have to say: Sorry! I realize now that I am nowhere near as high a caliber knitting pal as many others. Now, I’m not saying this to get you to respond, “No, no, Imperatrix, you’re as fine a pal as anyone would like!” (Really, my ego got lots of stroking during the Home Tour, I’m fine.)

…But these people know the names of the specialty yarns they prefer. They have all sorts of fancy tools. They whip up entrelac sweaters in a week (—a week!). And here I am still chugging along on that pair of socks. Which I won’t post a picture of because I am getting close to finishing. And if I post it now, I won’t have anything to post then. I like that you come visit my site a lot; but I feel bad that my knitting posting isn’t up to snuff.

But I can share the following tale of woe. So here goes.

I think that all our good luck on the kitchen redo (everything in one piece, all the work done on time…) has sucked out any other nearby luck.

Somehow, during the 3 weeks of painting and renovations, I lost (where would it go, I wonder?) one of my bamboo double-pointed needles that I was using for my socks (and I think I mentioned that I didn’t really like them anyway, they were too long [8 inches] and too delicate [I had already broken one]). I needed to get another set.

On Saturday, we wanted to incorporate a few fun errands into my needle run, so we decided to visit the New and Improved Central Library for our city. Well, the lines were long (and mislabeled, so I waited 10 minutes in one that was supposedly “Help”, but when I got to the front they sent me to another line [!!!]). Then, because I hadn’t brought my keys, which has my library card fob on it, they wouldn’t let us check out books (even though I had my other ID with me in my purse). Yes, I took it personally. But hey, the old Library building was a 1903 treasure with lots of cool windows and beautiful tilework on the floor. And this is a copper monstrosity that they obviously spent too much for, because the carpeting and the shelving look like seconds from a discount office warehouse. It is not welcoming in the least.

So, we leave the library and drive to a craft shop. They don’t have any needles smaller than 3s (I needed 1s). Another wasted stop. Grrr. Then, Impera wanted to get a computer game, so we went to the CompUSA nearby, which stocks Mac versions of games. Did they have the game she wanted? No they did not. (Fer crying out loud!!!). We are batting 0 for 3 at this point, and I am disheartened. We stop by a housewares store for a new grater (we seem to have misplaced ours in the past 3 weeks) and some kitchen rugs. The rugs are OK, but not really what we like. We try another store. No better luck there.

On the way home, we stop at the specialty yarn store where I had bought the bamboo needles. I’m not very happy about having to buy a second set of needles of a type I don’t like, but what choice do I have?

A bit of luck now: They actually carry another kind of needles in size 1: Brittany birch needles! I used these when I made the Consort’s winter hat in December. They are much sturdier than the bamboo ones, and they are made in N. California from sustainably harvested domestic birch. How perfect!

Except, they are 5 inches long. Which is very puny. I feel like I’m knitting with Hobbit needles. Is it too much to ask to have 6- or 7-inch needles (but 8-inchers are too long, remember)? That would have been perfect. But at least now I have been able to continue on these socks.

I sure hope that all this bad luck has brought us back into alignment with the Universe. Because Saturday really sucked.

09 June 2006

Things I Learned This Morning

1. Behavior Modification

If you want your kids to do their morning chores without sighing and to eat their breakfasts at a reasonable time (rather than have to be nagged at 10 AM that it is time to finally have breakfast, and yes I know it's summer vacation and yes, I know there are no plans today...), then have an argument with your spouse. Not a no-holds-barred shoutfest, just a serious disagreement. In the kitchen.

Then just sit back and watch those kids behave. Hoo-yah!

2. Voice of Wisdom

Michael Berg (father of Nicholas Berg, the young businessman who was beheaded on video in Iraq in May 2004 by a man thought to have been al-Zarqawi) is my hero. If you read the interview, you'll notice that he doesn't allow the CNN "reporter" to bait him in any way.

08 June 2006

"Haste Makes ..." Well, It's a Bad Thing

So I moaned here about how our internet cable provider was on the fritz the past two weeks, and, after having dealt with their less-than-acceptable service for five years, we switched to DSL, thanks to a buddy (in the weakest sense) of the Consort. This buddy came over last week and got us hooked up. At one point as the Consort and the Buddy were changing pointers, etc., our password needed to be entered. Buddy offered to plug in the info if the Consort just sang out the password. Considering the Consort's anality about such things*, he just mumbled that no, it was OK, he'd plug it in. Buddy made some comments about that, implying he was joking, but really making it clear he felt snubbed (he's got the personality you'd expect from a computer guy).

Eureka! We had internet connectivity!

Except that my laptop, which we hadn't turned on during Buddy's visit, wasn't connecting the next day. This was crunch time for Home Tour preparation, so I put it on the back burner and just used our old iMac instead.

But then... I noticed something strange. Someone from Buddy's server was visiting my site... For hours and hours! And They came back several times a day!

This freaked me out because we never talked about my blog with Buddy, so the only way he could have gotten the link was if he had somehow gotten our bookmarks or something. Was this his way of getting even with us for not sharing our password? How much info had he stolen? Did we have to change all our passwords -- like to my student loans or our bank account?!

I was pissed. I was so angry that he would do such a thing (and he's a computer guy, so if anyone could suck someone's private info off a computer, it was Buddy). The Consort was surprised to say the least, but he was busy, too, so he didn't have the time to call Buddy and see what was up with this incident.

I figured the Consort would be too nice about it, so I should take matters into my own hands. I mean, it was my blog this guy had violated! I didn't have time to post anything other than place-holder posts (you all noticed that). But I was planning a post where I would get him. Oh, yes, he'd be reading along, thinking I was praising him, and then -- BANG !-- I'd let him and all my readers know that I knew what he was up to. In my daydream, you all would boo and hiss supportively, and I'd get even, yes I would.

Well, on Saturday morning, I'm elaborating on my payback post daydream in my head while I'm scrubbing the sink, and another explanation comes to mind. See, I've set up my laptop to be invisible to Sitemeter, so when I check my blog, it won't keep a tally of those visits. But my laptop was out of commission, right? So I was using the iMac ... which wasn't invisible ... and our new service provider's server would (of course) have the same name as Buddy's server ... so every time I visited my site, or the girls visited my site, the name would be .... THE SAME!

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Thank god I didn't have time to put my devious plan in motion those first few days (although, as Buddy wasn't really visiting my site, he never would have seen it; but the Consort's plan of just talking to him would have shown us to be silly fools [so see, deviousness would have kept us safe!]).

Sometimes, giving our brains the time to catch up with our emotions is a good idea.

*When we moved to California, lo these 14 years ago, we didn't have internet connectivity at first. So the Consort took me to one of the student computer labs (which was a busy busy place full of students coming and going, not paying attention to what others were doing) and showed me how I could sign in under his grad student password to get online.
"Now, this is the password," he said. He looked around furtively and he slowly typed out N...E...B...U.
"Oh, you mean Nebu, the name of our parakeet?" I said (out loud, but now loudly).
He waved his hands frantically. "SHHHHHHHHHHH!" he hissed, a look of terror on his face.
We were newlyweds at the time, but I couldn't help laughing at the distress on his face.
You'd think I had shouted out our ATM passcode or something, sheesh!

07 June 2006

The Home Tour

Let me tell you a bit about my neighborhood. It’s 125 years old this year. Development began when a new private university opened right here, which at the time was outside the city limits, but now is only 5 minutes from downtown. Advertisements from the late 1800s sell this area as a wonderful getaway from the city: a place where families (of lawyers and small businessmen) could live in the fresh air of the countryside, only a trolley-ride away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. It was a golden age.

Then, in the mid 20th century, life wasn’t so good. These old homes (Craftsmans, Foursquares, and a few Victorians) were big (many, such as ours, were built with a back staircase [servants’ staircase]). They weren’t insulated. Electricity and indoor plumbing were added after the fact. Not many people could afford the upkeep, so they were purchased by that bane of cities: landlords. These people came in a craved three, four, or more apartments out of these single-family homes, adding outdoor staircases to attic apartments, doing just enough maintenance to keep the city inspector from applying fines.

Needless to say, if the landlord doesn’t care about the property, neither will the tenants: as property quality goes down, tenant quality goes down, too. By the 1970s, the university was telling students to stay off the neighborhood streets, police weren’t very visible, and life around here sucked.

But a few tenacious property owners banded together and started a neighborhood association that worked with the city to fix the neighborhood’s problems. Once a few people start making a difference, more outsiders become willing to take a risk and purchase property in this type of neighborhood.

By the time we arrived in 2000, this neighborhood was up and coming. Many older homes had been renovated by adventurous home owners, and every year the neighborhood association sponsored a Tour of Historic Homes. In fact, the Consort and I decided to buy in this neighborhood because our house-hunting weekend happened to fall during the House Tour that year, and we chatted with people and decided we could make a go of it here. Don’t get me wrong: it is still a transitional neighborhood. But the city is actively involved in keeping it safe, and right now we have, all within walking distance, a drugstore/market, a video store, several restaurants (Chinese, Mexican, Greek, African, American bistro, barbeque), a one-screen movie theater, two sandwich shops, a coffee shop, two hairdresser, a couple of tattoo parlors, a live-music venue (OK, it’s called Hairy Mary’s and their acts are mostly punk, but still…), and lots more planned.

The Home Tour is a way for the neighborhood to showcase the great work people can do to fix up an older home, and to get people thinking, “Hey, I could live here, too!” Anyway, most of the homes on the House Tour have been renovated by couples without children (either before they have kids or with no plans of having children). We were asked to be on the tour for two reasons: first, our awesome backyard (because previous owners bought a condemned house, tore it down, and put in fruit trees; and because the Consort’s put a lot of time and effort into adding plants, bushes, and more fruit trees); and second, because we have kids (so the thought process can go from “Hey we can live here” to “Hey we can live here with our kids!”).

The House Tour is a great motivator: we redid the kitchen and repainted the living and dining rooms. It’s exhausting both before (trying to get everything finished on time) and during (standing up from 11 to 5 two days in a row, talking with people who walk through your house, all day). But it was so fun to hear the compliments from people when they saw the garden, the kitchen, the woodwork in the dining room that we stripped of paint and varnish. (And the color choices both in the dining room and in the kitchen; that made me feel good, too.) Lots of people liked the floating floor we installed in the kitchen, too. I forgot to add that picture in the kitchen set, so here is the vinyl before and the new floor:

It was also fun that one woman who came had grown up visiting this house weekly: Her aunt and grandmother lived here from the 1940s to the 1980s. She saw an article for the Houme Tour, which mentioned this house, in a magazine when she was getting her hair permed, and decided she had to see what the house looked like now. It was wonderful talking with her. And one of the two guys who did a lot of the renovations to this house and who turned our garden into the “oasis” that it is came on Saturday. On Sunday he returned with his partner. They told us all sorts of funny renovation stories, and gave us a duplicate set of pictures of the old condemned house and of them doing some of the tear down. As the Consort said, you never expect when you do the Home Tour that visitors will be telling you stuff about your house!

So I’m glad we did it. It made me feel proud to live in this neighborhood, and it made me feel proud of our home decorating accomplishments. And it made me remember how much I love our very cool garden, that makes living in the city bearable.

(I've posted pictures of the living room and kitchen below this post.)

The Kitchen

Warning: I'm not too happy with the pictures. But I really want to get this up, so here we go.

Before, the walls were beige, and the cabinets were large, but they were dark and had large gouge marks in the soft wood. We had a portable dishwasher. The Consort and his dad built a counter for us to slide the dishwasher under when it wasn't in use.

(And the kitchen was beige. Blech!)

We chose maple cabinetry because it is light and airy. And balanced that with dark green counters. We have a built-in dishwasher now, too!

We had so many colorful seed packets from the garden (Seeds of Change packets), that I said one day, "We should use these in a frame!" The Consort took me up on it, and he put it all together.

"Wait," you're thinking, "don't the colors look different in that last picture. Yes, you're right: three walls are a sunny yellow, the fourth is orange. Someone who came through the tour called it a "margarita kitchen" -- I guess he's right, although the runner on the counter is one we bought in Guatemala last year (not a traditional maragrita country, really).

You all should plan to come visit, so you can see what the colors look like in real life.

The Living Room

Before, there were multiple colors on the ceiling trim (red and gold) and the walls were a vibrant yellow. The fireplace surround was white. And that inset above the fireplace was so large that whatever we put in there looked dwarfed by the space.

Now, the walls are more toned down, and the fireplace matches the drapes (Pow!). And the Consort painted a piece that fills the inset, so no more big open hole.

06 June 2006

Sorry I'm Keeping You Waiting

Putting a kitchen back together takes more time than taking it apart. Add in a spouse who does half the cooking, so expects to have input in where things go, and that makes things take even longer. But the end is in sight: the Consort is going to the office now, so I can make the final decisions myself (was it clear that we have very different ideas about where to put things that we use every day?).

Stories of the party hosted by our Somali neighbors (that's a Somali party) and the hour tour will come, I promise (and yes, KathyR, we let hundreds of people traipse through our house... it was more fun than I thought it would be!)

04 June 2006

House Tour, Day 1

Wow! I didn't think we'd have things cleaned up and put away, but when 11 o'clock chimed, we were ready. Lots of fun, about 250 people came through on the tour on Saturday, and they expect 350 or more today.

I stood up most of the day, though, so last night I warned the Consort that wherever I sat down, there I'd stay for quite a while.

Two previous owners came through on the tour, so we were able to hear stories of the house from the 1940s plus we were able to thank in person the man who planted our apple/pear/cherry trees. (He was glad to see we were taking care of the trees and didn't cut them down!)

Photos and more lucid reportage tomorrow, I would venture.

(Tonight, the girls and I have been invited to a Somali party [women only, of course]. That should be interesting as well!)

01 June 2006

T - 48 Hours and Counting

On Saturday at this time, we will be opening our door to strangers, and I know the house will still smell of paint. As I write, two Bosnian counter men are in my kitchen, installing the counter, and the Consort is in the bathroom, installing quarter-round.

I had to come to the cafe so I could upload digital "before" pictures to our local Walgreens Pharmacy so I can pick them up in an hour (ain't the Internet swell?). I figure I had a couple of minutes to post a quickie for you all. (Hey, KW, do you think using a word like "quickie" in a post will get me some x-rated google searches?)

I promised KathyR I'd tell my plumbing with lumber story, but I'll have to do that later, I think.

I will finish off by presenting you all with the photo of the Hellmouth I promised:

There is the overturned compost bucket, held in place by the cement block. If you look closely at the roll of toilet paper, you will notice it is shredded. That's because before the cover was in place, a demoncub shot out and tried to make it into our Midwestern Sunnydale. As we were beating it down, it grabbed on to the toilet roll, thinking it could just hang on with its superior strength. Little did it understand the concept of a toilet roll!

(Actually, it was the cat who did that. He does it whenever we forget to take the roll out when we put him in the bathroom at night. It's his way of marking his displeasure with the whole situation.)