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.

31 January 2007

Word Wednesday: Superfluous adjectives

Last week I found myself cranky for a while. I had to send a sympathy card. The crankiness was threefold.

First, I felt that I was ordered to do so. Even at the age of 39, I can still be bullied by my mother. And it constantly amazes me that a person who is so diplomatically adept when it comes to other people can choose the perfectly wrong way to phrase something when it comes to her own daughter. At heart, I am stuck at 13 years old. I acknowledge it.

Second, I had to do it in French, and I always worry when I have to compose anything in French. We spoke it at home when I was growing up, but taking French at school would have been considered an “easy A”, so I took Spanish instead. This means that I know much more about Spanish grammar and orthography than about the mass of French language rules.

Second-and-a-half (shush, this is my blog post, I’ll number it however I please), I am a perfectionist, and I would hate for there to be a spelling or grammar mistake in a letter. Plus, being an editor is my job (albeit in English, not French), so I would just die if I sent something out with a mistake. (Blog posts don’t count. They’re spur of the moment writing, and would be boring if they were perfect.)

Second-and-three-quarters, I don’t like to send generic letters of condolence. I feel that in this type of correspondence, you need to take the time to make the person you are writing about real. This usually means incorporating a shared memory with the recipient. I had met the woman who died twice in my life. (Well, maybe more when I was a baby and living in Belgium, but I don’t remember those times.) This was a family relationship that was practically nonexistent during most of my growing up years (just from busy-ness and living on separate continents), but in the past ten years or so (while I was living my grown-up life, separate from my parents, of course), my mother has rekindled a close relationship with her aunt and her cousins.

Third. The superfluous adjective part. I received an email, reminding me (and my sibs) that in French, the phrase is, “Nos plus sinceres condoleances” (with some accents that I won’t put in because I’m sure Blogger will munge them. Yes, I do know which ones they are, and where they go!). Translated, “our most sincere condolences.” My trip to the local card shop confirmed that this phrase is used in English as well. To which I say: Pshaw! (I put that in just for z, who enjoyed it when I used that word the other day.)

Why do we need the “sincere”? Shouldn’t you just assume that any (or, at least, the vast majority) of condolences you receive are sincere? What kind of boobs are we that cards have to reassure the recipient that—no, this isn’t a joke, we really feel bad for your loss, and wish we could give you a hug, but in our culture today, strangers coming up and giving you a hug might freak you a just a bit, so instead, here’s this card, made from a dead tree, and printed with inks that may or may not poison the waters near the factory, creating dead water plants and dead fishes, just to tell you we feel for you, really; truly; no, for real, Herb’s not in the back chuckling. We ARE sorry. We sympathize. We may even empathize, but we’re not sure we’re totally clear on what the difference is...

I searched. The definition of condolence is, “An expression or declaration of sympathy with a person who has experienced pain, grief, or misfortune.” I dug deeper and checked out sympathy, too, in case there was an implication of inveracity to either word. There isn’t. Why burden a perfectly good word with a hanger-on adjective that only serves to cast aspersions on the strength and character of that good word?

So I, being the rebel that I am, sent condolences to the family. I also told them I thought their mom was a cool lady, who was independent (she still mowed her own lawn at the ripe old age of 91) and always had a positive outlook on things. I told them her energy and vivaciousness is something I hope to be able to live up to in my own life. Sincerely.

30 January 2007

Note to Self

If you insist on following through with that cockamamie excercise plan on a 7 F/-14 C day, then -- despite what you read recently about exercise making the ambient temperature feel about 30 degrees higher than it is -- bring a scarf and a hat for the walk back to the car!

Because the metal snaps on your jacket don't make the same conversion, and they will freeze the skin of your neck..

Age-ist and Unrepentant

When I support changing a rule, I fully expect to have to live with the consequences myself. Because the good of society supercedes any individual's rights.

Should everyone pay higher taxes to support social services and medical care for all? Damn straight.

Should affirmative action be continuted, even if it means that I or a member of my family may be affected by a choice made to comply with such laws? Yes.

Should the retirement age be upped? Of course. (Even if that means I won't be guaranteed the 20-plus years of retired traveling-time the Baby Boomers have been able to take advantage of? Why-ee-esss.

Should older drivers be required to renew their licenses on an accelerated schedule? Incorporating reflex tests and visions tests? Abso-fucking-lutely. Once we hit 65, we should be tested yearly. Yes, yearly.

29 January 2007

So Many FOs

This past week was highly productive knitting-wise. I finally completed the Jaywalkers I began in … oh, I don’t want to say (*psst, it was July*). I have named them my Teenage Mutant Zebra socks:

The stitch pattern dissolved the yarn pattern; but you can see it here on the bottom of the socks, which was knit in stockinette:

Would I use this pattern again? No. Although I liked the two-directional diagonal panels, the sock is bunchy and curly in too many places (can you see it in the first picture?). Plus, they are a bit saggy-baggy. I don’t know why the general knitting population thought these were too tight. (And I don’t have particularly narrow feet.)

Knitting socks is one of those things that I think is a great idea, and I love the idea of wearing only hand-knit socks in the winter (in the summer, I want cotton sports socks, thankyouverymuch). But I haven’t had much luck making a sock that *hugs* my foot. I think next time I’ll just make a smaller size, following directions be damned.

Beyond all that, I do like my Teenage Mutant Zebra socks, because how cool do they look with my Stegmann slippers, eh?

I also made a pair of the Fetching fingerless gloves:

I’m sure most people who made these plan to use them when they go outdoors but still need to use their figers to manipulate car keys, metro passes, etc. Not me. I made them to use in my house. You see, when we have guests come over, we crank up the heat to a sweltering 65 degrees (18 C). When family comes to visit (because of little children or older people), we move it up to a scorching 68 degrees (20 C). But when it’s just us (or just me, most days), the daily temp is at a thawed 62 degrees (16 C) (56 [13 C] at night). The chill in my fingers, due to working at the keyboard (for electronic edits) or with pencil (for hardcopy edits), often summons a little devil on my shoulder, who urges me to turn up the heat in the whole house for my measly ten fingers. Now, I can type, make my swirly delete marks, and apply post-it notes without the devil on my shoulder. Very nice.

I would definitely make these again, but maybe make them a little longer abovethe thumb. I made them with Knitpicks’ Wool of the Andes, and hot damn!—is that stuff warm!

Lastly, yesterday afternoon I knit up a Jayne hat for Trixie. I made one for Three of Four’s birthday, but forgot to take a picture of it. Trixie mentioned that she really wanted one, too, so—here you go:

This hat is a reproduction of a hat received by the character Jayne (a big bully of a guy) from his knitting-challenged mother on the short-lived (but incredibly funny) Firefly series. If you like Joss Whedon’s work (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), westerns, and science fiction, then you should definitely rent this series. This household loved that first season (not as much as Three of Four did, I’d wager, but still…).

Now, someone please talk me out of my mad scheme. I’m thinking I want to make this next. Heaven help me.

26 January 2007

Random Fridayness

Today’s random post will have the theme: Things that make me smile. First, remember when I said I never win anything? Well, that is no longer true. It just so happens I won the last Secret Pal contest, and I received a skein of Lorna’s Laces in Mixed Berry (see it over here to the left?). Thank you to my hostess, Patty, for making SP9 a fun three months. And for breaking my loserly record. The colors are gorgeous (I’m not sure if the camera did it justice). Now, I just have to find a pattern for something that calls for 200 yards of sport weight yarn. (A lacy shawl? A hat? … Suggestions?)

Then, I wanted to show you a postcard that Cate sent me. I’ve told her before that I think she has a gift for finding the right card for people, and this one is fantastic. I love the leftist red background with stars, and that little kid looks like he means business! Thanks for sending a bit of sunshine in the mail, Cate. The Consort liked it so much he’s asked if he can bring the card to work and post it on his door. Now that I’ve got a snapshot of it, I’ll be generous and share it with him.

Next, I wanted to show you what the cat has been up to recently:

He sits for hours in front of this cabinet in the kitchen, looking at it. And do you know why? Because his little fluffball-of-rabbit-fur-stuffed-with-catnip-and-strung-from-an-elastic toy is kept in the second drawer from the top. He’s hoping one of us will finally get the message and take it out to play with him. Humans can be so dense, sometimes.

Lastly, the rabbit. Rabbits are notorious for having a bad sense of the passage of time. Also, they collect little bits of knowledge which get turned into the most amazing mish-mish of factoids. It seems Tamarind has learned about Goya. And, knowing himself to be a hot one with the babes (he has a mental block when it comes to that surgery he had when he was young), he’s decided to practice a pose he’d like Goya to paint. I present you, El Conejo Desnudo:

“Goya’s dead,” I told him.

"Well, so you say, but really, when he sees the way I drape my paw nonchalantly on the rim of my litter box, he’ll agree that I am a masterpiece in waiting! Now, be a doll and refill my hayrack, will ya?”

25 January 2007

When You Assume...

Impera and Trixie love to read Parents magazine. They borrow it from the library, and sometimes they’ll splurge and buy old copies of the magazine from the library for 25 cents each. Each month, Parents has articles on topics of interest to parents of children of all ages, from newborn to pre-teen. It also has a “Just for You” section, with makeup, health, and well-being articles for the moms.

Why do they read this magazine, you wonder? Well, All knowledge is worth having, as a character in a novel I’m reading is wont to say. I think Impera reads it for that reason. To make sure we're doing what we ought to (I had been negligent in scheduling 6-month dental check-ups when Impera was in 1st grade, and she called me on it after reading a Parents). And, just to know. Plus, let’s admit it, reading colorful magazines can be fun. Even an article on healthy snack foods for children has great pictures devised by creative art departments. Eye candy.

Trixie, on the other hand, reads it for the relationship articles. She was worried that the Consort and I were headed for divorce a few months ago because we didn’t dance together on a weekly basis, as Parents suggested. Now, the Consort is many things, but a salsa dancer, he is not. He is of true Germanic ancestry when it comes to rhythm and dance. We tried to explain to her that just because we didn’t get jiggy with it in the living room every week didn’t mean our relationship was on the verge of a breakdown.

The “Just for You” section is a treasure trove of PG information on intimacy, too (the audience they’re addressing is made up for the most part parents of the under-one set, when intimacy issues can be Intimacy Issues). And she absorbs every word. This information, combined with a naturally inquisitive child who is at that age where sex is a subject at once confusing and alluring, means in the past few weeks we’ve been getting many questions about how parts fit together, how does it work, how does it feel, … things like that. Before you ask why they aren’t covering this in school, let me say that in our school district, Sex Ed is scheduled for the spring in elementary school. In 4th grade, you learn how your body works. In 5th grade, you learn how the other half lives.* They will cover it, it just isn’t spring yet, you see.

The other day, Trixie comes over to me while I’m preparing dinner and asks, “Mom, what’s KY jelly?” Aha, she’s noticed the ads in the magazine, of course! I launch into an explanation of lubrication, how sometimes—for example, after childbirth and during nursing—our bodies don’t make enough natural lubrication. As I measure the herbs to add to the pot, I segue into a tangent on how women are advised not to have sexual intercourse for six weeks after childbirth, asking her to think about the physical stress of childbirth and how our bodies need a time of rest and healing. As I stir the bubbling soup, I discuss the delicacy of the tissues involved, and how irritation can quickly become inflammation and even yeast infection.

“Does that make sense?” I ask.

“Well, in the Rabbit Handbook, there’s a list of items you should have in your first aid kit for your bunny, and one of the things was KY jelly and a thermometer.”


That’s probably for taking the rabbit’s temperature rectally…

We always just used petroleum jelly when you and Impera were babies…

Never mind.

*In middle school, they teach the boys and girls together, and they talk about birth control, STDs, and show movies with titles like “Puberty: The Great Adventure” (yep, the kids like that movie about as much as you’d think they would, with a title like that!).

24 January 2007

So, too

*Sigh*. I had a post planned out about the State of the Union Address. I was going to write out a share of what we four said to the television as George Bush spoke. Some of our replies were funny, many of them were serious, but, in the end, I decided that it was silly of me to give something I think is just fluff pomp and circumstance too much attention.

I’ve never liked the SOTU. It’s just a one-hour infomercial by the Administration in power. Has any really new idea or program been introduced in a SOTU? (Consort? KathyF?) Certainly not recently. I think back to GWB’s promise of HIV/AIDS money for Africa a few years back. Whatever became of that? It was forgotten, just like funding for Afghanistan in the 2002 budget (just two months after the Taliban was ousted). And now it’s malaria money. Pfft. Ain’t gonna happen.

The sunshiny economic outlook? The rosy “success story” that is No child Left Behind? It’s all spin and lies. And platitudes: “Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on — as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done”: Really? So the past five years of slamming the door in the face of the Democrats was because there was no work to be done? Please, give us some credit, here.

I want action, not words. Like a good story, don’t tell me; rather, show me. And this commie-anarchist-leftist would really like it if we didn’t give someone three standing ovations just because they are holding an elected office. If they suck as an administrator, keep your butt glued to your seat. He’s. just. a. man.

23 January 2007

Sharing the Snark

Yesterday I went to the gym. (You know, the whole “get my house in order” crap [you know you’ve moved on from the excited-about-this-idea phase when you start talking about your plans as “crap”].) I don’t enjoy going to the gym. I always feel old and out of shape.

Before anybody tries to smooth-talk me, let me remind you that I go to a university gym, so everybody there is at least 15 years younger than me, and buff, and perky, and … perky. So there. My gym is worse than your gym. (But it’s also cheaper; the spouse membership is $20 per semester for track, pool, weight room, exercise room, classes, etc.)

It took the staff a few minutes to get all the sign-up paraphernalia together, so I sat and read the university newspaper. Wow! Better than comics, I tell you. I laughed out loud several times, and I think the entry guardian (a student who sits there and checks your card as you zoom it by his face) figured I was a bit weird. I meant to take a copy home after I did my 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer (I’m starting out slow, you see), but I forgot.

I left a message on the Consort’s machine, asking him to bring a copy home (“There’s something in there I … need,” I told him. I was afraid if I told him I wanted to blog about it, he wouldn’t bring it home [school spirit and all that]).

I didn’t fool him, he knew there must be something in there that I wanted to make fun of. I’m sorry, but really, when you come across something like this, what else can you do but share the laughter?

(Note: This is from the Security Reports section. Remember that this is an urban campus, so kids do need to keep their eyes open and be alert. Also … hmm, how shall I say it … members of the general community can just walk into certain buildings. For instance, the offices of the security services…)

A female entered the security office and advised she was feeling ill … The female stated she was having abdominal pains … She then dropped her drawers and exposed her business to show the officer where her misery had been. After the officer became conscious and responsive of his surroundings as well as his ability to speak he asked her doctor’s name, but she did not know. Fire/Rescue arrived and appeared to recognize the individual immediately and asked her where she wanted to go. She advised them and was taken to a local hospital.

If anyone exposed their business to me to show me where THEIR misery had been, I think I’d faint, too!

22 January 2007

Secret Pal, Coming and Going

Late last week my Secret Pal struck again! Actually, this was a tide-me-over package, because she’s heading out for a vacation to New Zealand and so will be sending me a package after that trip. She’s been great, and the whole family has enjoyed the Australian snacks (surprisingly, I’m the only one who appreciates the Vegemite).

In the package were, you guessed it, Arnott’s biscuits (no picture because it would be embarrasing to show how few are left today). Tim Tams and some mints ones that—dare I say?—I think I actually like better than Girl Scout thin mints. She sent along a cute green metal notepad (with refill pages!), that will fit just great in my purse/pack/pocket.

She also included a tam made with the same yarn (but different color) that she sent me last month. Here, we have Trixie modeling it for me in the very weak afternoon winter sun:

Thank you, Secret Pal!

Sticking with the Secret Pal theme, and because I have finished socks to show you but I haven’t snapped a photo yet (and self-taken foot shots always come out terrible, at least for me), I’ll include something I made for my Secret Pal and mailed out today:

What is it? Well. Let me open it up for you:


“Yeah, we’re not all knitters, Imperatrix. So what is that thing?!!”

It’s a needle case for double-pointed needles (and other accessories). I took the idea from the Organized Knitter, which I found through the Elliphantom Knits blog. This one is much smaller than either of theirs, but it does fold rather than roll. This was a learning experience, and there are some things I’d do differently next time (like, sew the tie on before sewing the pockets so that I can set it in the center of the folded-over case, rather than 2/3 of the way up). But it was fun and easy.

19 January 2007

How Old Are Your Ears?

I remember reading something about this a few months ago. There is a small shop in a village in England that was being overrun with troublemakers. Teens would come in and shoplift things all the time, they'd hang around outside and scare off other customers, and so the shopowner decided to put in this "mosquito" sound. Supposedly, teens can hear certain ultrasonic sounds that we elders can't. It worked, he said. The traoublemakers weren't hanging around anymore, and his regular customers said they didn't notice anything.

I found this quiz online yesterday (I can't remember where, I was surfing around, and now I can't give credit where credit is due, sorry!), and found out:

You're a little frustrated that you can't hear all the tones that the young 'uns can but will be more than happy if it means you don't have to listen to their damn ringtones on the bus anymore.

The highest pitched ultrasonic mosquito ringtone that I can hear is 14.9kHz
Find out which ringtones you can hear!

If you have kids around, have them sit next to you as you take this audio quiz. It will feel really weird to hear nothing and have them say, "Yeah, I can hear that!"

Try it!

18 January 2007

Why I Like Snow

This is the last of the Secret Pal questionnaire things for my group. I don't know why I keep entering these things (contests) because I never win. The Publisher's Clearance House sweepstakes in 1999? A bust. The $360 million Powerball jackpot with which I was going to buy a French chateau and escape a second Bush & Co. term in November 2004? Some group of waitresses won. (Or something; the point was, they weren't me.) But, hope springs eternal (she says in her elitist way).

So, some of the reasons I like snow:

  • It makes the world around you seem magical.
  • It muffles everything, and, if you're lucky, you get to experience *hushhhhhhh*.
  • It covers the leaf mulch pile, the sleeping garden, and other garden messes.
  • It uncovers the pathways of the animals in your world: The birds under the birdfeeder, the cat's path along his territory, the squirrel's nut meanders.
  • But most of all, it *sparkles*.
  • 17 January 2007

    The Big Day

    Thanks for the good wishes I've received so far, here or in my Inbox. It's been a great morning (although I haven't done any work yet!).

    One thing you all may want to think about in planning your birthday: Don't schedule blood tests (cholesterol, iron levels [my personal bugbear], etc.) for the morning after your birthday.

    Because there's a bag of birthday dark chocolates calling my name in the kitchen, and I don't think I'd have them all metabolized before tomorrow a.m.!

    16 January 2007

    Girly House

    You’d think I’d have realized long ago that—with an Imperatrix and two Imperatrixes-in-Training, versus one single Consort—our house would be full of girly things. Boxes of various things in the bathroom, laundry baskets overflowing with elasticized things, and lots of other things I'm sure just don’t notice as girly. Instead, I typically walk around in a haze of generic living.

    Every now and again, however, all of a sudden the blinders of generic living are removed and I notice, in vibrant colors, all of the girly things just sitting out, pretending to be generic, but not succeeding: The drying rack of clean clothes that need to be put away. The things in the bathroom that should be returned to their under-shelf storage space. I'm sure if I grew up in a gender-mixed household, things would have been different. But there were the four of us girls, so my father was even more outnumbered than the Consort is.

    Luckily, the Consort grew up with two sisters (although I'm pretty sure his family was much more modest than mine), because I have no idea how I could handle a household of just boys. **shudder**

    15 January 2007


    I just found out that a gift we ordered back in September (September!) never made it where it was supposed to go.

    Because it was done on the Consort’s laptop, I’ll have to wait until he comes home to try to sort this out.

    I feel terrible (mostly for the person who was supposed to get the gift, also a bit for me, who looks like a cold callous non-gift-sending aunt), but I guess it’s one of the potential snafus of buying things online.

    Readers, promise me that if I said I’d send something to you, and you haven’t received it within 2 weeks of my saying so, you’ll LET ME KNOW! It’s much easier to get angry at the Big Female Warrior and get results if we’re not talking 5 months previous.

    And poor kid: This would be the second time his birthday gift from us hasn’t come in a timely manner.

    12 January 2007


    Some would argue that this:

    Rocket attack on US embassy in Athens

    is cosmic retaliation for this:

    US raids Iran embassy in Iraq

    I'm so tired of this Administration and the rules they break, the rules they invent, and the toilet they are stuffing US international credibility down.

    You don't attack another country's embassy, consulate, whatever. Them's the rules, baby.

    11 January 2007

    Mail Call

    Do you want to know what came in the mail today??!! DO you? Well, I'll tell you -- no! even better, I'll show you.

    THIS! This came in the mail today:
    cannot believe it.

    No, it's not because the Consort is doing something ... shady (I married the man, I trust him). Look at the text:

    You've been selected to receive a special student discount...

    "Hey," you'll say, "he's not a student, he's a professor." True. But, you see, this spring he's taking a group of students to a Central American country. One that just elected a new (old) president. (Maybe he cleaned the sand from between his toes in the meantime?)

    Four years ago, the Consort went along as a chaperone on a learning trip to Guatemala organized by a Spanish-fluent colleague. He thought the class/trip was a great idea. Two years ago, he organized a trip to Guatemala. Although he, as the lead professor, didn't speak a lick of Spanish (he took French in high school and college), his assistant chaperone (me), spoke enough for the both of us plus our 17 charges. (Well, and the professional guide and translator, but really, I was quite helpful.)

    By now, the trips have gotten popular, so another prof is going along as chaperone (rats!) rather than me. So this fall the Consort took a Spanish class through his University. I think he did swimmingly.

    Since then, we've been getting junk mail addressed to "The Parents of Consort" about life insurance for our student, special study guides for our student, ... things like that.

    WELL, today's mail seems to confirm that the University also sells its student list to PLAYBOY MAGAZINE!

    I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

    I think a visit to the President's office is in order ('cause I'm on face-recognition basis with the head honcho [every time he sees me, he knows I belong to one of his people, but ... which one?]). On second thought, maybe I'll call his wife, instead!

    10 January 2007

    Not Trifling with the Cash

    For Christmas, the Consort and I received a gift card to Target (ahem, “Tar-zhay”, as we’d say back in the salad days of graduate student family living). So early in the new year, we went to take a look at what we could spend this plastic cash on.

    I go to Target once in a while, usually to get things like packs of cotton socks or underwear for the girls. But the Consort and I aren’t into buying things just because they’re on a shelf and purchase-able (I’ve mentioned this before, I know), so walking the aisles with him just to browse was an unusual experience.

    Our original plan was to get one biggish thing with the gift, rather than “waste” it on a bunch of little stuff.

    Furniture? They carry all sort of pressboard furniture, but 1) we don’t need furniture and 2) I don’t buy pressboard anymore. (Too heavy, too poorly made.) Appliances? Holy cannoli, folks, I hadn’t realized how many “must-have” appliances there are out there in shopper land. Coffee makers (we already have one, a gift from a one-month subscription to Gevalia coffee; we only take it out when guests are over), espresso makers (no), single cappuccino makers (nope, that’s what coffee shops are for), George Foreman grills (in lightweight, welterweight, and heavyweight sizes) (really more useful for meat eaters; we could use it to grill vegetables, but do we need a solo appliance for that?), slow cookers (again, mostly for meat eaters: the foods we eat don’t need hours of cooking to make them chewable), deep fryers (this elicited yelps of excitement from the girls when they realized this is what is used to make the cheese curds they looooove to eat but are only found at the Minneapolis Renaissance Faire; I admit, for a second, I thougt it would be good to own one, if only because as a Belgian it is my heritage to make damned good french fries, and I have yet to live up to that cultural responsibility: I have never made fries at home [The shock! The shame!]), juicers (including Jack La Lanne’s poewr juicer, of course), shredders, dicers, slicers, plus, don’t forget the chocolate fountain thingies, … it was too much. We were overwhelmed.

    Then, I saw a small display of clearance Christmas items. This is not the year to be buying new Christmas stuff, since we want to minimize what we’ll be trekking out East. But! There, nestled between the Christmas dinner plates and the Santa cocoa mugs, was a box with a trifle dish. That was what I wanted! The Consort told me later he thought I was joking, like with all the rest of the things I pointed out to him. But heck, it was on sale for $7.49, and actually, I wasn’t joking.

    We bought it, and I knew I’d have to prove its worth in our household soon. Last night we were having guests over for supper, so I knew that’d be my chance. It’s wintertime, so I didn’t want to make a typical trifle with fresh fruit, because there is no such thing as fresh berries in the winter in Iowa (or anywhere else in the Northern hemisphere). Lucky for me, there is the epicurious Web site. There, I found exactly what I was looking for: Autumn Trifle with Roasted Apples, Pears, and Pumpkin-Caramel Sauce.* What a success!

    The trifle dish has been made worthy. And the gift card won’t be used for something big after all.

    ...Now, who needs new underwear?

    *Yes, I'll mention it before some smart aleck does: it was full of dairy. But we were entertaining guests. There was no way around it.

    08 January 2007

    Birthdays on the Blogmind

    Some people have beat me to a birthday announcement. Others seem to be dreading upcoming birthdays (at least in their comments). So today, it's my turn.

    My birthday falls next week. I was born on the same day (January 17) as my paternal grandmother, so we were exactly 55 years apart.*

    As the oldest of four daughters, whose births spanned nine years, my birthday is sometimes seen as the harbinger of old age for my parents (especially when I hit “milestone” birthdays). I figure this isn’t as bad as being the youngest of four daughters whose births span nine years, because whereas my milestone birthdays just warn them of upcoming dotage, Cowgirl’s milestone birthdays confirm it (heh).

    Our nine-year span also means that only once every ten years are all four of us in the same decade. I’ll be courteous and not tell you how old Cowgirl is going to turn next month, but next week, I’ll be turning 39.

    I’m seeing this upcoming 39th year as an auspicious one. Last year was a bit tough, at least in the beginning (tenure year stuff, income shortfalls due to loss of clients to offshore outfits), so 38 felt untethered and rocky. 39, on the other hand, is going to be cool. My grandmother lived to be 85, but 80 is when her mind began to wander and she lost her independence. I’m figuring that I can count on 80 good years myself, so I’m only on the cusp of the halfway point.

    I am typically not a New Year resolution person, but I’ve got lots of birthday resolutions this year. This is the year to “put my house in order,” so to speak. Things I’ve put to the side because of excuses, laziness, or busy-ness, will be set front and center. In my mind’s eye, I am an adventuresome sort, and this year, I will start living that again. Not necessarily in big ways (I don’t have the freedom, time, or money to take a year off and travel through Europe and North Africa like I did 20 years ago), but in real ways. Our sabbatical adventure in New Hampshire definitely plays into this. I’ve got 6 months to get ready for it, and then I’ll have 12 months to live it.

    Thirty-nine. It’s the sum of five consecutive primes. It’s the sum of the first three powers of three. (And, as Schoolhouse Rock taught us on Saturday mornings, Three is a Magic Number) It’s gonna be a blast!

    *Interesting tidbit: My grandmother and I shared a birth date, my grandfather and uncle shared a birth date (April 1), my father is one day off (April 2), and, on the other side of the family, Impera, the Consort’s younger sister, and the Consort’s father all share the same birth date (June 25)—three generations on one day!

    05 January 2007

    "The Dog Ate My Homework..."

    I rationalized not posting photos of my December crafting because they were Christmas gifts. "I'll post all the photos in January," I thought to myself.

    Except that the only things I took photos of were the flannel pillowcases I made for Impera and Trixie...

    (Pattern found on Anita's blog Rhubarb Patch. These were fun and easy to make, and quick, too! The girls love them, and have been using the pillowcases since they got them.)

    ...and the apron I made for Cowgirl (since she was the sister I didn't see at Christmas and so I mailed her family's gifts early)

    Foolishly, I did not take pictures of Sis #2's apron or Three of Four's apron. I also forgot to take a picture of the hat I knit for Three of Four's birthday. So, sisters, if you are reading this, and it isn't too much of a bother, can you send me a pic of the stuff? (You can cut off your head just as easily as I cut Impera's off, and maybe the Hobbit or the Princess wouldn't mind modeling the hat? I'd be happy to post your faces as well, seeing as you're both gorgeous women...)

    04 January 2007

    Good Samaritan

    We need more people like Wesley Autrey around.

    From the NYT article:

    Who has ridden along New York’s 656 miles of subway lines and not wondered: “What if I fell to the tracks as a train came in? What would I do?”

    And who has not thought: “What if someone else fell? Would I jump to the rescue?”

    There was an update today, too, if you're interested.

    If you aren't registered with the New York Times, you can visit bugmenot.com.

    03 January 2007

    Brain Freeze

    I was going to inaugurate the Word Wednesday tag today (appropriately enough), but for the past 24 hours my brain has frozen after reading about the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau's idea to "jazz up" the Iowa caucuses:

    The bureau’s film commission wants to attract “A-list” rock stars, comedians and other Hollywood types for what they hope will become a nationally televised show.

    No performers have been booked, but organizers say names like Britney Spears and patriotic
    [I'd say jingoistic, but that's just me --Ed.] country western star Lee Greenwood are on their early wish list.*

    ...Britney Spears? ... Country singers? What is this, some sort of Jerry Lewis telethon? It's supposed to be the Iowa caucuses, not breads and circuses!

    Good lord. Someone tell me I'm dreaming.

    *You can read the original article here or today's update here, The reader comments at the end of the articles definitely make it worth the click. Be warned, though, that now you have to register to see the DM Register online. Just your birth year and zip code, but still.

    02 January 2007

    Exploits in Crafting

    My resolution for blogging this year is to start using the categories function of the “New Blogger.” Today, I inaugurate the “Exploits in Crafting” tag.

    There is an ancient craft for making impermeable fabric. For centuries, when people wanted a thick winter cloak that would protect them from the vagaries of the weather, they’d use felted wool (fluffed and matted raw fleece). Today, any crappy fabric/crafts store sells squares of polyester “felt” in a variety of colors, but this pales in comparison to real wool felt. (When Galadriel offers the parting gift of Friendship Cloaks to the nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring, that was real wool felt.) Many people have jumped on the felting wagon. (Really, what they’re doing is “fulling”—fluffing and matting already knitted fabric). On New Year’s Eve, I decided to give it a shot, myself.

    You need real wool to start. I had some wool left over from a gift project, so I knitted it into a shape:

    Looks like a hat, don't you think?

    Fulling involves agitating the natural wool fibers. This rubbing makes the individual fibers mesh and mat together, creating the thickened mass we call “felt.” Hot water helps, too. If you’ve ever put a wool sweater in an agitating washing machine, the resultant shrunken mass is felt (doesn’t make you feel better about ruining that $150 sweater, does it?).

    Being the eco-friendly folks that we are, we don’t have a (water-hogging) top-loading agitating washer (the kind with the pole up the center that goes clockwise and counterclockwise, swishing the clothes clean), we have an (efficient) front-loading washer (the kind that goes around and around, swirling the clothes clean). So I needed to find an alternative method to felt my project.

    First, I put hot water and a bit of soap in my standing mixer, added the knitting and two rubber duckies (for friction; the directions for a washing machine suggested adding a tennis shoe or two, so I just scaled down), and turned it on:

    Result: Water everywhere, motor whining as the knitting and a duckie got caught between the edge of the bowl and the mixing paddle. (More than once.)

    That wasn’t working, so I dumped the water, knitting, and duckies in a saucepan, clipped a candy thermometer to the edge (so I could keep the water temperature constant at 120 degrees [the temp of my hot water heater]), and brought out the hand mixer I bought for $5 at a church sale:

    Result: Water everywhere, knitting tangled up in the mixer blades, curses all around.

    The kitchen now had the unmistakable smell of wet wool. “Ummm, what are you making?” asked the Consort, delicately.

    I kicked him out of the kitchen, dumped everything into a larger stock pot (no picture, I was no longer in a happy photo tutorial mood), added more hot water, a dab more soap, and for 15 minutes I agitated the mess with this:

    A potato masher.


    A felted bowl! (And the duckie says the finished product is so cool he forgives everything. He'll even talk to his buddy and see if we can get some forgiveness and forgetness happening with him, too.)

    I dried it upside down on a fluted dessert coupe, to give it a bowl-y shape. You can still see a bit of the knit ribbing. This means I could have mished and mashed a bit longer. But, considering my mood at the time, that wasn’t going to happen (I had a kitchen to mop up, after all).

    I like it. I think I’m going to make a bunch of these bowls, in a variety of sizes, and use them in my Nature Table.*

    *This is a project I’ll be talking about in another post, some day this week, I expect.