Friday, December 29, 2006

The joy of scrounging

I discovered thrift shops in college, when a friend and I had a informal business buying, refurbishing, and reselling violins, mandolins, guitars, and the occasional dobro. My first apartment in New Haven was furnished from thrift shops and tag sales (known as yard sales or garage sales in the Northwest).

I still love to spend Saturdays at yard sales, and results from my favorite eBay searches are emailed to me every night. My wardrobe is a mix of Eddie Bauer, J. Jill, eBay and the local consignment shop; the decorative aspects of our home furnishings (pillows, tablecloths, lamps, paintings, bookshelves, and small tables) have decidedly non-retail origins.

Amazingly, there are people even more wrapped up in treasure hunting than I am. One of the blogs I follow is written by a semi-professional young thrifter. It appears she struck gold at the local Goodwill store this week. Very cool.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

After all these weeks of wind and rain, Christmas Day was mild and faintly sunny. This enabled me to indulge in my favorite Christmas Day activity -- winter gardening.

The garden was in surprisingly good shape after all the freezing and soggy weather; the climbing hydrangeas and camelias are budding, and I spotted the tips of crocuses peeking out of the wet dirt. It only gets better from here on out!

Zorg gave me a 12" All-Clad frying pan -- definitely the highlight of the many Christmas goodies.

Season's Greetings

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Extra cats

Two families in our neighborhood have gone back east for the holidays. As a result, we are cat-sitting a pair of kitties across the street and also keeping an eye on the very friendly indoor-outdoor cat next door (its magnetic collar allows it to use our cat door as well as its own).

Friday night I went over to feed and check on the pair across the street and was greeted with loud meowing as one of the cats attempted to slither past me out the front door. I managed to get the door closed without letting the cat out, vaguely aware of loud meowing behind me in the kitchen. I turned around to see the two cats standing in the kitchen, meowing. But there was still meowing coming from an unexplained third cat, standing at my feet.

Somehow, the extra cat (the one belonging to our next door neighbors) had gotten into the house -- but couldn't get out again. It looks nearly identical to one of the pair that lives in the house, so my guess is that someone (the cleaning person?) had stopped by and, thinking it belonged there, let it in.

I let it out, and everyone was much happier.

Dalai Lama PowerPoint?

A friend who is a bit wary of computers and email sent me a PDF file today with a PowerPoint presentation of advice from the Dalai Lama.

It's truly lovely and thoughtful advice.

The hoax site Snopes points out, however, that it's not really from the Dalai Lama. It's just something that's been running around the Internet since 1999 (and the cringe-inducing PowerPoint graphics sure look like it).

As it happens, someone sent this same file to blogger Seth Godin last May. I'm going to spare you the PowerPoint download and invite you to go over to Seth's blog to read the advice more attractively presented; while you're there, you'll find Seth's advice on communications topics inspiring in its own right.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A friend's tribute to his dad

Andru Edwards, the driving force behind Seattle Mindcamp, has written a eloquent tribute to his father, George Budabin, who died this week. It makes you wish you'd known his dad, and will likely make you think about your own father. I'm sitting here looking at a picture of mine...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday meme - 20 Christmas questions

A holiday meme I spotted at AlmaNews:

1.What is your favorite Christmas carol/song?
"Lyssna, Lyssna" (Swedish carol). Favorite English carol is "Good King Wenceslas" -- very easy to sing, and I can even play it on the melodeon.

2.White lights or multicolored?
White lights. And when I put them up I like to think back on how my first husband was horrified by the "yuppie-ness" of them.

3. Do you have a cut tree, live tree or an artificial tree?
Cut. This year we went to a tree farm out in Monroe and Zorg cut one for me. It's a Fraser fir, absolutely beautiful though it doesn't have nearly as wonderful a smell as a Grand fir.

4. Eggnog, mulled cider, or hot chocolate?
Eggnog.

5. Do you decorate your house with lights?
Not usually.

6. Do you write a Christmas letter?
Yes. Wish they could have hyperlinks.

7. Do you like receiving Christmas letters/photos?
Yes. My favorite of all time was John and Sally's Christmas photo card -- showing them on a trip to the Grand Canyon au natural.

8. What is your favorite Christmas story/movie?
Scrooge. Last year Zorg gave me about 20 different DVD versions of it. I like the one with Patrick Stewart.

9. Have you ever made a gingerbread house?
No. But I own a book on how to do it, so watch out!

10. Poinsettias or holly?
Holly. Poinsettias are hazardous to cats (though my cats survived many years of them before I was warned by the vet).

11. Do you display a nativity scene?
No. We do a more Solstice-y version of Christmas with white candles and fir boughs. And lots of little reindeer -- I collect homemade wooden reindeer at Ballard yard sales.

12. Do you bake Christmas cookies?
Yep. My mother is in charge of baking spritz cookies, to which I am horribly addicted.

13. Ham or turkey?
Chinese. It's traditional for one side of my family.

14. In what languages can you wish someone a Merry Christmas (without cheating)?
Merry Christmas
Joyeux Noel
Bon Natale
God Jul

15. Do you know all the words to Jingle Bells?
No.

16. Do you put presents under the tree?
Everything but the catnip toys.

17. How do you eat a candy cane?
I don't.

18. What is your biggest holidays pet peeve?
The line at the Post Office.

19. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
Putting the ornaments on the tree and thinking about the people who made them or gave them to me or were with me when I bought them.

20. What was the best present you ever got for Christmas?
A Smith-Corona typewriter (from my mom and dad in 1970).

(Please note that the cat in the lower righthand corner of the photo satisfies the requirements for catblogging.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Storm report

"We're fine," I said, somewhat impatiently, when my mother called from Florida Friday morning. She frequently calls because some weatherbabbler in Florida has reported that "Seattle is buried in four feet of snow" when the snow fell in the passes, and there's not a flake here. I assumed all her comments about the aftermath of the windstorm had about the same level of accuracy, and went about my business, driving around Ballard and doing errands. I saw a total of two trees down, both in people's yards.

So I was astonished today to find out that many Seattle-area friends are without power, without heat, and without internet connections; that many roads are blocked by fallen trees and wires; that many major intersections are without traffic lights; and that North Seattle community centers were being opened so people would have somewhere warm to sleep, and warm showers.

We were very, very, lucky here in Ballard. And very grateful.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is Seattle pizza any good?

There was a spirited discussion of Seattle pizza today on KUOW's Weekday hosted by Steve Scher. Download the mp3 file of the show (Thursday on Weekday: Hour Two) and you'll hear me as the first caller on the pizza segment, about 18 minutes into the show. I had a chance to voice some of my views about "neo-traditional" pizza and Tom Douglas' new pizzeria, Serious Pie, in a discussion with Ed Levine, author of Pizza: Slice of Heaven.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Third person (feline)

Kaylee, our little tabby, goes to a glass door or mirror and paws it frantically to signal that she wants to be let in or let out. It doesn't have to be the door she wants to be let out of; it just has to be glass.

She has recently started doing this to signal that one of our other cats wants to come in and is waiting patiently at the (glass) back door -- visible to her, but not to me.

Tonight, while drinking tea at the kitchen table, I became aware of Kaylee pawing wildly on the glass door of the toaster oven. I turned around and, sure enough, our elderly cat Betaille was at the back door, waiting to come in.

If pawing means "want in/out" (verb) then Kaylee uses both first person ("I want in/out") and third person ("She wants in/out"). I find this rather impressive. Kaylee and Betaille don't particularly like each other, so Kaylee gets no advantage from Betaille coming in. She's just busybodying.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Better than a chill pill

Thirteen days until Christmas! I ordered all the presents in early November and stored them in the pantry. I updated the holiday spreadsheet. I drafted a holiday letter. I drew up a holiday calendar with mailings of gifts, mailings of cards, making of rum balls, a trip to visit friends in the country and pick up a fresh-cut tree, tree decorating, and a dinner of Scandinavian cuisine with friends.

Thus far I have placed five tiny reindeer on the mantelpiece. And there are just 13 days to make the rest of it happen. Eeek.

At this point, there's only one thing that can save me: Eggnog, and lots of it.

Here's my father's Virginia eggnog recipe, scaled down for a very small batch. He used to make the version for 24 servings; when I lived in Italy, I borrowed the kitchen of the local gelateria and whipped up 60 servings for the village Christmas party.

Keep in mind that this is far less sweet than commercial eggnog or eggnog with brandy, and the proportion of liquor is unusually high.

Virginia Eggnog (a mere 6 servings)

3 eggs (free range, since you're dealing with raw eggs here)
1/4 C sugar
1 C whole milk
1/2 C blended whiskey
1/4 C rum (preferably light rum, but dark will do)
1/2 pint (1 C) heavy cream, beaten
nutmeg (grated for garnish)
  1. Separate eggs.
  2. In large bowl, beat egg whites with an electric beater.
  3. In main pan, mix sugar into yolks with electric beater; beat thoroughly until sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add milk and liquors to yolk mixture.
  5. Fold in beaten egg whites, very carefully.
  6. Beat cream into stiff peaks and fold in to main mixture.
  7. Chill eggnog well (at least six hours); you will need to re-fold the separated cream before serving.
  8. Garnish cups of eggnog with fresh-grated nutmeg.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hidden Seattle

Thursday morning I stood on a ladder in a local community center winding mini-lights into long garlands of artificial greenery while macaws swooped through the room.

When I worked downtown in a high rise office park, I used to wonder what was going on in the "real" world. Now, I know. Volunteers are decorating for Christmas and people are teaching their macaws to fly.

While on the topic of local oddities, I want to note that Clark Humphrey's new non-fiction book, Vanishing Seattle, will be released Monday. Look for it in local bookstores and on Amazon. If you have the opportunity, come to the official release party at Epilogue Books in Ballard, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 6:30 - 8 p.m.

With rare photos of Seattle landmarks from the past half century (from Frederick & Nelson to The Cyclops, Glamorama, and Ruby Montana) this may be the perfect Christmas gift for Seattle aficionados of all eras. (Yes, of course it has the Twin Teepees!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

But kitty, it's GOOD for you

Try telling a sick cat that it needs to take evil-tasting pink liquid amoxycillin to recover from an infection. Better yet, try telling our elderly cat Betaille that she needs to take evil-tasting pink liquid amoxycillin every day for the rest of her life.

Fortunately, our vet sent us along to the compounding pharmacy (Ballard Plaza Pharmacy) to get a custom mix of amoxycillin in tuna oil to replace the pink stuff. We pick up a fresh mixture of the tuna oil every six weeks or so; Betaille doesn't even notice it mashed into her wet cat food.

On our last visit to the pharmacy, the staff told me that, due to pressure from the AMA and major drug companies, the FDA may stop pharmacists from making compounded (custom mixed) drugs prescribed by physicians and vets. If this happens, consumer "choice" will be limited to products and dosages pre-packaged by the major drug companies.

Compounding pharmacies allow people who are poorly served by their pharamaceutical products to get access to more suitable versions of the drugs. People allergic to corn products, for instance, can't take Tylenol pills. A compounding pharmacy can make up the active ingredients in Tylenol without using the drug's corn stabilizer -- or at least they can now. If the AMA and the drug companies get their way, it'll be commercial Tylenol or nothing. Now that's a pain.

If you'd like to hear more about the problem (from the pharmacies' end) check out the website Patients and Professionals for Customized Care. The letter writing campaign (for pet owners) is at the foot of this page.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Geeky from birth

Some of my earliest memories are of the office where my mother worked. It was a little different. Here's a memoir written by one of her colleagues.

And, yes, I remember the computer that played music. iTunes, it wasn't.

Monday, December 04, 2006

52

A great birthday today, with lovely cards and presents (well, except for the little "present" one of the cats left me), and a delicious dinner at Serious Pie. Owner and chef Tom Douglas was working in the kitchen and prepared our pizzas!

A few people asked me for a review of Serious Pie, so here are my first impressions:

The salads are eye-opening and thoroughly delightful. Mine was celery, white anchovies, and grated cheese, and it was a refreshing and inspired combination. Laura had the proscuitto with sliced apples -- again, inspired. (No one in our party tried the rustic bread soup with olive oil, which I've heard only good things about.)

The pizzas are in a class by themselves. The crusts are at once thick and thin and at once fluffy and crisp, putting the crusts at ultra-trendy Via Tribunali (thin, and too frequently soggy at the center) to shame. When I lived in Italy, I did not get south of Rome, so I can't tell you what an authentic Neapolitan crust is. But I lived nearly 10 years in New Haven, home of the renowned Pepe's Pizza (which I believe is a Salerno pizza) and the crust at Serious Pie would make most Pepe's fans cry with joy.

That said, the Pepe's crowd would want to order the mozzarella (buffalo) and tomato (San Marzano) pie, which is only traditional pie on the Serious menu. The other pies are what I'd term "neo-traditional" -- tasteful combinations I'd expect to find at adventurous new restaurants in Italy, not the whacked-out inventions of some American fusion stylist. So: the potato, rosemary, and garlic pie was purely Italian in flavor, as was the mushroom and truffle cheese. For me, the triumph was the cherry bomb peppers with sweet fennel sausage pizza. Very south-central Italian! I like the way Serious Pie handles meat, and I can hardly wait to get back there and try the Penn Cove clams, spicy pancetta, and lemon thyme pie.

(Hmmm...maybe tomorrow night?)

I hate to end my review on a down note, but dessert was a disappointment. The cannoli made with Old Chatham ricotta was way off the mark. Heavy sprinklings of cinnamon and a hailstorm of dull-tasting pistachios on the plate did nothing to help tiny cannoli shells, heavy with either a whole wheat flour or perhaps too much cooking oil. All of this utterly overwhelmed the delicate, slightly watery ricotta. (For reference: The traditional Italian cannoli (such as you'd find in New Haven, or New York City) is all about a rich ricotta filling, fortified with shaved chocolate or chopped citron, exploding from a light crispy housing of shell. In Seattle, Tutta Bella serves a modest, pleasant cannoli.)

Unfortunately, Serious Pie offers only two other dessert choices: a cranberry hand pie (which sounds like it belongs over at Fado Irish pub) and an affogato of honey ice cream with hazelnuts and a dousing of espresso. That sounds like it wandered over from Douglas' Greek restaurant, Lola. So, Serious Pie needs some serious dessert. While I'm sure Douglas is deliberately eschewing the cliche tiramisu, fresh fruit gelato (Northwest raspberries with just a touch of those cranberries?) is always in good taste. Two other possibilities that come to mind: an almond cookie (think soft biscotti) with perhaps a hint of fennel and salt to dip in vin santo (or a vin santo sauce); and a panna cotta drizzled with a subtle espresso liquor.

Finally, it's worth nothing that when we arrived at 6 p.m. sharp on a Monday night there was plenty of seating. When we left shortly before 8 p.m., it was an utter madhouse, with lines out the door. Plan accordingly.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm happy!

Last night I accompanied Zorg to a World of Warcraft meetup at Fado Irish pub near Pioneer Square. I'm not much of a WoW-er, but it was fascinating to list to the serious players (most had one, if not several Level 60 characters) talk in what has become a WoW dialect. Ages ranged from the 20s through the 50s, and there were quite a few women.

Fado has great atmosphere, authentically heavy (and tasty) pub food, and one of the smoothest Irish Coffees I've ever drunk. Fortunately I wasn't driving!

Having finished the holiday gift shopping, I'm now trying to figure out how to decorate the place without buying any new stuff this year. I find it easy to decorate for fall, harder to decorate for Solstice/Hanukkah/Christmas.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What do you mean, the furnace stopped working?

I wasn't going to blog about the ice and cold weather and all the little signs that make me flash back to my years in New England: slow gas burners, faucets left dripping so the pipes won't freeze, drafty windows, frozen garden fountains, and layers and layers of clothes.

But this morning Zorg woke me with the news that our oil furnace was no longer responding to the thermostat controls.

He left for work, and I opened negotiations with the oil company (we have a service contract). I got off to a bad start when the woman asked how they were going to get into the house. "Through the garage" was not the answer she was looking for -- it turned out she was asking me what number they should call to have someone let them into the house. "Oh," I said. "This number; I'll be at the house all day."

"We ask because MOST people work," she sneered.

"Well, I work in a home office," I snapped back. "And the temperature in it is 51 degrees at the moment." (Was this a ploy to get me to warm up? It worked.)

Things didn't improve when I asked her if our $200 service contract with the company put us at the top of the list for repairs. No, she said, the service people work by neighborhood.

She tried to persuade me to dismantle two sections of the furnace so I could push the re-set button. I pointed out that if I did that, we wouldn't know why the furnace (new, and recently tuned up) had quit. I declined, pointing out that, once re-set, it would likely just quit again and I'd have to call her back and get back in the queue for repairs -- just much further back in the line.

I took a hot shower, dressed in many layers of clothes, made hot tea and oatmeal, and put some veggies to roast in the oven to get the kitchen warm. Fortunately, my office has a space heater and I barricaded myself in there to await the repair person.

A much nicer woman called me an hour later to say the service truck would arrive before noon. The electrician they sent was a delightful fellow in his mid-70s who has been working in the heating industry for more than 50 years. He's retired, but comes back on during winter emergencies.

As I'd suspected, dismantling the furnace to get to the re-set button was not easy. Many screws came out, many metal panels and braces were removed. When he pushed the re-set button, the furnace went on with a roar -- and then shut off.

"Not good," he said. It turned out there was a clogged oil nozzle (our model of furnance has a particularly narrow and fussy one, he said). He replaced it and started up the burner -- which promptly released a cloud of smoky oil into the den. Argggh.

In a few minutes, the burner was running cleanly again, and the repairman set about putting all the panels back together. I noticed a frayed place on the cord of his work light, and asked if I could wrap it with some electrical tape. He laughed and agreed. He asked about a couple of my elderly neighbors (gone now) whose furnaces he'd worked on in the past. And he told me about the winter of 1951, when he was at Lincoln High School, and his friends had driven their cars on the ice on Green Lake.

I signed a receipt, and he headed off to his next emergency. The heat's back on and the veggies are roasted. OK, enough of that. I'm ready for summer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The iPod separates us from our common space

Jesse Kornbluth, writer of the informative Head Butler blog (reviewing books, music, and the like), notes:
Critics knock the iPod because, they say, it separates us from our common space. Yes, it does. It takes us into another space, where people sing in harmony and every song is a kind of prayer.
Amen.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A week to look forward to

I'm coming off three exhausting days of yoga, and looking forward to some fun for the next week.

• Tuesday - coffee at Cafe Besalu with a friend and after work KBCS On the Road at the Tractor with Captain Leroy and the Zydeco Locals and Jo Miller and Her Burly Roughnecks. The KBCS event starts at the reasonable weeknight hour of 7 p.m. and benefits public radio. [2 p.m. Tuesday -- KBCS event has been cancelled due to icy road conditions. Drat! Coffee with my friend was fun, and we went thrift-shopping afterwards.]

• Wednesday night - my friend Rae is coming over to visit me and the kitties!

• Thursday night - a holiday party on Capitol Hill for a online list of local writers, followed by...well, yoga again.

• Friday - the annual Beppa wholesale event (at their new Phinney Ridge location) and, later, contra dancing!

• Saturday - A much-needed haircut with Ross at Habitude, an afternoon session making my Aunt Arv's famous rum balls, and then the big World of Warcraft Meetup downtown with Zorg, my Level 60 husband.

• Sunday - More yoga, followed by Winterfest at Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center -- a huge fair in a charming environment.

• Monday - Day off from work! Morning hands-on class at Sur la Table in Kirkland where they will teach me how to do a better job of decorating cookies than I did last year when I piped frosting all over the cats and spread cookies all over the house. Then dinner with Zorg at Tom Douglas' new pizza place, Serious Pie.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It snowed. All right, already!

It snowed in Ballard from 5 to 7 p.m. today, about two wet, sticky inches. Everyone rushed outside and tromped around. One teenager a few streets over made a four-foot snowman, clearing the entire lawn and the parking strip of snow in the process. We heard the little girls down the street asking their dad for a carrot and raisins to garnish the tiny snowperson they'd put together.

Now the snow seems to be collapsing into a heavy, lumpy "snush." Should it freeze tonight, that could get very ugly for the morning commute.

You want real snow? Friends tell us they got a full 15 inches in Bellingham.

The snow put some excitement in a day that otherwise could be summed up as yoga class (hot), Sunday market (wet), laundry and ironing (cold), organizing family photos (amusing), and cooking (yum!).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thankful for...

Good health -- mine, Zorg's, and my mom's.

My friend Angie tipping me off to the "trailer park" yoga program we're both doing.

Friends who have forgiven me for neglecting them during my "workaholic" phase and who still invite me to hang out with them!

Warm, cozy house filled with warm, cozy cats.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

iPod trance

My new iPod shuffle, a gift from my mom, arrived from Amazon today. It is TOO CUTE!

Zorg saw it and said "That's the whole iPod?" Then he picked it up and went into the same trance-like state that I had experienced a few weeks ago when a friend showed me his.

Zorg handed it back and wandered off, muttering "I've got to have one of those."

It's about half the size of a book of matches, and clips onto your shirt. It charges by sitting on a tiny little dock (also too cute) connected to your computer.

Yes, it holds 1 GB of music or data.

I just noticed that the only shuffle shown on the "Stuff on My Cat" website is the old shuffle. I can't believe no one has clipped the new one onto their kitty and taken a picture. Oh Kaylee, Zoe...here, kitty, kitty, kitty....

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nordic heritage

My father's family came over from Sweden in the 1880s and settled in the village of Falconer (just outside of Jamestown) in the Southwestern corner of New York State.

My grandfather, who ran a small village grocery, was for a while the mayor of Falconer. He was a very pleasant, generous man who helped many families in town make it through the Depression years. Much of his spare time was spent at the Methodist church (right next door to their house) where he served on various committees and sang bass in the choir. Many of our cousins lived on the same street; visiting involved walking a few doors down.

In Jamestown proper, cousins of ours ran a large grocery store with a full meat market and delicatessen. There they sold sulta, korv, their signature pickled herring, and lutefisk. Every fall my mom and dad and I would drive from Washington D.C. up to Falconer to stock up on provisions. We'd call ahead to the Jamestown Swedish bakery and they'd make a batch of cardamom breads for us. We'd pick up large boxes of the breads on our way out of town, put them in the trunk, and freeze them as soon as we got home.

I loved visiting Falconer. It was pretty much the Lake Wobegon of my childhood.

I get to recapture some of that experience every November at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. This past weekend was their holiday fair, and I had lunch at their cafe two days in a row. The first day, I had a herring-and-hardboiled egg sandwich, followed by rommegrot (pudding with cinnamon, butter and sugar); the second day it was a meatball sandwich with carmelized onions and beets. I always get the coffee, which tastes just like the coffee in Falconer (and not much like the coffee at Starbucks).

Some of the crafts are Nordic; all of the crafts are very high quality. Three floors of the museum are filled with crafts booths. On the first floor the crafts tables are integrated into the exhibit space, so you are crossing bridges and wandering through ships as you shop. There's a bake sale on the first floor. I brought home a small container of Swedish Dreams, a light, lacy meringue cookie with almond flavoring.

In addition to shopping and eating, I eavesdrop. In the cafe line I listened to two older men discussing the intricacies of driving in the rain for what must have been 10 minutes. One of them pronounced "puddles" as "poodles." It sounded just like Falconer.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The mermaid's tail

More than a dozen years ago a dear friend gave me an elaborate terracotta mermaid which I hung on the wall above the hot tub at the old Shady Rest. When Zorg and I moved to Ballard, we brought the mermaid along and she became part of the patio decor.

Our neighbors here in Ballard have a little boy who makes Dennis the Menace seem like a cherub. The kid, about 5, is, I'm sure, well intentioned but "exuberant" would be an understatement.

The little girl next door often plays in our yard; when this little boy joins her, suddenly half of the equipment in my garden shed has been hidden under the front porch, our cats are fleeing for the hills, and ladders are falling over. Today he crawled into the space under the back porch stairs (because it was there?), came crashing back out and cracked the tail off the mermaid. Initially he wasn't particularly alarmed, but when he saw me standing there, he looked, if not guilty, at least surprised. I said "never mind," and stuck the mermaid tail upsidedown in a planter, thinking "I'll get another one."

Tonight I discovered terracotta mermaids aren't readily available, at least not via in the internet. Google "terracotta mermaid" and you get only a few hits; ironically, the very first is a description of this mermaid I submitted to David Hobson's gardening site a few years ago.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to repair terracotta with glue; cracked pots are usually stitched together with wire. I plan to call down to Herban Pottery, where I believe the original mermaid came from, to see if they have a replacement. Otherwise, stay tuned for adventures in glue.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No contest?

Over at Competizione they recently had a writing contest on the topic of
"a contest experience."

I could have submitted this story:
Here's a story of a contest I won, but can't talk about. It was a writing contest, and my winning entry was about a woman I'd met years ago when I was a journalism student.

I'd encountered her at journalism banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. She was there to accept an award for a two-year feature series for a major New York daily paper; I was there to receive a scholarship. As it turned out, I had been utterly unprepared for a night on the town with the New York media glitterati. Among the clues to my cluelessness was my outfit: an emerald green polyester dress my well-intentioned mom had made me for the occasion.

When the story of the night at the Waldorf won the online competition, I wanted to tell everybody. Then I realized I was in the awkward position of being unable to write about it in either of my blogs.

You see, one blog is anonymous (you might say, mysterious) and the online announcement of the contest results contained my identifying information.

The other blog is my professional blog, and you would think that would be the place to crow about my success. Unfortunately, my mother is a faithful reader of that professional blog.

I shared my quandary with a friend, who suggested my mom might not mind the references to the dress after all these years. But I'm not going to risk it. As I recall, she liked the dress so much that she made me another one, in bright magenta, it being "a classic style" (mom-speak for "dorky").

So, though it must remain under wraps, winning the contest was encouraging. It encouraged me to work on my novel -- there's safety in fiction!

Friday, November 10, 2006

More uses for the hairdryer

A few days ago I came across a tip for how to remove sticky labels from things: A hairdryer.

Price tags and other labels attached with what would seem to be Gorilla Glue are right at the top of my list of pet peeves. I've pretty much resigned myself to tedious scrubbing with Goo Gone or some such smelly petroleum product and a non-scratch scrubber like a Dobie Pad to get sticky labels off of surfaces such as glass, plastic, and wood.

But last year I encountered a couple of particularly tenacious price tags that had me stumped. They were affixed to beautiful trade paperbacks, and you can't use Goo Gone or anything else damp on a paper cover. After much painstaking peeling, I ended up with 80% of the tag still firmly attached to the front of the book cover. I was distinctly annoyed.

When I read the hairdryer tip, I immediately thought of those books, and retrieved them from the bookcase. I turned on the hairdryer, heated the label, and pulled one label right off, with no damage at all to the paper cover. The second label, which I'd originally scraped away at a bit more, needed some gentle rubbing to get all the glue removed. But it worked!

Does everyone else know this trick and I'm just late to the game?

When it's good, it's very, very good

I generally loathe web sites with Flash opening sequences. But this sale site for Nordstrom's designer lines is just fabulous.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hot shots in the kitchen

The Geeky Gourmet reports on a whole new approach to cooking a turkey. I hear Dick Cheney is one of their recipe testers.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kaylee turns pro

Cats have a special meow for emergencies.

It's a deep, insistant, wild sort of meow. But instead of "Quick! Timmy's fallen down the well!" it means something like "Quick! The rat I brought in has fallen down the shaft of your $200 Nordstrom boot!"

Our little mini-kitty, Kaylee, an energetic half-Abyssinian tabby, has been playing "Mousie" with me for two years now. A couple of times a day she pounds on the mirror on the door of my office until I throw a half dozen rabbit-fur mice up in the air for her to catch.

Today she turned pro, bringing a live rat onto the playing field. Zorg put the rat out, and Kaylee went back after it a few times, obviously hunting. When she came in she sounded the emergency meow, clearly upset about the rat's disappearance. A while ago I heard thumping in the livingroom and saw that she'd not only found it, she'd apparently bounced it to death.

I gave the rat a decent burial, and Kaylee went upstairs for a nap. But she looks somehow...different. Is that a killer gleam in her eye?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Toga! Toga!

I was not a particular fan of the 1978 film "Animal House" but "The Blues Brothers," perpetrated by roughly the same writers and actors, is a favorite, along with their later "Ghostbusters."

Chris Miller, one of the writers of "Animal House" has now written a book, The Real Animal House, about his fraternity days that inspired the movie.

New York Times reviewer Christopher Buckley describes the book as "sophomoric, disgusting, tasteless, vile, misogynist, chauvinist, debased and at times so unspeakably revolting that any person of decent sensibility would hurl it into the nearest Dumpster," adding "I couldn’t put it down." Buckley continues: "Toga-wise, Miller’s book is to 'Animal House,' the movie, what 'Caligula' is to Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove’s 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.'"

If the book as half as spirited as Buckley's review (in which he claims to be unable to quote from the book because the language and the activities described are unprintable for the Times) I may be forced to read it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

New: Jewelry from Apple


A friend handed me the new iPod shuffle today, and, as if hypnotized, I clipped it onto my sweater like a pin.

One gigabyte of music or data! I want one, plus a coordinated pair of wireless "speaker" earrings.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The social calendar, that is. Maybe everyone has moved the partying to November instead?

This weekend includes an afternoon tea on Capitol Hill, the annual Northwest Folklife Auction, a "Naked Ladies" clothing exchange party, a games party, and Louisianathon 3, a hot Cajun/Zydeco dance with four bands (Jamais Trop Tard, File Gumbo, Cayenne, and How's Bayou). Zorg will be doing stuff for the Mountaineers in the midst of it all, as well.

So there's no way I'll get to the intriguing I Heart Rummage urban crafts exposition (free) at the Crocodile Cafe in Belltown, noon-4 p.m. Sunday. But it will be happening again December 17, so see you there then.

Also, not to be missed: Sandy Bradley's annual holiday reunion Potluck show at MOHAI Nov. 25. The 2005 show was pure delight. This is the perfect place to meet up with old friends. Quick -- get your tickets!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A little music in your digital life?

I highly recommend Music Thing, a UK blog by Tom Whitwell about music online and off. Recent posts of interest:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Blithering

After the 2004 presidential election, I decided I'd heard enough of President Bush. Since then I've avoided his speeches. But today I caught a sound bite of him on NPR, addressing a rally of Republican voters and vowing to "bring justice to the terrorists." (When, of course, he was looking for the phrase "to bring the terrorists to justice.")

And listening to him pronounce "terrorists" as "terrrrrrisssts" makes me crazy.

Have we ever before had a president with a feebler grasp of the American language? Yale (his alma mater) should be cringing with shame.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A few words about icons

I rarely customize my desktop with icons, but today I needed one for a special project. I went over to the Icon Factory, which has freeware for individual use as well as royalty-free images developers can license for use in professional applications.

Browsing the freeware collections, which date back to 1996, was a trip down memory lane. In addition to some tech nostalgia (remember eWorld?) I found icons for Larry Niven's Known Space books, and icons for the cult SF TV show Lexx. Plus lots of Star Trek icons. My favorites for visual impact are the eye-catching Smoothicons done by the Icon Factory team. And Kate England's Private Eye icon sets (there are three of them) turned out to be irresistable for a mystery writer.

Icon Factory recommends getting Pixadex, which organizes your icons the way iPhoto organizes photographs. The program is $18.95, but there's a free demo version.

Think you're having a bad day?

I arrived home from the hairdresser shortly after noon Friday and was distinctly puzzled to find a cat I'd left inside the house sitting out in the front yard. I was even more puzzled when I unlocked the front door, heard the bathroom fan, and found the bathroom steamy and filled with wet towels. And down in the basement, the washing machine was running.

Yet no one was around, and I knew Zorg was downtown at work.

When I checked my email a few minutes later, I found the explanation in a message from Zorg. But I had to read it three times before I could believe something like this had really happened. Talk about a bad day at the office!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Life's essentials

There are a dozen or so commodities in our household that are so wonderful I can't imagine any substitutions. Neutrogena soap, for instance. Apple computers. Yorkshire Gold tea. Catman cat furniture.

I haven't written about the cat trees for a while, and it's because there's a tendency to take them for granted. These are not the flimsy cardboard trees carpeted in shag you find at the pet supermart (and see at the dump). These are cat trees made of solid lumber and plywood, covered in tough sisal and industrial-strength sheared wall-to-wall. They hold up against herds of leaping, scratching, shedding cats, and withstand a yearly cleaning with carpet cleaner. We have three that are at least 12 years old.

Two of them were custom orders with plain wood (instead of the usual carpeted) bases. That's because my old cat Bosco (now long gone) had been trained by a previous owner to use carpet scraps as a litter box. He saw a carpet, and he went. I painted the plywood bases with clear polyurethane and those trees were pretty much safe.

Post-Bosco, we acquired a fourth Catman tree, one of the Townhouse line (a model we nicknamed "The Alien" for obvious reasons). It's Sheba's favorite perch, with a view of the neighborhood, the Sound, and Zorg's computer screen when he's playing World of Warcraft. But recently, our elderly cat, Betaille, has decided this is where she wants to pee. Despite our vigilence about keeping the door to the room closed, Betaille's gotten past us frequently enough that the carpeted base of The Alien is now beyond cleaning or deodorizing.

So today I hauled it out on the front porch and began taking it apart, hoping to salvage the top portion and affix it to some alternate base that would have less appeal for Betaille.

I discovered more long screws and heavy nails (countersunk!) in that cat tree than in our entire front porch. Even after removing all of the diagonal braces, it's impossible to get at the countersunk nails that hold the base to the main pole. So tomorrow I'll be sawing the sisal-wrapped pole itself.

After visiting the Catman Furniture site and seeing that The Alien sells for $316, I am certainly inspired to salvage that top portion!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Make food, not war!

My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and I was fortunate to study at a university with renowned programs in cognitive, behavioral, social, educational, community, and organizational psych. The medical school also had a plethora of Freudian analysts who were happy to teach the occasional undergrad seminar in dream analysis. Since few of the professors associated with each other across program boundaries, it was like studying in a half dozen different departments.

Although I ended my academic career specializing in community anad educational psychology, my real affection was for behavioral -- "rat lab." I conducted research on choice, looking at both cognitive and motivational factors surrounding rats' decisionmaking. In one experiment, my rats learned a Y-shaped maze with two branches. The extremely long branch led to a substantive food reward; the short branch, to a skimpy snack. The hungry rats quickly figured this out. I began lengthening the long branch to figure out how far they'd trek for the big meal. There was also an (unauthorized) experiment in which I trained a rat to drink whiskey, then took it in my pocket to a sleazy bar filled with depressed grad students. I sat at the bar, ordered two shots, and plopped my rat companion in front of one of the glasses. We drank. The grad students stared blearily, probably afraid to admit what they though they were seeing. It may have been one of the better dates I went on during college.

I continue to conduct behavioral experiments at home, most of them involving our large herd of cats. This morning, I made a discovery that surprised me. Sheba, our deaf white cat, has a history of savagely attacking the next door neighbor's gray cat. In the past two years, they've called a truce, as along as the gray cat stays in her own yard. If she comes into our basement, which she does, Sheba has carte blanche (or is the cat blanche?) to attack. Which she does.

The neighbors left on a trip last night, and, sure enough, this morning their gray cat came into our basement and up the stairs to our kitchen. Sheba was in the kitchen, waiting for her breakfast, and her eyes went wide, then dark and beady, when she saw the interloper. I got in between them long enough to give the gray cat a head start back down to the basement, and then I lugged Sheba across the kitchen. Undaunted, Sheba kept heading back to the basement -- until I got her favorite pepper turkey cold cuts out of the fridge, and dangled a slice in front of her nose. She followed me docilely to her bowl and chowed down, the gray cat completely forgotten. Since Sheba, unlike my rats, is not kept in a state of perpetual hunger, I thought this was pretty impressive evidence of food trumping territorialism, even in a low-motivation state. Make food, not war!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Music for your movie

The meme is "Soundtrack of your life." (Ganked from Voile et Vapeur but customized for iTunes) Here's how it works:

1. Open your iTunes Library
2. From the Control menu, select Shuffle
3. Press Play
4. For the first question, type name of the song that's playing. Add some lyrics if you want.
5. When you go to the next question, press the Next button in iTunes (and so on)
6. Don't skip any songs and try to pretend you're cool...

Here goes my soundtrack:

Opening Credits: "Riot in Cell Block No. 9" by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen

"There's a riot going on!"

Waking Up: "It's Obdacious" by Greg Piccolo, from the swing dance collection Roll Up the Rug Volume 2

First Day At School: "Collide" from a jazz EP by Malcolm Burn and Rachel Yamagata

Falling In Love: "Young Love on the Dance Floor" from I Got New Shoes by the Albion Dance Band

"There's always someone trying to cut in..."

Breaking Up: "What About Me?" by Richie Havens

"My world is slowly falling down..."

Prom: "From Hank to Hendrix" by Neil Young

Hmmm, well, I didn't go to the prom. We had an anti-prom and I think it ended up with us taking hot cocoa to the Quakers who maintained an anti-war sit-in in front of the Nixon White House.

Life is Good: "Walk on By" (the Robert Gordon version)

Mental Breakdown: "For No One" a Lennon/McCartney song, but this version is by Bruce Lang

"The day breaks, your mind aches..."

Driving: "2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten" from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams

As David Levine observed, "obviously iTunes is telepathic."

Flashback: "Take It Away, Leon" by Leon McAuliffe & His Western Swing Band

Flashback? This one definitely predates me.

Getting Back Together: "Let's See How Far You Get" by BR5-49

Not particularly optimistic.

Wedding: "Let Me In" from Takin' My Time by Bonnie Raitt

Hmmm. Did we have a wedding song? The processional was "Dodi Li"; the reception was all Zydeco.

Paying the Dues: "I'm a Long Gone Daddy" from Timeless by Hank Williams III

The Night Before The War: "Kaulana Kawaihae" from Facing Future by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

A very sweet sounding song, but I don't understand Hawaiian.

Final Battle: "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins

Hmmm. Maybe my fight scene was a pie fight?

Moment of Triumph: "Lights of Cheyenne" by James McMurtry & the Heartless Bastards

"Out on the horizon, the broken stars fall..."

Death Scene: "What's Going Ahn" from Radio City by Big Star

"Oh, no"

Funeral Song: "The Newz Reel" by Charles Sawtelle

Very lively tune. Must be an Irish funeral....

End Credits: "Raisins and Almonds (Rozhinkes Mit Mandelen" from Tradition by Itzhak Perlman

Wow, how European.

(And, did I ever luck out. After I'd completed the meme, the next song on the shuffle was Tom Lehrer's "Smut." That would have been hard to explain...)

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's Friday. It's catblogging.


...and isn't Kaylee excited!

Horsey moments

When I think back on hot political and social issues of the past few years, what I often remember about them is a David Horsey cartoon. Horsey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist (who happens to work for the Post-Intelligencer), has an unparalleled ability to portray a group, or a movement, as an individual. My all-time favorite Horsey drawing showed individuals from four Seattle communities each expressing his or her own group's highly intolerant NIMBY attitudes. The more distinctive their appearances and language, the more hilarious was the underlying similarity of their views. My runner-up favorite Horsey is one of Deborah Senn (remember her?) digging ferociously in the couch cushions to find the remote control while a TV screen in the background showed her victorious opponent for the Senate race, Maria Cantwell.

Today's Horsey (Oct. 13) is a tasteful and delightful take (really) on the Foley scandal featuring the Republican elephant and a young member of the Christian Right.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where the ebooks live

Having recently been involved in the editing of an ebook, I was rather taken aback to realize there is little infrastructure for publicizing and selling ebooks. The book review sections of publications and online reviewing sites decline to review ebooks. You won't find ebook authors doing readings at bookstores because bookstores sent print books, not ebooks.

As we go about trying explain and market the new ebook, I've come to a few realizations about why ebooks are having trouble catching on.

1. They got off to a bad start: A profusion of proprietary ebook reader software confused and frustrated consumers. Six or seven years ago, with the advent of affordable high-speed Internet access and the dotcom boom, ebooks looked hot. While some viewed them as a boon for writers, traditional publishers saw them as yet another way to make money on existing merchandise: Now people who found lugging books around inconvenient could read those same titles as digital files on their laptop computers or PDAs. Major booksellers teamed up with software developers to create proprietary software for reading their books (even though Adobe had developed Acrobat, which was soon well integrated with Windows and the Mac operating system.) Some companies even marketed proprietary ebook reader hardware. Unfortunately, these all these products launched just about simultaneously, with the result that readers soon discovered that whatever they wanted to read probably didn't exist for their software or their reader. And thus the very appealing idea of walking up to a kiosk at the airport and downloading the book of your choice never came about. Consumers gave up on ebooks, and so did the major players. (Though Sony is trying it yet again.) It's interesting to note that this scenario is in contrast to the development of the iPod and iTunes. Apple beat competitors to the market quickly enough to set a clear industry standard for music, plus allowed the most common type of pre-existing music file, mp3, to be played.

2. They were oversold: ebooks were marketed to a wide audience based on vague enthusiasm, instead of to narrow audiences based on specific advantages. Are ebooks better than print books? Not necessarily. The experience of reading a long work of fiction while chained to a desktop computer, or squinting at the tiny screen of a PDA, turned off many readers who like to read in bed, on a couch, or in the bathrub. However, nonfiction ebooks, focusing on "how-to" topics, have won followers exactly because, for that type of topic, the ebook format is superior to print. Ebooks allow you to keyword search a book's contents; to move between sections of a book using internal links; to print out instructions and checklists for use elsewhere (ideal for project management, home improvement, cooking, etc.); and to obtain an ebook in a matter of minutes in order to solve an immediate problem (travel guides, cookbooks, educational information, etc.). To see an example of some successful "how-to" ebooks, check out the Take Control series.

3. Online "how-to" sites have evolved into stiff competition for ebooks. Pretty much anyone who is using online sites to download and print out "how-to" information is a good prospective buyer for an ebook. But the ebook finds itself in direct competition with the "how-to" websites. These sites make money through ads and subscriptions; few of them want to send site visitors offline to read a ebook! Thus a site with the audience the ebook publisher wants to reach is the site least likely to review the ebook.

I'd love to hear your comments and observations. Do you currently use ebooks? If so, what software and what formats do you use? What types of titles are you buying?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How novel

Just came back from a class on structuring your novel by Matt Briggs, author of Shoot the Buffalo (winner of the American Book Award). It was impressive how much information he was able to deliver to us in just a few hours.

I not only came away with some ideas for outlining a new mystery -- I saw immediately the ugly structural mistakes I'd made in my first (unpublished) one.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Boot up and dance

Those of you who are dancers will have a field day with this.

New journalism

Under no circumstances should you miss the Oct. 16 cover of Time magazine. My faith in mainstream journalism has been tentatively renewed.

(Mystical Forest posted a copy of the cover today, and at first I thought it was a spoof. But no!)

Lost weekend

I've been sick with a strange sore throat all weekend, and slept through most of the day today. As a result, there's a pile of plant clippings still sitting the middle of the back yard waiting to be lugged out to the compost bin. And we had to order in a pizza for dinner.

I woke up around 6 p.m., but then Zoe hopped up on the bed and snuggled up, resting her head on my shoulder and gazing soulfully into my eyes...while...purring...hypnotically...

Back to sleep.

Now I'm up and making a list of what I need to do tomorrow so I won't have to do anything strenous, like think.

• move clippings into compost bin
• yoga class
• ghost-blogging
• move boxes of summer clothes into attic (while the cats are outside, so they won't go rooting around in the attic and in the walls)
• clean out closet in office, which is currently impassable
• babysit neighbor's daughter for an hour
• call John and see how the rotator cuff surgery went (ouch!)
• cook polenta and veggies for dinner

Please excuse the dust

The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out has migrated from Blogger to the new Blogger Beta, and there is weird re-publishing of old blog posts going on. Your patience is appreciated!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Three surprises in the garden

I could see more than a dozen apples on the columnar apple tree, the first time there's been a significant crop since I planted it two and half years ago. One apple went to my mom's to be dipped in honey at the Rosh Hashanah dinner. The rest I'd decided to use for a pie. The surprise was that after I finished patting down the thickly-leaved 8-foot-tall apple tree, I came away with 22 apples!

The next surprise was a bright fuchsia-and-white dahlia. It appeared to be growing on a rhody, but on closer inspection I realized that the late-bloomer, planted only a month or so ago, had come up through the adjoining bush. If this dahlia winters over as well as the more established dahlias we have, it should be amazing next year. (Photo to come.)

The third surprise was Big Tony. That's the name I've given to the very large dark gray tabby whose been gobbling Betaille's leftovers in the back yard for the past week. This cat is big, with a long muzzle; he looks like something that should be on display in the zoo. Today he and Betaille came into the house together and Tony proceeded to eat every scrap of cat food in sight. Zoe glared at him balefully, but Sheba was surprisingly uninterested. Zorg was able to touch him, and I got in a quick pat. Though he looks well-groomed, Tony has the timid demeanor of a stray; he didn't seem as though he'd venture into a strange house unless very hungry. We haven't seen any local "lost cat" posters, and there's no mention of him on Craig's List or in the newspaper classifieds. Since he gets along with Betaille, he's certainly welcome to keep her company and enjoy the second heated cat bed in her shelter. He's a better tenant than a raccoon.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Healthy pet food

I sometimes feel guilty about feeding my cats commercial pet food, but there is no way I'm about to start grinding, chopping, and serving raw meat and bones for them. Nor do I like having to schlep off to shop in little pet food boutiques for tiny expensive tins of food that are supposedly more healthful -- particularly when all four of our cats leave the healthy food untouched in their dishes and yowl stridently until we bring out the Fancy Feast.

Enter Pet Promise.

Available at local supermarket, Pet Promise is a line of wet and dry foods endorsed by health expert Dr. Andrew Weil. Apparently Weil wanted food for his own dogs that was free of "animal byproducts," the garbage leftovers from the meat industries. He eventually found a company making pet food from hormone-free, human-grade fish, chicken, and beef and teamed up with them to bring it to a general market. (For more on the emerging pet health food field, see this Mother Earth News article).

Pet Promise has just debuted, and you can find promotional coupons for it in many supermarket mailers. (I just got one from QFC.)

I purchased a bag of the Pet Promise mature formula dry food at the Ballard Market last night, brought it home, and put a bowl of it in front of our notoriously finicky elderly Himalayan-Abyssian. (Finicky? This is a cat that approaches even a dish of its favorite food as if the dish were about to explode.)

The verdict? Betaille dug right in. Ate a whole bowl of the stuff. Now I'm trying it out on the rest of the herd.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mac OS X 10.4.8 update and Airport problems

Many people are reporting that after updating to Mac OS X v. 10.4.8 their Macs are dropping their wireless internet connections. (I'm one of them. My Intel iMac can see our wireless network, but I have to manually reconnect every time I awaken the computer.)

The folks at MacFixIt have got some advice for fixing this.

Are you married?

Chances are this advice on being married to a photographer will ring a bell, no matter what professional or avocation your spouse pursues.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Blogging tips

Everyone has blogging tips. A few people have good ones. Like these.

And here's an entry, from a political blog, that's an example of a good, provocative teaser and call to action.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Keeping kitty cozy

My cat Betaille is 17. (I think she's "our cat" but both she and Zorg think she's my cat.)

She's old. She's frail. She's grouchy. She communicates by glaring rather than meowing. We sometimes think she's losing her sight or her hearing, but tests indicate that when she wants to, she can hear and see just fine. And, being lightweight, she can move at an astonishing rate of speed and even leap onto things (though I think the leaping is a bit painful for her).

Betaille has always been fussy. She doesn't sit on laps. She loves to be petted, though only when she is in certain "Designated Petting Places." If we say "DPP?" to her, she'll lead us to one.

For some reason, Betaille insists on living outdoors. She makes her home in a sheltered storage alcove that's just outside the basement and underneath my office. (If I get out of my chair to go into the kitchen, she hears the chair and the footsteps overhead and often meets me at the back door.) We have fabricated some shelters for her out of cardboard boxes and equipped them with hard plastic heated pads (used for barn animals) topped by faux-fleece cats beds. (Two boxes because our pushy cat Zoe kept nudging Betaille out of the first heated box and occupying it herself.)

Despite these efforts, there's something pathetic about going down to visit Betaille on a cold, rainy winter afternoon and seeing this skinny cat huddled on her heated cat pad while the wind howls through the yard.

Each year, Betaille gets frailer. And each fall, I find myself trying to engineer warmer and more sheltered environments for her. I've lined the cardboard boxes with fleece rugs; I've covered the sides and tops of the boxes with thick slabs of styrofoam.

Today I ordered this inflatable, insulated dog house that was apparently used by some teams in the Iditarod races. Equipped with the heated pad and cat bed, it could be the perfect home for Betaille this winter. If she agrees, I'll post another picture of it with her inside.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Corkscrew Hazel, Contorted Filbert...

...aka Harry Lauder's Walking Stick...is one of the stunning highlights of a winter garden. Never mind that in the summer the tree looks like a haystack covered in ugly wrinkled dull green leaves. In winter it drops the leaves to reveal a fascinating structure of twisted, nearly coiled, branches.

My Contorted Filbert, purchased a year ago, sent up some vigorous shoots from the root stock this spring, and these are straight, not contorted. I suspected I should cut them off, but wasn't sure. Paghat's Garden website provided an apparently exhaustive description of the plant and how to handle it (cut the straight shoots; they take energy away from the desirable contorted branches), along with interesting background about its names.

The Paghat's Garden site, apparently a labor of love by a couple of gardeners across the Sound in Bremerton, has similarly detailed pages on a great number of popular Northwest plants. Highly recommended.

Creative retirement

My mom is currently looking for a condo or apartment that's part of an independent living retirement complex. She got the idea this summer after we visited a few of her 80-something friends back east who live in elegant and secluded retirement villages. My mother thought those places were delightful (so clean! so new!) but they threw me into the kind of depression I associate with a long dinner at a Republican country club.

Clearly my expectations for retirement differ from hers!

At last, some heartening news, reported in the New York Times: In Burbank, CA, The Burbank Senior Artists Colony has created a senior apartment complex with amenities including a digital film editing lab, drama classes, and art studios -- all available round the clock. The developer, Meta Housing, is apparently planning similar complexes in other cities. (Thanks to Rebecca's Pocket for the link.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Serious pizza

Seriously great pizza means seriously great equipment. This fellow explains how he gets his oven up to 800 degrees.

Excellent crust recipe, by the way.

Source: LifeHacker

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My search string identity

Doug Plummer ponders the most common search strings used to reach his popular site Dispatches and concludes "A poetic mix, don’t you think? Maybe I should try reading it at a slam."

I'd been wondering what to blog about today. Here it is, the Mysterious Traveler's search string identity poem. (I like the way it starts with home repair, moves on to food, then back to home repair and finally into online activities.)

pet locator
kitchen aid error messages f2 e1
remove plastic wall anchors
kugel recipes noodle apples prunes dried
brandied pears
san marzano tomatoes of italy
waring ice cream parlor instructions
do it yourself bathtub caulking
reconditioning leather
palm mac file busy
create your own south park character


Friday, September 22, 2006

Only 65 more cooking days until Thanksgiving

Roasted turkey or deep-fried? Herbed stuffing or cornbread with oysters? Cranberry relish or cranberry sauce? Yams, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, or all three? Will there be enough gravy? Store-bought pumpkin pie or homemade?

Ah, yes, the first days of fall mean thoughts of Thanksgiving. And the announcement of the release of Joe Kissell's new ebook Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner. The downloadable ebook, complete with Print Me files of recipes and schedules, brings method to the holiday madness.

Kissell, a San Francisco technology writer and longtime foodie, has taken a step-by-step approach to preparing a classic Thanksgiving dinner. You read the book, consult the ingredient and equipment lists, follow the recipes (including detailed instructions on techniques for brining, stuffing a turkey, and making gravy) and the schedules and Kissell promises you'll not only have delicious food, but all the dishes will be ready to serve on time.

He offers a customizable schedule if you want to substitute in your own recipes, or have guests bring some of the food, and there's a "Last-Minute Thanksgiving" section to help people who find themselves throwing together a feast on short notice.

Find out more about Joe and the book at his website GeekyGourmet.com.

TAGS: ; ;

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kitchen essentials

I've been belatedly reading the September issue of Martha Stewart Living, with an article on Martha's new kitchen. The kitchen is huge (of course) and very cool and classic, with stainless counters and black, off-white, and cafe-au-lait walls and trim. One picture showed a massive stainless steel restaurant-style prep table. The top was bare, but the bottom shelf had a pair of wicker baskets filled with towels. And in one of the baskets, nicely color-coordinated with new the kitchen, was one of Martha's Himalayan cats.

The September issue also has a very helpful and well illustrated article on identifying, choosing, and installing various types of wall anchors.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Don't go in the garden shed!

Within a hour of waking up this morning I chewed out and "fired" a subcontractor who turned out to have been lying to me for the past three weeks, apologized profusely to two of my most valued clients (the end-victims of the lies), begged a favor from one of those clients, and then drove like a mad woman to Capitol Hill to meet with a new subcontractor who is going to do the piece of work on a "rush" basis. Bless his soul.

I've been working doggedly since then (I'm due to touch base with the new subcontractor at 6:30 tonight) and a few minutes ago decided to step into the back yard to enjoy the balmy 72-degree weather before evening. It was then I noticed the door to the garden shed had been left open during the night. I walked across the yard to close it -- walking carefully, because our elderly cat has taken to using the lawn as a litter box.

Then I discovered that the cat had found an alternative to using the lawn in the rain. She'd turned the garden shed into her own personal feline outhouse. Unfortunately, there's no hole in the flooring.

So, how's your day going?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

New pizza; dark dining in Seattle

Suddenly, there's pizza everywhere. Or at least a tantalizing whiff of it. Tutta Bella, which has been serving some excellent thin-crust pizza in Columbia City, has opened a place on Stone Way, just south of 45th St. I've driven by a few times and it always seems to be packed.

There's a mysterious storefront under construction on the south side of Market Street in downtown Ballard with a sign that says "Snoose Junction Pizza" (will there be lutefisk toppings?). And now Seattle Bon Vivant reports that Tom Douglas (Lola, Etta's, Dahlia Lounge) will be opening a pizza place at 4th and Virginia called Serious Pie.

Speaking of food, I'm interested in Dark Dining, happening Oct. 3, 4, and 5 in Seattle. I'd be particularly interested in the Oct. 4 dinner at Nell's at Green Lake. If you'd like to do this dinner thing with me (I'm afraid we're talking $135 a person here) get in touch and we can see if there are still spaces available. (Is Zorg going? No, Dark Dining is not a Zorg thing.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Updating software

I spent much of this evening updating software and placing serial numbers into Yojimbo in the hopes that I'll later be able to find them there.

There are a few developers who make updating software a painless process. Unfortunately, I spent only a few minutes with their products, and long periods of time with the convoluted and poorly documented work of their less talented brethren. Software updates that tell me to restart my machine post-update are irritating -- but not nearly as irritating as one measly little app that requires post-installation restart but doesn't tell you that.

Grrr.

But I want to close with kind words for the brilliant VersionTracker Pro service, and its "lite" incarnation, VersionTracker Plus. Whichever of these you choose, you'll be able to go to the VersionTracker website and see real-world user reviews, rankings, and advice on using every piece of software, shareware, and freeware imaginable. Outstanding for both Mac and Windows.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hey! Broisma is back

"Numa Numa" video guy Gary Broisma is back with a "New Numa" video.

I know too much

Zorg likes to say that you can take me anywhere in Seattle and I'll run into someone I know.

Turns out, he's right. And, boy, is this embarrassing.

Andy Baio at the tech site Waxy.org blogged about a Seattle web developer named Jason Fortuny (who I do not know) who recently ran an experiment using the local Craig's List. Posing (er, literally) as a "submissive woman" Fortuny advertised under "Casual Encounters" for "an aggressive dom." His hidden agenda was to find out how many men would reply with the requested photos and contact information within 24 hours.

When the answers arrived...178 of them, 145 accompanied by photographic evidence... Fortuny then posted them on a web page [WARNING: this link leads to explicit content]. As Baio notes, many of the victims of Fortuny's hoax had provided names, addresses, phone numbers, email accounts (even work emails!), photos, and other details that made them immediately recognizable.

Baio's post goes on to explore the social, ethnical and legal issues that may be involved.

Now I've lived in Seattle for 22 years; I was single for more than a decade of that time. Quite frankly, I was, well, curious to see if I'd recognize anyone.

I did.

There was an email address on Fortuny's list that I recognized immediately. And, sure enough, when I clicked on it the photo that appeared (not explicit) matched up with the email address. When my surprise and dismay wore off, I read the full text of the reply and was quite amused to see that the fellow had adjusted his age downward...by about 12 years. Oh, vanity, thy name is...probably about to become public.

Hilarious. Depressing. Human.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's school, not business school

Dismissing Guy Kawasaki's list of "10 things you should learn this school year" as "advice on how to be a business toady," educator Stephen Downes goes on to propose his own list -- and it's one that puts Kawasaki's rather glib suggestions to shame.

Net lingo

Today I sent an email that contained all its info in the subject line. To indicate that there was no text in the body of the email, I ended the subject line with "n/t".

Thanks for the fish. n/t

When the puzzled recipient replied "n/t?" I realized the usage wasn't as common as I'd thought.

Apparently the placement of "n/t," to denote no next in the body of the email, dates back to the days of Usenet. (I found the reference at UserFriendly.Org.)

Also worth checkout is NetLingo, The Internet Dictionary, which talks about an email/chat adjunct I'd love to try out, called a Zaplet. Ever used one?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Before and after

Buyer experience vs. user experience. The picture says it all.

Caught in the glare

I like to get the cats in by 10 every night, but sometimes it happens that one of the Stripe Sisters is still out roaming around at midnight. Tonight I went down the front steps in search of Kaylee, headed toward our driveway -- and froze, as a high-intensity search light snapped on and caught me in its glare.

No gun-toting security guards appeared to order me to put my hands in the air, and, squinting at the beam, I realized that the next door neighbors had installed a set of motion-detector security lights on the edge of their roof. The lights are positioned so they pick up any motion on our front lawn, the street, or the alleyway.

Yikes.

I've always liked the quiet, almost rural atmosphere of our street. We have a few streetlights and most of us have dim porch lights. You can sit out front at night and not see a car, or even a person, go by for an hour or two. I've never heard of a burglary or an assault, though once this year some kids drove down the street and tossed some beer bottles (full!) out the window.

I am trying to imagine why the neighbors installed security lights of the intensity one usually associates with isolated commercial warehouses. (These are not the sort of motion-triggered soft-glow lights people put up to give guests some lighting as they walk up the driveway or front steps.) It seems doubly odd, because there is a streetlight right in front of their house.

I'd like very much to say something to them about the lights, except I can't imagine what would do any good, now that they've invested in such an expensive system.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The ins and outs of pet doors

Considering a pet door? Moore Pet Doors has a site that sells and exhaustively explains every type of pet door imaginable -- ones that fit in overhead-type garage doors, ones that can be installed in screens, "bite-guard" doors (for pets who chew on regular flap doors), heavy-duty plastic dual-flap doors, and our favorite, the raccoon-proof door ("Keeps out: Raccoons, snakes, rodents, opossums, skunks, alligators, monkeys, scorpions, other pets"). They also make custom pet doors, and replacement flaps.

And, for those of you with indoor cats who want to keep the cat box in a closet, the Cat Hole -- a very attractive wooden doorway with an optional brush attachment that, yes, grooms your kitty as it goes in and out.

We've installed, tried out, and modified cat doors for years, but I've never before come across such a comprehensive online catalog of doors, complete with ratings and reviews. (Speaking of which...we own the Solo raccoon-proof door, and I can testify that we have never yet had an alligator get into the house!)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Getting creative with bamboo

I'm in the midst of so many projects that I can't seem to get any substantive work done on any of them. Frustrating!

I'll spare you any further whining and instead feature the creative work of a North Seattle neighbor. He carted away all the bamboo poles left over from our annual bamboo thinning and turned them into garden art:




Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Zefrank thinking, so you don't have to"

(Warning: Some pungent language, possibly not for the office.)

If you think the concept of "branding" is fluff, this in-your-face explanation by video-blogger Zefrank could make you think again. (Thanks to the SEOmoz Daily Blog for pointing out this one.)

Curious about pub quiz nights in Seattle?

I am. I keep thinking I want to go to one of the triva/quiz nights at the Old Pequliar or Conor Byrne in Ballard. But I'm not quite sure how it works with teams and all that. The thought of polling my friends, forming a team...aieee!

I was delighted to discover the new QuizNight.net (beta) site, with maps, calendars, and forums (by venue) to help people to put together quiz teams and find out about the venues. You register, create a profile, and...you know the drill.

(Thanks to the folks at Metroblogging Seattle for the tip!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fat cats and the internet? Hey, no problem

Ronald Holden's link-laden post about net neutrality is well worth clicking around in. You particularly want to see John Hodgman ("I'm a PC") of The Daily Show explaining the Internet -- which he says was founded not by Al Gore, but by Eisenhower. Really.

Rain. Rain! RAIN!

For the first time since June, it's really raining! The forecast shows it continuing through Wednesday. I can hardly wait to see what the garden will look like by Thursday!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Western swing at the Tractor Friday

The folks who run the Tractor Tavern in Ballard must have a genuine love for roots music, because their calendar has plentiful infusions of The Real Thing.

September starts off with a visit from Wayne "The Train" Hancock, the definitive purveyor of the Texas honky-tonk tradition.

Details: Sept. 1, 9 p.m. Tickets $12 (available in advance at Sonic Boom in Ballard)

Opening: Marshall Scott Warner (rockabilly)
DJ: rockabilly expert DJ Tom LG

Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Tk'tk'tk" wins a Hugo Award!

Last February, right in the midst of my departure from Apple, I took Anita Rowland's sage advice and got myself to Potlatch 15 in Seattle. This convention for science fiction readers and writers is pleasurably intense, and by the end of the con Sunday afternoon I was pretty much in a daze. I'd offered one out-of-town participant, who was staying with friends in Fremont, a ride out from downtown. We were collecting our coats in the hospitality suite when a man I'd heard on some panels walked up to me and introduced himself. We started chatting, and it was one of the most enjoyable conversations of the weekend (which was saying quite a lot -- it was a fascinating group). This fellow was David Levine, the editor (with Kate Yule) of the fanzine Bento, and an up-and-coming short story writer. I'd read David's distinctive story "Tk'tk'tk" in Asimov's in the past year, and was delighted to learn it was up for a Hugo Award, one of the highest distinctions in SF literature.

Just heard tonight that "Tk'tk'tk" has won! Congratulations, David! A memorable piece of writing by a very talented -- and inspiring -- writer.

The story has been available on the Asimov's site, but I believe it may be taken down now that the awards have been announced. Try this link!

Back to...what?

I haven't gone to school since 1980 (when I completed my M.S. at Columbia) but the last two weeks of August are still all about getting ready to rededicate myself to some kind of work routine.

For a few years in the '90s I worked as a campaign manager for United Way. Late August was when we held boot camp for volunteer fundraisers (loaned executives). This experience probably reinforced my end-of-summer instincts to revamp my wardrobe, reorganize my desk, get up earlier, and generally get psyched for a new, life-changing endeavor.

Thus far this year I've signed up for a September fiction writing seminar at Richard Hugo House and purchased a new backpack. OK, I'm ready. Are you?

Pear season

The pears are ready. These are sweet golden pears, which ripen three days after they are picked. Come visit, and you will leave with some pears!

(Recipe for pear coffee cake also available. Possibly also some coffee cake samples, if I feel energetic this evening.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Italian recipes

The website for Mario Batali's Ristorante Babbo in NYC includes some wonderful recipes, many of them hearty, rustic dishes from the Italian countryside. You probably already have all the ingredients you need for the Panzanella Salad.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lunch in Ballard and just beyond

Not to turn this into a food blog...but came across two great new places in the Ballard area this week:

Egan's Ballard Jam House. A jazz club by night, this place on NW Market has a short but distinguished menu of lunch offerings. You can't go wrong with the gumbo, and the vegetarian I had lunch with gave a "thumbs up" to the Mediterranean wrap. The cheesecake looked impressive, but we weren't doing desserts. Egan's was pleasantly quiet, with a bluesy soundtrack in the background; I suspect it will soon be hopping as word gets around about the wonderful food.

The Barking Dog Alehouse. This surprising large restaurant is tucked away on the west side of Phinney Ridge, on NW 70th. We didn't check out any ales, but their halibut breaded in panko was a knockout. The friend who brought us there had the mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich -- lots of beautiful little open-face sandwiches on baguette slices, drizzled with olive oil. Superficially, this looks like pub food but there's a much defter touch and better flavors. (I've seen some online reviews complaining about the service here, so apparently things go downhill when it's busy. On a weekday at lunchtime the Barking Dog was barely half-full and the service was very attentive.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ferocious strawberry shortcake

As a rule, I live vicariously through the dining adventures of The Robotic Gourmand and Cookbook 411, but in the past two days I've had the chance to eat at two of the city's favorite small places: Via Tribunali and Kingfish Cafe.

Both are legendary for their long waits as well as their vivid food, so Zorg and I made a dash for Via Tribunali early Sunday evening. Indeed, we were seated immediately and service was swift. We started with the excellent Salumi antipasto (meats from Salumi), followed by a Quattro Stagione pizza. Some reviews of Via Tribunali say that their ultra-thin crust pizza can, at times, be limp in the middle, and unfortunately that was the case. Since ultra-thin is not Zorg's kind of pizza in the first place (he favors the thick Chicago style, with extra cheese) the sub-par crust took the zing off the main course for him. (I was purring, he was looking puzzled.) A dessert of tartuffo (chocolate ice cream drizzled with espresso and crushed expresso beans) cheered us up, though.

I'd been to Via Tribunali once before, but tonight was my first time at the Kingfish Cafe -- also a good place to arrive early. The food there is rich and Southern, with hot, spicy and sweet the prevalent flavors. (Salt is noticeably underplayed, which is a little disconcerting initially but by a second taste, this absence really lets some other great flavors come forth.) The house salad has lot and lots of bacon. Very good bacon. Our friend Mary ordered the shrimp (spicy and sweet), I had the crawfish/crab cakes with a delicious tartar-aoli, and Zorg got the near-perfect macaroni and cheese -- an immense, tangy block of it.

We all ended up getting much of our main courses boxed to go, and Mary and I decided to split an order of strawberry shortcake. It turned out to be massive, and ferocious, with layers of fresh, sweet berries their own juice, fresh fluffy whipped cream, biscuit-style shortcake that really held up, and a transparent carmelized sugar glaze over the whipped cream on top. We each ended up take a box of that home, as well.

Eat well. Eat early.