Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Inventions

Would someone in the electronic gaming community please invent a signal beacon that can be placed outside the room so anyone approaching the game player's computer can tell if the player is in an uninterruptable, life-threatening place in the game? 

It's no fun to be greeted with "OK, now I'm dead. What did you want?"

And, for those of you in the auto industry, how about running the A/C system under the cupholders so you'd have the option to keep hot drinks hot in winter and iced drinks cold in summer?

Thanks!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day at the Shady Rest West

I like to celebrate Solstice/Christmas; Zorg's not wild about it. But he received a book he's very enthusiastic about, I got some treats from my Amazon wish list, we had scrambled eggs with ham and toasted pannetone for brunch, and there's a light dusting of fresh snow on the roof of the garden shed. So, yes, we're having a nice Christmas and will be headed out for our traditional Szechuan dinner this evening, weather permitting.

Merry Christmas to you!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Eggnog disclaimer

Wow! Our friend Captain John whipped up a large batch of my father's Virginia eggnog for us this year. ("Virginia eggnog" is characterized by lots of eggs and heavy cream, plus a 2:1 ratio of whisky to rum; while it's certainly got plenty of sugar in it, it tastes far, far less sweet than commercial eggnogs.)

Our original intention was to share it with a few of the neighbors, but when we realized that friends from further afield were driving cars to come over to check it out, I decided we needed to warn them that while the eggnog may taste like tiramisu, it's extremely high in alcohol content. The Zorg drafted up the following advisory, which we then posted on the table next to the punch bowl:

HIGHLY INTOXICATING EGGNOG

By dipping a ladle or cup or other nog-containing device, the imbiber hereof hereby acknowledges and accepts that that he, she, it or they will possibly become inebriated, intoxicated, drunk or "three sheets to the wind."

The management accepts no responsibility or liability for any accidents that may occur whilst blinded by wearing a lampshade, or driving Under the Influence. Management recommends that all imbibers hereof arrange for a designated lampshade wearer who has not been nogged. Having someone else drive post-nog would also be a Good Idea.

We would list the intoxicants that constitute the aforementioned Nog of the Egg, but fear that doing so would lead to a visit by the Fire Marshal, who would order that all open flames within 50 feet of the Nog be extinguished. Thus, we leave the exact contents of this Nog to your imagination, as supplement by your taste buds.

A Christmas present from my dad

Today I got a Christmas present from my (late) father: A clean kitchen floor.

After several months of trying to get the housecleaners we use to scrub (not dab at with a damp mop) the damn Marmoleum, I scrubbed the floor myself.

I put on workout clothes, got down on my hands and knees with a Dobie pad, and scrubbed. And I used the special Marmoleum cleaner, not the housecleaners' favorite pseudo-environmental solution that is the same thing as traditional cleansers, but packaged in a sensitive new-age white-and-green bottle with a eucalyptus scent and a high price. Scrubbing only took a few minutes (it's a small kitchen) but what a mess! I guess I'm partially to blame, because I selected a Marmoleum pattern in terracotta that just doesn't show the dirt. But oh, the dirt was down there. Every sticky thing we've spilled for the past few months that our cleaning crews have blithely skimmed over with their cute little damp mops. And, while I was down there, with my eyes at floor level, I got a good look at the recessed kickboards under the cabinets. Well, "good" is hardly the word — I'll spare you any further description. But cleaning them took only a minute or two. Then I took the plastic grill off the bottom of the our (unmovable) fridge, and used the crevice tool on the dustbuster to fish out a what looked like a prehistoric dust bunny.

(Just in case you wonder if I'm not communicating my desires clearly to the cleaners — one of the more memorable discussions began with me saying the kitchen floor wasn't clean enough, and could they do something to get it cleaner. They looked puzzled and said they had no idea how to get it cleaner. I suggested they use a Dobie pad, or other non-abrasive pad, and scrub it. They pointed out they use a dry sponge mop with a little damp cloth wrapped around it. Exasperated, I said "why do you use a damp cloth instead of a wet mop soaked in cleaning solution?" The woman looked at me like I was a dim bulb and spelled it out for me. "Oh, but the cloth on the mop is so much easier." I did not scream "But it doesn't f*cking clean anything!" I just fired that team. And hired a new one that is more reliable — but still of the dust-and-dab-with-eucalyptus school of cleaning.)

So here I sit, post scrubbing. My pants have wet knees, the shoulders of my shirt are grimy, and I suspect I have cleaning liquid in my hair. I look like I've been cleaning — not like I'm on my way out to the grocery store. Yet my cleaners come every week in cute little sweat clothes that  look just as cute and dry and neat when they leave — since all they do is pat at things with soft cloths, avoiding looking at or touching anything below knee level.

My father's hobby was maintaining things: woodwork, appliances, gutters, lawnmowers, cars, electronics. He cleaned and oiled and did all those things that were in the manual. As a result, things looked lovely and functioned well — he generally spotted problems during maintenance and we were able to schedule repairs (or buy replacement items) rather than have exciting household emergencies.

I had my share of emergencies when I bought my first house, so with our second one I've been much more vigilant about maintenance. Like my dad, I have manuals and all the cleaning instructions posted next to our furnace, our generator, and our hot water heater, in plastic zip lock bags, attached to the wall with push pins. Maintenance reminders for major appliances appear as alarms in iCal.

And, thanks to my dad, I have a clean kitchen floor (which I'm now about to glaze with four layers of Marmoleum glaze). And tomorrow morning I plan to cook Christmas breakfast while barefoot!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Not even a mouse...

As fits my observer personality, I like to watch Christmas. When I was a reporter, I always volunteered to work Christmas Eve or Christmas Day — ostensibly because I was single and half-Jewish; but really because I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on the holiday rather than participate in it.

My favorite Christmas Eve assignment was the one where I was sent to the local mall to cover the last-minute Christmas shopping. Like the man who dashed into the shoe store and asked the saleswoman for a pair of plush slippers for his wife. "What size?" she asked. "Oh, any size," the man replied as he handed over his credit card. "She'll just return them anyway."

The cafeteria at the newspaper was closed that night, but I'd brought a whiskey-soaked fruitcake to share with the few other folks on duty. I came back from the mall assignment to discover that the fearsome assistant editor, in charge of the newsroom for the night, had eaten more than half of the cake. She was sitting at her desk, looking stunned. I ate the other half, filed my story, and drove home.

On December 26, I arrived at the paper to discover a clipping of the Christmas shopping article on my desk, covered with the distinctive red scribbling of the managing editor. I remembered the fruitcake. I (vaguely) remember writing the story. Expecting the worse, I peered at the scribbling.

"Great story!" it read. I looked over at the assistant editor, who made a "Whew!" gesture at me.

Now, instead of working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, my gig is looking after other people's pets. Two families on our street are out of town on vacation. The cat next door helpfully moves into our house when her family is away. But the other household has fish and mice as well as two cats, so I walk across the street to their place once or twice a day.

When the family was leaving Thursday night they told me that one of the mice was seriously ill. A website they had checked said a mouse with its symptoms should go to the vet, but the family decided they weren't going to do that, it being "just a mouse."

The mouse looked slightly better Saturday, and even ran over to its food dish when I poured in the kibble. But tonight I came in to find that mouse dead, with the survivor mouse curled up beside it, trying vainly to keep it warm. Argh.

I went home and got Zorg, who, prior to becoming a cat owner, had extensive experience keeping larger rodents. We went back and he removed the dead mouse from the cage (it's now in our basement freezer), and I am researching online to figure out if the remaining mouse is likely to freak out from loneliness. Not sure if we should go over and pet it and keep it company, or if we need to buy it a companion (even though the companion would need to stay in a neighboring cage until they acclimated to one another).

I asked our visiting cat, Kit-Kat, what I should do. She rolled her eyes. "It's just a mouse; get over it. But that reminds me: I could use a snack."

Cats do seem to lack something when it comes to the compassion department.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Winter Solstice Feast

The Winter Solstice Feast put on by the Fremont Arts Council is a fascinating community tradition. You don't hear it talked about much (as opposed to the Summer Solstice Parade), and as a result it's more of an "insiders" event for artists. Yet it's open to anyone who wants to help fabricate and decorate in the weeks that precede the event; after volunteers complete their work, they receive an invitation (that is a work of art in and of itself).

Last night's event was glorious. But rather than describe it, I'm going to refer you to the webpage Delilah of Visionary Dance wrote about her experience as a performer at the 1998 Feast. The art changes with the year and the venue, but the elaborate gathering to share food, burn out the old year, and celebrate the return of the sun, persists.

My purple star

After you've received feedback on 500 transactions (sales and purchases) on eBay, they put a a purple star next to your user name. I don't know if I should be proud or embarrassed to say that I got my purple star today.

However, I will tell the story of my most recent eBay purchase, a bright red down-filled Eddie Bauer parka. I signed up to "watch" item, and, when no one else had bid and the auction was nearly over, I bid $9, plus shipping (since parkas don't weigh much).

I won, I paid, and then I got a note from the seller. She lives in Greenwood (about 2 miles from our house); would I like to pick up the jacket and she'd refund the shipping? We negotiated by email and phone message, never actually talking to each other live, and she said she'd leave it packaged for me on her porch. PayPal sent a message saying my shipping had been refunded. So Thursday night I drove over to her place and there, on the covered porch of her bungalow, was a double grocery bag with my jacket neatly folded inside. She'd placed a big sprig of holly with berries and a nice note on top.

Oddly, I'd been looking for another sprig of holly for the basket of greenery on our front porch. And the jacket, which appears to be brand new, is now my favorite coat.

Needless to say, I left the seller (clover.iris.womens.and.vintage) very positive feedback on the eBay site; she has 1400 transactions and a red star!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'm meming of a...

Got this one from (My New) Life Out Here.

What Do You Like About Christmas?

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Wrapping paper.

2. Real tree or artificial?
Real. But I like the 1950s-era metallic silver trees, with either turquoise or pink ornaments. When I was a kid, my ballet teacher had one.

3. When do you put up the tree?
10 days before Christmas.

4. When do you take the tree down?
January 2. I hate dried pine needles.

5. Do you like eggnog?
Only if it's homemade, Virginia style with lots of heavy cream and more whiskey in it than rum. And fresh-grated nutmeg.

6. What was your favorite gift received as a child?
A Smith-Corona typewriter and a desk. (Runner-up was a book with all the Sherlock Holmes stories.)

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Er, no.

8. Hardest person to buy for?
My male friends who are married or in relationships. Can't give them anything risque or embarrassing anymore.

9. Easiest person to buy for?
My husband. He has a long Amazon wish list.

10. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
A bra. It's along story that I don't dare put in print, but will tell at parties. Particularly if you've given me some eggnog first. The second worst gift was a glow-in-the-dark toothbrush. Don't even ask about that one.

11. Mail or email cards?
Both, depending on the predominant communications style of the recipient.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
A Christmas Carol. Thanks to Zorg, I own at least a dozen of the best versions (there are, by the way, many, many more).

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
In October.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Oh yes. I often recycle bottles of wine.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
The spritz cookies my mom makes. Korv (Swedish sausage) is a close second.

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree?
Clear. I like the white mini-lights (though this year we have multi-colored LED lights on the tree). I like to remember how my ex-husband threw a fit the first time I decorated a tree with white mini-lights, horrified that they were too "Yuppie."

17. Favorite Christmas song?
"Good King Wenceslas." (Also "Lyssna," but I'm probably one of the few people outside of Sweden who knows the words to it.)

18. Travel for Christmas or stay at home?
Home. Home. Home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Yes, and I think it would be incredibly cute to name a house full of cats after them. Wonder if anyone ever has.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
One of those pointed things that looks like a kokoshnik (atop a Russian Orthodox church). It only fits if we have a small tree, which we do this year.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas morning, except my father's family opened them Christmas Eve, so we used to open gifts from my father's relatives on Christmas Eve.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Cooking. Cooking. Cooking.

23. What I love most about Christmas?
Greenery and candles.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

MacSanta deals for Mac users

The list of MacSanta deals today includes 20 percent off the Take Control eBooks series. (Deals are highlighted every day, but many of them are extended through the month — i.e., the coupon code remains valid.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baking cookies

Spent yesterday with Zorg and friends decorating for the Fremont Solstice Feast. We even picked up a cute little Christmas tree last night.

This morning there was an impromptu yoga session with my friend Julie, who was in town from Vancouver, B.C., and volunteered to lead our Sunday class. Then I came home and baked. More about my baking adventures here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

At home in Ballard

Late this afternoon, I spent an hour in downtown Ballard, looking for an orange rhinestone brooch to match a holiday outfit I'm trying to put together.

As I scurried down Market Street I encountered a fellow I'd met at a dinner meeting of the local the P.G. Wodehouse society. We had a brief chat, then I headed up to the offices of the neighborhood newspaper to drop off a disk with a digital photo a friend will be using for her Christmas column. Then it was into a consignment shop (no brooch), a new boutique (no brooch), and a frou-frou store that had a burnt-orange Christmas tree ornament I bought to use as a brooch. I also stopped at a shop where I saw the owner wearing a purple-and-burgundy scarf that looked very familiar.

"Do you shop at Classic Consignment?" I asked her. Yes, she said, that's where she'd gotten the scarf.

And where I'd consigned it.

You really belong to the neighborhood when you see people wearing your clothes!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Anita Rowland

Anita Rowland, one of the founding mothers of the contemporary blogging culture, died today at Swedish Hospital after several years of battling ovarian cancer. She was 51.

Anita's Book of Days, the blog she kept from 1997 through 2006, says everything about Anita. Her mischievous, subtle, and even-tempered personality shines through in every entry.

Anita and I lived somewhat parallel lives (grew up in Northern Virginia, moved to Seattle, became writers in the tech industry, loved genre fiction, enjoyed swing dancing, and married relatively late in life — to geeky guys who read genre fiction). Our paths finally crossed through the Seattle Webloggers Meetup that Anita led and I attended. She gently urged me to do more of the genre fiction writing I love, and saw that I was introduced to other supportive people in the field (through events like Potlatch).

Anita was a joy. I miss her.

[NOTE: This is cross-posted to my other blogs]

I visited Anita at the hospital over the weekend; while Anita dozed, Jack (her husband) and Bill (a friend from the SF community) talked about the love of reading we all share, and the work of British fantasy author Terry Pratchett. Tonight, reading Anita's Book of Days, I was intrigued and cheered to come across this entry she wrote in 1998 after reading a friend's blog:

"It's such an odd, out-of-flow, time, the actual vigil at the bedside of someone dying. And how much you grieve while they are dying, when it's a long illness. It's like you grieve ahead of time! So many little losses as the dying person gets weaker and sicker.

"The old customs of mourning had a lot of good things about them. The wearing of black clothes was a marker that meant that the mourning person wasn't held to normal standards of behavior. The mourner might cry or laugh inappropriately, or act oddly in other ways, and that was okay!"

Saturday, December 08, 2007

2007 in 12 sentences (meme)

I don't do memes unless they're fun. This one (caught from David Levine) is fun:

The first sentence from the first blog entry of each month of 2007:

January
This won't be news to anyone living out here in the Northwest corner, but -- it's raining.

February
I'm trying to figure out why there aren't people charging through the streets of Ballard waving their arms and screaming "Pizza! Pizza at last!"

March
They've installed a new phone system at the expensive spa/salon in Ballard where I get my hair cut, and it's right on the cutting edge -- of abysmal customer service experiences.

April
[photo of flower] These shiny green plants have been turning up in my yard for three or four years.

May
For all of my fellow back-pain sufferers: a post on Collision Detection on why you have to watch out not merely when lifting, but when pushing and pulling as well.

June
Our deaf white cat, Sheba, is one of the cats of the day at the LOLcat (laugh-out-loud cat) site, I Can Haz Cheesburger?

July
The bad news is that the center of the universe (downtown Fremont) is going the way of Belltown and Ballard: no parking, obnoxious tourists, and the intrusion of Starbucks and Taco del Mar-type places that try to look hip while sucking business from the stores owned by locals.

August
In the last few minutes of the space thriller Sunshine, a supernatural being is stalking the remaining crew members, threatening to sabotage the spaceship's mission to re-ignite a dying sun to save Earth.

September
Zorg and I strolled over to 24th Avenue NW tonight to try out the new Austin Cantina that just opened (in the spot where Dandelion used to be, just across the street and a block north of QFC).

October
My friend Geoff Duncan has blogged most amusingly about the ugly brown station wagon that sits abandoned on his street.

November
I thought it was a typo...when my cousin Michael referred to the "Rethuglicans" on his blog.

December
The hot thing in the online communities these days is proclaiming that you've taken the "Buy Handmade" pledge and then heavy-handedly suggesting that other people take it too.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Warm weather

It was 60 degrees today on our front porch, but unfortunately the balmy temperatures came with torrential rains and unpredictable gusts of 60-miles-per-hour wind. At 10 a.m. it was so dark in our back yard that the white enamel-painted patio furniture gleamed in the dusk as if it were under a black light. Standing at the glass back door was like standing behind a waterfall.

I spent the day unplugging and replugging the modem, router, and wifi base station, which got me about 5 minutes of internet use each time. And I discovered that our visiting cat has fleas.

When I called her owner to obtain permission to give her a Program flea pill, the owner expressed amazement that the cat had fleas (!) even though in the next breath she noted that she'd never given the cat any anti-flea medicines. She then went on to describe how to straight-jacket the cat in a towel prior to pilling her. This made me think that I'll defer to Zorg's cat-pilling expertise when he gets home this evening. Then I'll start vacuuming the room where the cat has been living.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Beware the sanctimonious shoppers

The hot thing in the online communities these days is proclaiming that you've taking the "Buy Handmade" pledge and then heavy-handedly suggesting that other people take it too.

Well, this is my (handmade) blog saying "Bleh." I also have a handmade gesture that goes with the remark.

Let's start at the beginning: My basic premise—and do let me know if I'm way out of date on this—is that gift giving (usually) starts with the idea of giving a person something they'd like to receive.

But deciding to buy gifts primarily on the basis that they are handmade (whether by you, or by some trendy indigenous culture) starts with the idea of...you. You'll feel good about yourself. (And maybe you'll make the recipient feel guilty because their gifts weren't as politically correct as your gifts. Yep, that's the good old holiday spirit!)

Now, I'm not against handmade gifts in principle. I have a friend who knits who I'm always hoping will give me one of his stunning handmade scarves. And I have friends who cook from whom I love getting cakes, candies, and canned goods. And I'm not against giving handmade gifts: Some of the best gifts I've ever given my mother (and my late father) were things I made by hand.

But, quite frankly, the best gifts I receive from other adults are ones that clearly show that the person thought about me: What I like to listen to, what I like to read, what I like to eat, what I like to wear, what I like to do. These things might be handmade—or they might be from a good chef supply store. Or they might be tickets to something, or gift certificates. Recently a neighbor whose pets I been caring for gave me a gift certificate for my favorite garden center: Brilliant!

Finally, I have to ask: Just what do you mean by "handmade?" Are the beautiful Denby dishes from England that I like so much being extruded from machines run by robots? I could have sworn they were being made by working class people who earn a living firing and painting china. Why are those people any less deserving of making a living than people who make irregularly shaped bowls out of rough clay? I'm sure the black velvet blouse I'd love from J. Jill was stitched by someone at a factory who has a family to support, so why is a garish orange-and-purple handwoven skirt I'll never wear so much more politically correct? And how about this: Is a book handmade and therefore eligible to be a holiday purchase? Say "no," and I have a few struggling authors I'd like to introduce you to.

This is something to mull over in the 24 shopping days before Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cat update

Do you wish you had a cat to pet, but you don't have the time or living arrangements to commit to a longterm feline relationship?

Come pet Jessica. She's the beautiful calico who's boarding with us for a couple of weeks. She's a lap cat, a snuggler, and very friendly. She lives in our TV room, and she's bored.

Two days ago, she started yowling when she was alone, so we let her out to explore the rest of the house. She walked around, seemingly unconcerned about our three wide-eyed cats, and seemed to be having a marvelous time. But last night it apparently occurred to her that it would be even more marvelous if she were the only cat in the house. And she started stalking and chasing the two tabbies. They were fleeing in terror, but Jessie was bounding happily along like a gazelle.

We caught her and put her back in the TV room for the night. This morning she yowled to be let out, but when we let her out, she went after Zoe, our big, rather clueless tabby, like Attila the Hun sweeping across the steppes. (Kaylee, the little tabby, was already hiding somewhere where no one could find her.) It wound up with Zoe cringing in a corner with Jessie flailing away at her. Zoe, whose idea of a really bad time up until then had been having to wait 10 minutes to get in or out the back door, was badly shaken.

I snagged Jessie, spoke to her very sternly, and put her back in the TV room. Interestingly, there was no yowling after that. There hasn't been a peep out of her all day.

But we've agreed that Jessie has lost her roaming privileges. So, if you'd like to visit our little prisoner, let me know.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Chocolate

Much of the stash of gourmet chocolate Nilos is taking with her into the culinary wilderness on the other side of the mountains.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A touch of grey

I just got back from the New Riders of the Purple Sage show at the Tractor Tavern.

It was the first time in several years that I've been to the Tractor and most of the crowd was my age. Lots of men with gray hair — and some of it in ponytails! I was surprised that I ran into only two people I know (both of them guitar players who were at the show to hear steel player Buddy Cage).

The New Riders gave a lovely performance. (As my friend Bear observed, "These guys don't call it in.") The highlight was "Garden of Eden," a sweet environmental anthem that features some of Dave Nelson's most distinctive Telecaster work and a Grateful Dead-style extended jam that wandered over into a Stones' cover and back.

"Garden" was written by John "Marmaduke" Dawson, who, unfortunately, is not performing with the group on their revival tour. But original members David Nelson (lead guitar) and Buddy Cage (pedal steel) were there, along with guitarist Michael Falzarano and bass player Ronnie Penque. Penque's singing delightfully channels the late Jerry Garcia — appropriate since Garcia often sat in with the New Riders when they opened for the Dead.

The New Riders are still a quirky but pungent band, capable of transporting a club full of Boomers back to the 1960s. The playing was better than I'd remembered it from recordings, though the vocals — well, they were just about the same: Someone sings the melody line and somebody else sings some notes that aren't in the melody line but are usually located somewhere in a higher register.

But, hey, it's very cool. You know?

The NRPS will be in Vancouver (BC) tomorrow night, Bellingham Thursday, and Portland Dec. 1.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now we have a calico cat

...in our basement den. Jessie is not our cat. She belongs to a friend of a friend of some friends. Jessie's owner had to leave her apartment because of black mold, and has been staying temporary places, and hasn't been able to find a place for Jessie until there is a more permanent living situation.

So...we volunteered to keep the cat for a week or two. Jessie is a very beautiful, leonine cat, with large patches of orange and black and white. Fortunately we have a spacious den, complete with a cat tree and a cat box, so all we needed to do was add Jessie, food, and water.

She's a remarkably calm cat for all the changes of residence she's had recently. In fact, she was ready to come out and explore the rest of the house, even though Zoe (our big tabby) was wide-eyed and hissing at her. Jessie made it into my office, where Sheba (the deaf white cat) was sleeping. As we lugged Jessie off to the den Sheba woke up, looked at her—and went back to sleep.

I'll post pictures of Jessie in a day or two when things calm down a bit.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One last note on Thanksgiving...

What was I thankful for this year? The same thing I've been thankful for every year since 1985: The people I know out here in Seattle — people who invariably encourage me to try to new things and who are patient with me as I experiment.

I've lived other places where the reactions to my hopes and dreams ran along the lines of "Oh, someone else will be better at it than you," or "Would anyone really be interested in that?" or "You'll just get hurt." (My all-time favorite was "You'll starve to death in a garret.")

I love it that so many of the people I work with and hang out with these days say things like "How's that going?" "Do you need any help?" "Great idea! I hope you get to try that." and "That's just the sort of thing you'd be good at."

Thank you!

You have no idea how many times an encouraging comment from one of you has made that little bit of difference that enabled me to take on a tough creative challenge.

Misfortune cookies

While shopping on Amazon.com for a couple of winter holidays cookie cutters, I came across the following customer review of a Christmas Cookie Cutter set.

It's a wonderful reminder to all of us seeking culinary perfection that, no matter how overbaked our cookies or how odd the color of the frosting, it could be worse:
I ordered this Christmas Cookie Cutter Set, but instead recieved HALLOWEEN cookie cutters that were labeled "Christmas". I suppose I could make Holy Ghost cookies, but I don't think my mother-in-law would be amused. Neither would I be able to fool anyone by putting haloes over the bats' heads.

I did give this 2 stars, because they are actually good quality and nicely detailed.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pie disaster

thanksgiving
To clarify: My apple pie came out great. I just didn't get any of it.

This year Thanksgiving coincided with the first clear, really cold day of winter — which is the day I get my annual winter migraine. So, Thanksgiving went on without me, and our nephew liked the pie so much that he took the leftovers home with him, dish and all! (And I feel complimented, not deprived.)

The crust, by the way, is formed by overlapping pieces of dough. Martha Stewart Living (Nov. '08) shows how to do it with little discs of dough, but I had leaf-shaped cookie cutters, so was able to do it with two sizes of maple leaves. The pieces are glued together using a regular pie crust egg wash. And then you sprinkle them all with coarse sugar (decorators, granulated, or turbinado).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cayenne on You Tube

My friends in the Cayenne Cajun band are on You Tube. Aieee!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fruitcake season will soon be upon us!

I've shifted Mysterious Traveler over to an updated version of its Blogger template. That means it was automatically converted into the new basic template, and then I pored over the old template's HTML to cut and paste the code for all the little widgets and features (what you see in the right-hand sidebar) into the handy new Blogger add-on modules. They will now be much easier to update and manage.

A few elements have fallen by the wayside as a result of this transition. For instance, the blog can still be searched at Technorati, but there is no longer an internal search box in the sidebar. I'll attend to that if anyone feels the need for it. Meanwhile, please let me know if you spot any oddities.

Carrying on in the housekeeping mode, I spent this evening doing the calendar and gift list for the 2007 holidays. There are always a few surprises:

• The women on my list are easier to shop for than the men.
• Hanukkah is way early this year -- it starts Dec. 4. Time to lay in a supply of candles.

As I look over previous years' calendars and gift lists, I try to focus on one or two things for this year's festivities.

I can't believe I used to tackle everything -- a tree, homemade gifts, a holiday letter, cards, out-of-state gift mailing, outside lighting, Aunt Arv's rum balls, decorated cookies, my dad's traditional made-from-scratch eggnog, holiday party outfits, the local Solstice celebration, a family Christmas dinner, a huge Hanukkah party, and a Boxing Day party.

No wonder the official seasonal food is a fruitcake -- and, yes, I used to make a huge batch of those, too. (The weekly soaking in whisky was the upside of it.)

It's official: This year it's decorated cookies and a December 23 cookies-and-cider open house, 3 to 5 p.m. You're all invited!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The raccoons aren't the only problem

We have a few neighbors who feed raccoons -- intentionally, or through laziness about feeding their own pets outdoors -- and this summer we've battled a real bumper crop of raccoons: two moms, one with two babies and one with five. The babies have now grown into real bruisers, and I found one menacing our tabby Zoe outside the basement door a week ago. There was no food, or even water, at issue. I had to conclude the raccoon wanted access to the heated cat bed in that shelter area. The following day, we unplugged the heated pad, meaning that the cats won't have any warm place to hang out if we leave them outside for the day.

Some of the raccoons are living in the attic of the notorious ramshackled house across the alley. With the back yard overgrown, and the back porch roof and stairs collapsed, it looks abandoned. But an older woman, who works at a local bakery, lives there and is apparently unwilling to sell the valuable land. The speculation from people who have looked up city records on the property is that she doesn't want to sell because half of the proceeds would then go to her ex-husband.

Meanwhile, the raccoons have a base of operations from which to launch their nightly forays for fine dining.

We have a next door neighbor who has a cat door in the basement for his cat, but it's a cheap cat door and the raccoons get in the basement on a regular basis. They not only eat all the poor cat's food, but they tear the place apart. Two years ago, the neighbor had great success trapping the raccoons and relocating them. But this year the raccoons broke out of the borrowed cages, and he gave up the trapping effort.

(His cat uses its magnet to gain access to our house via our raccoon-proof cat door, and eats here. The neighbor has no intention of installing a raccoon-proof cat door because it costs $300. So, his cat has no food and his basement gets torn apart a couple of times a month. OK.)

The raccoon skirmishes got quite a bit weirder and more alarming Friday morning. I had let our deaf white cat Sheba outside, and was listening for trucks in case I needed to locate her and get her away from a FedEx or a contractor's vehicle. When I heard a truck in the alley, I dashed to the front porch and, to my horror, saw a large truck stopped with the engine running, and the driver out of the truck standing in the alley beside a white cat.

"What happened?" I yelled as I dashed down the porch steps.

"He's dead," said the driver, which struck me as odd because Sheba was standing up on all four feet. Her fur was puffed up as if she had been electrocuted, she was not moving, but she was definitely standing up.

And she and the driver were both staring at a gargantuan raccoon which was, clearly, dead and laying at the edge of the road. It didn't look squished, but neither did it look merely stunned. And, oddly, it had a streak of green glittery paint on its flank.

It required quite a bit of effort to haul Sheba away -- she kept going back to the raccoon -- and in the confusion I assumed that the truck had hit the raccoon while it was chasing Sheba (or vice versa) and Sheba had narrowly missed sharing its fate. This suspicion was reinforced when Sheba spent the rest of the morning sitting in the front window, staring at the raccoon carcass, visibly agitated.

I called animal control's number for disposing of dead animals, rejected their suggestion that I double-bag the 30-pound beast and put it in our trash can, and they came out and took the body away later in the afternoon.

The following day I saw our neighbor out in the yard and told him the story. He got an odd, sheepish grin on his face and said, "I killed it."

"You hit it with your car?" I asked.

No, he said, it had gotten in to their basement Thursday night, and he'd found it tearing the place up. It had even gotten into their five-year-old daughter's paint set (thus explaining the glittery green paint!) So he'd waded down into the basement, picked up a two-by-four, and clubbed it to death.

And then he'd dumped it in the alley in front of the abandoned house.

I don't often use the phrase "WTF?" but it came immediately to mind and wouldn't leave as I stood there and looked at him incredulously. He'd dumped a dead raccoon on a street where children and pets go back and forth every day? And he thought who was going to pick it up?

He doesn't take well to criticism, and, noting my expression, he shrugged and blustered "Yeah, and if another raccoon comes in, I'll do it again."

I had a friend with me, and Zorg was standing behind me on the steps, so I restrained my comments. But if he does it again, I think I will put on gloves and double-bag that raccoon. And stuff it in his trash can. Or maybe the front seat of his car.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Vodka and caviar

I attended a vodka and caviar tasting this evening at Tom Douglas' Palace Ballroom. Apparently these events are usually held at his Dahlia Lounge, but the sign-up for this event required a larger venue.

After a rather unnerving presentation on sturgeon (enormous prehistoric fish with big mouths) we were unleashed on the sample tables, each of us clutching a punch card ticket for samples of five liquors and five caviars.

I started with the liquors, which included a domestic corn vodka, a domestic rye vodka, aquavit, pear brandy, and Polish potato vodka. The rye vodka was spicy, complex, and interesting. The corn vodka was, to put it kindly, medicinal. The aquavit and pear eaux de vie were OK. But the Polish potato vodka lived up to its billing as "creamy." It's one of the most subtle vodkas I've ever tasted. The brand is Chopin.

Thus fortified, it was on to the caviars -- all domestic. These were served one little buckwheat blini the size of half dollars.

The standouts were Rainbow Trout caviar from North Carolina -- a translucent, large pearl caviar that tasted very light, fresh, and "spring water-y" -- and a Montana Golden Whitefish caviar -- tiny soft eggs that were rich, buttery, and surprisingly un-salty. A California White Sturgeon caviar provided the traditional caviar look and taste: dark gray, small-grained, and briney, with a pleasant, crunchy texture. Chum Salmon Ikura was a bit too delicate for me, and a Yellowstone River Paddlefish was unmemorable.

All of the caviars (except the Rainbow Trout) are available at the Seattle Caviar Company on Eastlake, which holds tastings on Saturdays. Seattle Caviar sells Iranian Osetra caviar for $185 an ounce -- but the Montana Golden Whitefish I found so delicious is a mere $13.50 for two ounces.

According to the Washington State Liquor Control board product search, most of the Seattle area stores have Chopin vodka (at $25 a half litre) in stock.

One last word on caviar: There is a wonderful vegetarian caviar called "Caviart" made in Denmark and distributed by an Edmonds, WA, importer. It's made of seaweed, and tastes, well, like fish roe! I've found it at a Seattle-area market, and it's definitely available online.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Time flies, but not that fast

If you think "annual" means "yearly," you probably share my annoyance with certain fundraising organizations that think if you put "giving" after "annual" it means not "yearly" but "continual."

We do a round of charitable donations in November and, as I wrote checks in response to pleas from the local food bank and a local animal rescue organization, I found in my bill-paying folder requests from the universities I attended for undergraduate and grad school. Both were asking me to make my "annual contribution."

Fortunately, I keep a list of charitable contributions in a tax folder. Consulting it, I saw that both schools received a donation to the "annual fund" from me during the summer. And yet, they were after me again. Perhaps I'll just skip them next year and double our household contributions to the food bank and animal rescue...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I thought it was a typo...

...when my cousin Michael referred to the "Rethuglicans" on his blog. It has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

The weekend is exceptionally busy...we had a friend in town from New York over to dinner Friday night, then we all went off to celebrate our friend Bradley's 50th at a large party. It featured an interesting mix of Scotch and ecstatic dancing.

This morning Kim and I drove up to an office park in Mukilteo for the Shoesonline.com annual warehouse sale. Danskos, Naots, Merrells, Keens, Asics and more for $15 - $60 a pair. No mirrors, so I had a woman use my iPhone to snap a photo of me in one pair of shoes, which I then scrutinized.

Got home just in time to stash the shoes, check phone and mail, then get into a outfit for the Folklife dinner and auction at Seattle Center. Just got home from that event a few minutes ago, toting a bowl carved from a Hawaiian Norfolk Pine and a wool rug made by Tibetan refugees in Nepal. As the dessert runner for our table, I snagged for us a tray of John Ullman's delectable pots au creme. Not sweet at all -- just rich, rich, rich. Zorg had a peaceful evening at home with the cats.

As the wait for the Honda Fit continues, I'm now driving my mom's car (she's gone off to Florida for the winter). It's nice to drive somewhere and not have to wonder if I'll make it back!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween


Now I remember what I didn't like about long hair. Bats and things get tangled up in it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pumpkin carving, ulterior motives department

I came home from yoga tonight to find a pumpkin lit and glaring at me on our front porch. And a bowl of pumpkin innards waiting for me in the kitchen.

Zorg had insisted last night on buying a big pumpkin at the Ballard Market and tonight he carved it, giving it a particularly crazed expression that I suspect had something to do with his day at work.

My job was to separate the seeds from the pulp and toast the seeds -- with a little olive oil and salt -- in the oven. Fortunately, pumpkin seeds float; I floated them out of the pulp, dried them with paper towels, and tossed them onto a foil-lined baking pan. Toasting them took about 45 minutes in a 375-degree oven, and the house smells great. (Particularly after I carted the pulp off to the compost bin.)

Happy Halloween!

(cross-posted on Food, Fitness, Fashion)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shoe shopping in Mukilteo Saturday?

Info just came in on a warehouse sale of Asics, Dr. Martens, Keen, Merrell, New Balance, Dansko, Rockport, and other shoe brands taking place in south Mukilteo (south of Paine Field) this weekend. And I have early bird tickets to get in at 10 a.m. (general public is admitted at 11).

I'm looking for one other intrepid shopper to set out from Seattle with me promptly at 9 a.m. -- or to meet me in Mukilteo a little before 10 a.m. If you are interested, click the "email the mysterious traveler" link (on the right) and let me know.

Please note: Having not been to one of these sales before, I can't make any promises about the prices or the selection -- I'm going out of pure curiousity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Beyond Craig's List

When I want to get rid of something, the first place I consider is eBay -- for lightweight, brand-name items in near-fine condition.

The second place is Craig's List, for large items that I know will sell quickly (TVs, computers, dining room tables, sofas, lawnmowers, etc.).

The third place is a local consignment shop, Classic Consignment, for furniture, clothing items, and small household items in good shape and fairly trendy. The advantage to taking something to consignment is that you don't have to "babysit" the item or worry people coming to your house.

Items in decent-but-not-wonderful shape, or in good shape but out of fashion, go to Goodwill or another charity.

Recently I came across a fifth option for "giveaways" that are just too odd, or unwieldy, to take to Goodwill: The Freecycle Network -- specifically, the local Seattle chapter. What do I mean by "odd"? Check out Freecycle.

If someone likes something you have listed, they email you. You wait a few hours, sort through the emails, pick a likely recipient (someone who lives near you, or who wants to pick the item up at a time convenient to you), and email (or call) them to set up a time for pickup. Or list a want and see if someone responds.

It works.

Getting down with the raccoons

This summer we had a bumper crop of raccoons: Two moms, one with five babies and the other with two.

Two weeks ago, while we were on vacation, our catsitter reported seeing the five young raccoons sitting on our patio.

Tonite I followed Kaylee, our small tabby, to the back door and saw a young coon coming up the back porch. It hesitated when it saw me in the kitchen. Then I did what I do when I'm approaching a timid cat: I got down on my hands and knees.

Seeing me shrink down to its level certainly reassured the raccoon, which came right up to top step and peered at me. A moment later, it was joined by a sibling. They seemed to be doing little bows or push-ups on the top step. Then they went away.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ballard and beyond - Oct. 19 update

Archie McPhee's annual Halloween blood drive is today, noon to 6. They vant your blood! Call to make an appointment: 206.297.0240.

After you've donated, you could get your energy back up with espresso at Cafe Fiore or dinner at the new Zayda Buddy's Pizza --- both in the refurbished historic building at 5405 Leary Avenue NW, across from the massive condo construction project.

Cafe Fiore is my favorite place to meet clients; Zayda Buddy's "pizza" identity is a bit puzzling to me, because much of their menu is comfort food (the Weekly dubbed it "enlightened cafeteria"). We had hot sandwiches there Wednesday, and my dining companion said their grilled cheesed -- puffy toasted bread, just oozing with melted Velveeta, is the best grilled cheese she's ever had. The Reuben sandwich was headed in the right direction, but not East Coast enough for me. But it's a friendly place, and I'll be back to try their thin-crust "Minnesota-style" pizza.

On the Ballard shopping front, I'm hearing about The Sneakery, a new shoe store on 65th, near Cafe Bambino. Anyone been there yet?

Finally, some news from slightly outside of the Ballard area: The wonderful Gypsy Trader Consignment, which had two incarnations on N 45th St. and two on Stone Way North, is closing. My informant tells me that a pool table has moved in, to be followed by other pub trappings.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yes, I know they're just dishes

After dithering for a couple of years, I finally picked out some new dinnerware. It's Denby Fire and the coordinating Denby Fire Chilli, English stoneware. It isn't cheap, but it is extremely durable.

After examining the Denby at Macy's, I came home and created a spreadsheet of all the basic pieces and serving pieces, with color choices, and priced a bare minimum service for 8 -- dinner, salad, and dessert plates, cereal bowl, pasta bowl, and coffee mug. No serving pieces at all. Then I priced it.

The total was, well, shocking.

Macy's will have the Denby on sale this weekend, 25% off -- but of course, when you add in our local and state sales taxes, it's only 16% off.

Dismayed, I went online, where the picture changed completely. Chefs Corner was offering some of the basics at 35% off -- no sales tax, and free shipping. Shepherd Hills had "factory seconds" of the salad plates for 60% off (they also have firsts). And the mugs and cereal bowls I wanted were on eBay...brand new, from a highly rated shop in Maine. If I get them at the price I bid (and there were no other bidders) even with shipping they'll be close to 70% off retail.

It will take a few weeks to have all this stuff shipped from the various vendors (Chefs Corner has a three-week delay while they order from the Denby factory) but I'll be paying exactly half of the retail price. High quality stoneware, with only half the guilt. And I even bid on a serving dish! Whoo-hah.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One sentence

We're back from Kauai and I'm up to my ears in new projects. All the work I didn't have in August and September is here. Now.

But I couldn't resist applying for a blogging gig that asked applicants to write one sentence -- about their favorite food. I wrote:

"The aroma of warm olive oil and roasted chickpeas wafted through the air on the tightly packed commuter train, and suddenly I realized that everyone, from sleek businessmen in cashmere overcoats to elderly nonnas bundled in sturdy winter wools, was greedily eyeing the waxed-paper package of farinata I held on my lap."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Slideshow of photos from thousands of blogs

Goggle's Blogger site has just released an app they call Play Blogger. It's a slideshow of photos being uploaded to thousands of public Blogger blogs worldwide. And it's fascinating.

(Blogger users who don't want their photos to be part of the photostream can change their blog settings from public to private.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Brutti ma buoni

There's a type of cookie in Italy called "brutti ma buoni" -- a plain cookie with nuts, dropped from a spoon and baked. It looks like a jumble -- hence the name, which translates as "ugly but good."

I'm doing a lot of "ugly but good" cooking today. We're going out of town next week, and I'm madly trying to use, or preserve, perishables in the refrigerator and the garden.

Right now, all the cherry and pear tomatoes are being cooked down to be frozen for use in soups this winter. Natalya, the four-year-old next door, commented that the kitchen "smells like Spaghetti-Os." Hmm...The tomatoes look a bit weird because the pot contains equal amounts red, yellow, and orange tomatoes.

Finally, I took the last of a batch of brown rice out of the fridge and turned it into a pudding with eggs, milk, rum, brown sugar, golden raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg. There was a lot of liquid in the mixture, so I have it cooking very slowly at 300 degrees, like an Indian pudding.

In and around the cooking, I climbed up on a ladder in the side yard and hunted through a great snarl of grape vines to pick the Candace grapes -- which Natalya was eating almost as fast as I could pick them. Last year was a bad year for grapes; this year, the grapes are good, but sparse. (August didn't get hot enough.) There are still ripening grapes on the vine, and they won't need to be picked until a freeze is imminent.

Although rain threatened all day, it didn't show up until dusk. The afternoon was all "oyster light" -- that luminous, mother-of-pearl light that makes green plants seem to glow all on their own. Many of my flowers are still blooming, so there's a mix of bright pinks and purples with the yellow and orange autumn leaves. The pleasure of working in all that beauty manages to balance out the experience when the patio cushions I was storing released a few gallons of water onto my sneakered feet.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lost and found (unfortunately)

My friend Geoff Duncan has blogged most amusingly about the ugly brown station wagon that sits abandoned on his street. One of his latest posts documents its disturbing similarity to the Microsoft Zune music player.

Over dinner Sunday evening, our friend Barry told a story that holds out hope that the owner of the lost Zunemobile and its owner may eventually be reunited.

Stopping by a rental property he owns, Barry noted a strange car sitting in front of the house. He mentioned it to his tenant, who said it had been there for several weeks. Barry called the police to report it.

It turned out the car had been stolen three months earlier from the parking lot of a shopping center a few blocks away. The owner had reported it stolen immediately, but the police had been unable to locate it. (Hmm...)

After Barry called police, and the police called the owner, a locksmith was dispatched to open the vehicle. That's when things got very bad. The car had been stolen with the owner's groceries inside, including a large turkey. It had not aged well.

You had to hope that the insurance company had already paid the owner for the car and that the turkey now belonged to them.

Now I know why they call it a "Fit"

Still no sign of my new car; the old one is getting increasingly rebellious, though I never take it further than Fremont (or anywhere I could simply walk home from).

My mother took her 2005 Honda Civic in to the dealership for maintenance. The dealership called a few days later, wanted to make sure she was happy with the service (yeah, right) and (here we go) asked if anyone in her family might be interested in buying a new Honda.

Yes, my mom said, my daughter wants a Fit.

Pause on the other end of the line.

"Would she like a manual transmission?" the salesperson asked, hopefully.

No, an automatic, my mom replied.

Another pause. Then, cheerfully, "We could get her one in two or three months!"

Oy.

What's causing the shortage of this hot little station wagon? Apparently, it's that Honda is building the Fits in Japan and shipping them over. (Fits built at Honda's Chinese facility, are being shipped to Europe, where they are sold as the Honda Jazz.) An rumored Midwestern Fit plant won't come online for another year or two.

I just checked a town-talk forum at the consumer automotive site Edmunds.com and was amused to follow the stories of people who are ordering Fits, getting a VIN number, tracking it as their Fit is built in Japan and shipped to the US. It's like reading blog entries from grandparents expecting a new baby.

Now if only the interior of the Nissan Versa weren't so clunkily configured and so pseudo-luxury car tacky...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It was a dark and stormy night...

...when I emerged from a day-long training course clutching my official Washington State Private Investigator's certification.

But I'm not yet a licensed PI. That will require either starting my own agency or landing a gig with a recognized private investigation agency in the state. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ready for the rain (and snow)

For the past several years, I've been trying to find an attractive, comfortable pair of dressy winter boots.

The results of my unsuccessful experiments are about to be photographed and put on eBay (many have been worn only once or twice) or taken to Classic Consignment. The bottom line is that the ones that look good hurt like hell and the ones that don't hurt look like hell.

How long has this been going on? Well, there's a pair headed for eBay that my father bought me as a birthday gift. And he died three years ago.

This year I've mail ordered and returned three pairs of boots already. I've tried Nordstrom, J. Jill, Eddie Bauer, and Sierra Trading. In desperation, I occasionally pop into trendy little boutiques downtown and try on boots. God knows why. Even if I find a pair that don't have stiletto heels, bizarre elf-like toes, or jangling hardware, they don't fit.

I even wasted an entire Saturday at Bellevue Square Mall looking for boots.

A few weeks ago, on my way to the Seattle Art Museum, I spotted an intriguing boutique with boots on First Avenue next to the Lusty Lady (!). But I was late to meet someone at the museum, and when I got out I was rushing to meeting Zorg at REI. The next time I was downtown I was rushing yet again to get somewhere.

This evening I was downtown with my friend Ellen from D.C., who has the world's most impressive shopping karma. We'd already engaged in major retail therapy at Pike Place Market Tuesday, and this evening we were doing downtown. I told her about the little boutique I'd been wondering about (Nuvo Moda, it's called) and we headed for First Avenue.

When we stepped into Nuvo Moda, my first thought was that I was a bit north of their target demographic. But I went over and looked at the display of designer boots and was impressed to see quite a few that had relatively modest heels. And all of them were made of lovely high-quality leather. Then the saleswoman (wearing a stunning turquoise sundress, despite the fall weather) came over and suggested a pair of boots I hadn't noticed. I tried them on. And they were perfect.

No question, Ellen is going to have to move to Seattle. Or at least come out here and take me shopping with her a few times a year.

The boots, by the way, are made by Corso Como (a Brazilian brand named after a street in Milan). They are also available on the Nordstrom website.

So, now I have a rain-resistant winter coat and some boots. I declare my winter shopping season officially closed.

Dance - Level 70

Michael Flatley. Napoleon Dynamite. MC Hammer. Michael Jackson. Britney Spears. Chubby Checker. John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Now, imagine them dancing with scarily similar-looking World of Warcraft characters. Hilarious. (And, through this, I discovered Daler Mehndi.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tying up loose ends for September

In the past few weeks I've blogged about some unresolved situations; this blog post is devoted solely to updates.

First of all, if you've lost track of Zorg's blog, he's now settled in again at http://zzzorg.blogspot.com/
where he will regale you with tales of biking in Seattle -- or at least, attempting to. ("Another thing I noticed is that pedestrians are all drunk - they never walk in a straight line. Not one of them. Even the attentive ones weave back and forth.")

The pain in my neck is slowly abating, thanks to my new chiropractor. I have had to put an end to doing headstands at yoga for a while; instead, I'm practicing that weird pre-headstand pose where you balance with your shins on your upper arms and all your weight on your hands. It's probably a better workout, anyway. The new chiropractor has the most amazing tables in his office. You start out standing up like Frankenstein and then the table tilts down with you on it!

I am planning to revisit the Austin Cantina tonight with Rae to see how their menu is developing. They've apparently won a big following...some friends who swung by for dessert the other night said there was a line out the door.

We're all missing Betaille, though the household chores sure are a lot simpler now that we don't have a very sick cat to attend to. The other three cats are so low maintenance! Though, of course, we have a neighbor's cat trying to join the household -- she comes in the cat door at night and watches TV with Zorg. Betaille's ashes came back from the vet in a handsome little stone urn. I placed it on the sheepskin she liked to sleep on, and was alarmed when I walked by late that night and saw Zoe asleep the sheepskin and no sign of the urn. It wasn't on the floor, and I eventually spotted it: Zoe was curled around it, holding it in her paws as she slept. Betaille had always been less-than-appreciative of Zoe's cuddling, but now there's not much she can do about it!

My Honda Civic station wagon with the failing clutch is parked in front of the house while I wait (an estimated five weeks) for a Honda Fit automatic to turn up at a Western Washington dealership. Zorg and I have tried sharing his car (he's begun biking to work) and I'm considering trying one of the local Flex cars. Honda Fits are in such short supply that one local Honda dealership refused even to let me test drive the one they had unless I signed a commitment to buy. (So what would the point of a test drive be?) Needless to say, I went to a saner dealership in Edmonds and test drove a Fit there -- though I test drove a manual instead of an automatic.

A label a day...

My usual afternoon snack is an apple with peanut butter or cheese. Half the time I forget to remove the little sticky oval label that says "Fuji" or "organic" and end up chewing on it. Today I was eating the last quarter of the apple and my subconscious began saying "watch out for the label."

Then I realized there was no label. The apple, a bit on the bland side but very nice and crisp, is from our tree.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Geek concert

Jonathan Coulton's concert at the Triple Door Sunday night fell somewhere between a rock concert and a professional seminar.

It took place in the club's main performance hall, which is set up almost exactly like a seminar room, with tiers of long tables at which attendees sit facing the speaker -- er, performer. Of course, at the Triple Door the tables are curvy and black, and the attendees have candles and martinis in front of them instead of notebooks.

Well, actually, some of them had all three.

As Coulton noted from the stage, several people in the audience had game devices and smart phones with them. And I saw at least one woman with a Mac notebook open in front of her. Which might have seemed rude, except that Coulton, and the duo that opened for him and accompanied him on some songs, also had a Mac notebook on the stage. (Was it for the lightshow? a mixing board? not sure.)

I'm crazy over Coulton's online hit "Code Monkey" and all the animated versions it's spawned on You Tube. I had no idea if he could sustain an entire evening of solo entertainment, but it turned out that he could, firmly staking out a position in the pop music continuum somewhere between Warren Zevon ("All We Want to Do Is Eat Your Brains") and Tom Lehrer ("Mandelbrot Set").

The opening duo, Paul and Storm ("professional singing persons"), was screamingly hilarious, though I suspect their songs and performance are better live than on recording. Their opening number was jaw-droppingly funny, and their Borscht-belt stylings (including ad jingles and imitations of imagined Randy Newman film scores) help round out Coulton's solo performance, which can get very, very, very weird. (For a taste of Paul and Storm, scroll down this page and click to listen to "If Aaron Neville Were Waiting for a Parking Spot at the Mall, But Someone Else Snagged It." You'll find "The Opening Band" and "Randy Newman's 'Theme from The Lord of he Rings: The Return of the King'" there, too.)

The audience, 75 percent software engineers, loved it all. So did Zorg. We'll be there when Coulton is next in town, though we haven't decided if we are going to be in the Zombie contingent or the Pirate contingent.

And we'll order the Triple Split for dessert again, too. With rum raisins and brandied cherries, it was almost too entertaining to eat that while listening to Paul and Storm sing "The Easter Song." Come to think of it, it's probably too dangerous to eat anything while they're singing.

Coulton says he had a good time, too.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Patisserie Nilos

The Spies were slightly more interesting than the other apples, and the turnovers fell into three categories: delicious, amazingly delicious, and exquisitely delicious.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Less insanity

Today is my 1-year anniversary of working out with my friend (and Seattle neighbor) Susan Powter.

Here's a video of Susan (from 20 years ago) that will give you an idea of why working out with her is such a hoot.

Here's Susan's updated look (one of her promos for the free web-based fitness program she's experimenting with).

Crewcut or dreadlocks, she's fabulous. Thank you, Susan!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I hate shoes

Go ahead and tease me about all the shoes I have, but if you look at my shoe shelves what you'll find there are sandals and boots.

I love sandals -- strappy little flats, chunky platform sandals, and rustic-looking walking sandals.

I also love boots -- hiking boots, dressy ankle boots (especially those by Naot), lace-up dance boots, cowboy boots, Italian leather riding boots, and big fuzzy cozy Uggs and Merrells.

But I hate shoes. They are too warm in summer, and too complicated (what with bulky socks, uncomfortable pantyhose, etc.) in winter. This year I have nearly eliminated shoes from my wardrobe...just athletic shoes, a pair of dressy pumps, and a pair of Clarke's Privo "Leslie" slip-ons to wear with little toe socks.

Naot "Niagara" sandals, Merrell "Primo Stitch" boots, and Clarke's Privo "Leslie" shoes.



Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Changing gears

This morning I dropped off my 1990 Honda Civic station wagon at High Road Automotive for its routine quarterly oil change and checkup. I wandered home along Ballard Avenue; it was nearly 9 a.m. but only the old industrial buildings were open. Most of the trendy new shops don't wake up until 11.

I headed up 24th Avenue NW and had just stopped in at the java place on the corner of NW 59th Street for a latte when my cell phone rang. It was High Road. They said the car needed a new clutch, but the new clutch, with labor, would be quite a bit more than the book value of the 1990 Civic.

I asked them to give me half an hour to think about it. Then I walked out of the coffee shop, sat down on the curb, and burst into tears. I really like that car. In addition to having it thoroughly pampered at High Road, I get it detailed every spring, touch up scratches in the metallic paint, and, of course, have it decorated with custom bumper stickers.

I can make the case that it's worth installing a new clutch and keeping the car because it's in otherwise excellent condition (only 80,000 miles in 17 years) and likely to keep running to 200,000 miles. But it's also true that the car lacks airbags, and that Zorg dislikes driving it because it has a manual transmission.

For the past two years, I've been looking at the new Honda Fit, a very similar compact station wagon. It has great ratings from Consumer Reports, a more-than-reasonable price tag, all the safety features, and even a connection for my iPod.

So perhaps it's time to move into the 21st century.

But not until I find a good home for the Civic.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Austin comes to Ballard

Zorg and I strolled over to 24th Avenue NW tonight to try out the new Austin Cantina that just opened (in the spot where Dandelion used to be, just across the street and a block north of QFC).

It turns out to be a relaxing, friendly place where the emphasis is on fresh, high-quality ingredients at reasonable prices.

Our orders were taken quickly, and mojitos appeared moments later, followed by Zorg's cup of chili. The main courses took a bit longer (the kitchen is still experiencing some opening-week franticness). We sipped our drinks and listened to a mix of Willie Nelson and Tex-Mex tunes (at a pleasant volume that I hope the Cantina will maintain).

We both liked the rich, meaty, smoky chili (Texas style, no beans) though Zorg commented that it seemed to lack salt. Since he's more of a salt fan than I am, I shrugged this off. But when our main courses arrived -- enchiladas, his filled with a tender pot roast, mine with pulled pork with apples -- I had to agree that salt was definitely not figuring in the otherwise-interesting culinary equations. Zorg employed the salt shaker on the table; I mused about why the food was being cooked this way, because I sometimes cook without salt to try to adjust my palate to more natural tastes.

I was wondering if I'd be able to lure Zorg back the cantina when dessert arrived and completely won us over. The flan was delicate and not too sweet, and the big bowl of banana pudding with meringue was rich and fabulous. Zorg did not leave a molecule of pudding in that bowl. He swears he didn't actually lick the bowl, but I wasn't watching that closely.

Jefe Birkner, the chef and owner, came over to ask us how we liked our meal. I inquired about the salt (or lack of it). He admitted that he is making a concerted effort to serve interesting regional food that people can eat without freaking out about salt, grease, and calories. He said he is definitely using salt, though not much of it and not the usual type -- he brought us a sample of the special flaky sea salt he favors; it's definitely more subtle and complex than your basic shaker salt. He indicated that the banana pudding didn't exactly fall into the healthy food category, but I noticed that much of its richness came from the banana texture; it did not have too much sugar, and the gorgeous topping was a meringue, not whipped cream.

We're definitely going back to try the dishes we missed on the first go-round. According to Metroblogging Seattle, the chicken fried steak, made with a great local organic beef, is "amazing." And I want to check out the grilled-corn-with-lime-butter side dish.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A few notes about death

Many year ago, at the Northwest Folklife Festival, I had my palm read by a woman from the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh community in Oregon (remember them?). She said that I "dance with death," not in the sense of inviting it, but in the sense of being comfortable around it.

In the past few days, I've certainly been around it too much.

Our ancient Himalayan-Abyssinian cat is slowly running out of steam, but determined to hang in there, eating and drinking and demanding attention. She has some sort of tumor that is affecting her ability to breathe, and may have some other issues as well. The vet prescribed pills to stimulate her appetite and help her lungs. So twice a day I get to wrestle with a skeletal but still quite feisty cat.

This makes life at home intense and tiring, although we love Betaille very much and are grateful for all the companionship and pleasure she has provided over the past 17 years.

Three weeks ago, one of my yoga-group friends found out that her husband had a very advanced cancer. It progressed rapidly, and he died at home Wednesday night. She had barely gotten her head around the idea he was sick! I can't imagine a more horrifying experience.

This morning (after I'd had a trying night with Betaille) my mother called with news of a death -- and a completely different perspective on the subject.

My mom lives in a four-unit condo, and for the past few years, she and two other unit owners have been trying to deal with a weird situation in the fourth unit. That unit has been occupied for many years by a reclusive elderly woman who never leaves (unless by ambulance), and who has breathing and mobility problems. She sits all day in her livingroom with an oxygen tank, watching TV, and refuses to consider moving to a retirement community or nursing home. A few years ago, her middle-aged son, who is a schizophrenic, came to live with her. He takes care of her shopping and cooking. Unfortunately, he also brings drunk friends over to stay in the condo's storage unit, and last year urinated repeatedly in the foyer, to the point that the Post Office refused to enter the building to deliver the mail. (He also urinates off the front balcony, to the consternation of the woman in the condo building next door.) The son is a heavy smoker, and often the building reeks of smoke (my mom had her unit sealed off with special paint and caulk) and the ventilation system for the building has had to be re-done a few times to prevent the smoke from getting into other units. A couple of years ago, this guy set the balcony on fire, resulting in so much damage to the stucco that the entire building had to be re-stuccoed. According to workmen and fire inspectors who have been in the unit, it's filthy.

The police have been called again and again, letters have been sent, but the condominium association has been unable to do much of anything about the situation; once they address one problem, another one appears. My mother, who is planning to move to a retirement community next year, has begun to worry that it will be very difficult for her to find a buyer for her unit with such a weird and possibly hazardous situation in the building.

So my mom wasn't exactly mournful when she called me this morning with the news that the elderly neighbor (let's call her Margo) had died during the neight. It seems that the retired gentleman who is the head of the condo association had just gotten a call from Margo's son, wanting to know what to do with the body.

"Did anyone call 911?" I asked.

"No, they don't want to cause a fuss," my mother explained.

I tried to point out that the death has to be reported and checked out by a medical examiner, so a death certificate can be issued. Since everyone was so resistant to the idea of bothering the folks at 911, I suggested as casually as possible that they just call over and ask 911 what they should do.

Now I am trying to let go of the vision of all of them wrapping Margo up in a tarp, putting her in a car, and driving over to the local funeral home...

Sigh.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Someone gets the big picture

I often wait for films to come out on DVD because movie theaters are, for the most part, disgusting, garish, uncomfortable environments with revoltingly unhealthy food, Neandertal staff, and boorish patrons. (There are, of course, a few that are merely tacky environments offering unhealthy food, with hip, vaguely apologetic staff and resigned patrons. But those are in the distinct minority.)

When my friend Eric blogged about going to an attractively furnished theater in Redmond, at which filmgoers can enjoy mixed drinks and are served popcorn in real bowls (not bags or boxes), I thought he was hallucinating. But, no. Apparently someone gets The Big Picture in Redmond, and in Seattle as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A cat winds things down

My yoga class is back from hiatus, and my neck is responding to chiropractic care, which means I was able to burn off some of my tension and worry about Betaille, our 17-year-old cat.

Betaille is old, and so frail that even a few days of ill health could spell the end. She had a secondary tumor removed a few weeks ago, but the vet is unsure where the primary cancer is located. All they can say is that since there was already a significant secondary tumor, her condition is likely to be inoperable. (Her kidney disease makes it impossible for her to handle most strong medications.)

Betaille hasn't wanted to eat much for the past two days, and seemed clearly unhappy. She's not the kind of cat who goes off in a corner to suffer, either. She walks up to you and stares until you take action.

So we took Betaille over to the vet this afternoon, where x-rays indicated that there is something impairing her lung function -- possibly a tumor, but possibly fluid caused by a tumor. Betaille's still alert and energetic, so the vet prescribed prednisone pills to address the lung condition and stimulate her appetite.

Of course, when we got home Betaille promptly ate a bowl of cat food. She then took a nap on the sheepskin-covered hassock; Zoe, our big tabby, snuggled up against her. I sat next to them and read a book, because Betaille likes to be where she can see me. Eventually I went out to work in the back yard. When Betaille came out she did something very odd. Although I rarely see her leave the back yard, today she went slowly along the north side of the house, down the stairs to the driveway, around Zorg's car, and up the path in front. She left the path, circled the maple tree on the front lawn, and went back to the path and followed it along the south side of the house, ending up on her usual patio hangout in back.

What, I wondered, was the yard tour all about?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Home

Today my mom put down a deposit to get on the waiting list for an innovative retirement community under construction at South Lake Union in downtown Seattle. If all goes as expected, sometime in 2009 she'll move into Mirabella. The community, which provides all levels of care from independent condo-style living to skilled nursing in private rooms, is run by a well-regarded non-profit that created the Rogue Valley Manor in Medford, OR. My mom and I toured one of the model apartments today, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

So much for today's look into the future.

And now, for today's look into the past:

The date's been set for an unusual reunion at the high school I attended in Northern Virginia. The event is based not on graduation year, but on common interests. Students from nearly 30 graduating classes will be gathering Oct. 27 to honor one of our teachers, a rather colorful woman who taught advanced placement English and journalism, and who sponsored the school newspaper and the cheerleading squad. (It may surprise you to hear that, although I took the journalism class, I was not on the newspaper -- in part, because I'd thrown my lot in with the rabblerousers running the underground newspaper. However, I was on the JV cheerleading squad. At the same time.)

I've had some involvement with the folks organizing the reunion, and it's been fascinating to watch the generations in action. The women from the 1960s classes are very clear about email and conference calls, but are pretty much clueless about how they could have used things like Classmates and Evite to communicate. The folks from the 1970s classes are more digitally aware, but not as eager to take charge of anything. And the folks from the 1980s classes have initial energy, but don't have the patience to do the sleuthing and grunt work the 1960s organizers believe is the way to organize the event.

So be it.

At any rate, we've got a date, we've got a banquet hall, and we've got a invitation list. I've got a fabulous dress, and a plane reservation. This should be a hoot.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A pain in the neck

The good news is that I've found a great chiropractor (my longtime favorite chiropractor, Mike Fuhrman, moved back East a few months ago). The new doc, Lee Phelps, was recommended by an SEO college. He's up at Abrams Chiropractic in Greenwood, so after getting my neck fixed I was able to celebrate with an iced latte across the street at Diva on Greenwood.

The bad news, of course, was the I'd somehow done something awful to my neck -- which had never happened before. The massage therapist who worked on my muscles twice in the past week said they were tight because they were trying to cope with something terribly wrong at the top of my spine. She suggested I get an adjustment. She was right: The x-rays were ugly. I feel better now, but would be curious to know what happened that ended up rearranging three of my vertebrae.

Fortunately, my yoga classes are on hiatus this week, so my neck can rest up while I go walking. And there's a fitness class being taught by one of my fellow Biznik members Thursday night. I'll probably drive over to Kirkland to check this out, since he's a client.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

We feel winter coming on

Much is made about the pull of "back to school" traditions, which have even those of us decades out of academia neatening our desks, buying new clothes and furniture, and signing up for self-improvement programs. Must be ready for September!

Surely the only way that the school calendar could continue to exert such a tug on our souls is because back-to-school preparations sit atop a far stronger instinct: The one that tells us to get ready for the coming of winter. (Or, in Seattle, the coming of rain. It's about six weeks until the nine-month rainy season begins.)

I've been washing, ironing, and sorting clothes, and boxing quite a bit of stuff to take to Goodwill. Zorg is reorganizing his home office. My friend Susan is blogging about cleaning rugs. Neighbors next door are rushing to complete a porch and second-floor balcony; across the alley from us, the roof is being replaced.

I feel particularly unhappy about the coming of fall this year. Our elderly cat Betaille, who loves to hang out in the warm, sunny back yard, is becoming increasing frail. The vet says her outlook is not good. I'm suspect the cold, rainy fall will mean the end for her. Though she comes in and hangs out in various cat beds upstairs and in the living room, she clearly prefers the outdoors. Short of relocating the entire household to Southern California, I can't think if anything we can do for her.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tales of eBay

My first husband used to refer to me as a "world-class shopper." He meant it as a description, not a compliment.

Fortunately, he was long gone when on August 16, 1997 (10 years ago today) I discovered a whole new universe of shopping: eBay.

I can't remember what the first item was that I bid on. Most likely it was a piece of 1930s Stangl dinnerware. (That's because I was still painstakingly rebuilding the collection of family Stanglware that had been shattered in 1986 when a stag party hosted by my first husband got a bit out of hand.)

My memories of my early years on eBay include:

  • Several nasty bidding wars with a fellow from Washington D.C. who collected green Stanglware. The "fellow" turned out to be a woman, and she turned out to be a friend of a friend from journalism school. We started buying large lots of china together and spitting them. When I visited D.C. in 1999 for business, she took me out to lunch.
  • Running 10 blocks from Green Lake to our old house because I'd forgotten that an auction on a Stangl cigarette box was about to end. I didn't make it in time, and lost the item.
  • Winning one of the few Stanglware pie plates still in existence. Unfortunately, our cat Sheba later used it as a toboggan in the kitchen; it didn't survive.
  • Helping my mom, then in Cape Cod, sell my late Aunt Helen's frou-frou collection of antique European tea cups. My dad took, printed, and numbered the photos; I scanned them and uploaded them to eBay with coordinated descriptions. (This was before cheap digital cameras.) I had carefully impressed upon my parents the need to pack each teacup and saucer in oodles of bubble wrap for shipping long distances. So we were all surprised when the first sale was to a woman who turned out to live a mile away from them on Cape Cod. She drove over and picked it up.

My more recent sales on eBay have involved old technology (cameras, Treos, etc.) while my more recent purchases have been clothes. If I like an item I've purchased from Nordstrom, J. Jill, or Eddie Bauer, I find I can usually pick up a second item (new with tags, or in like-new condition) for less than half that price on eBay. This works particularly well for buying seasonal clothing off-season, for getting a style of jeans that has been discontinued in the stores, or for tracking down an obscure designer label. I conduct and refine a search, then save the search so eBay sends me email whenever the item appears in my size.

According to eBay, I've bought and sold 456 items in the past 10 years. Forty-five transactions a year is not much in the world of eBay power sellers, of course, but it's really worked for me. In that whole time, I've only had one "problem" transaction, and that was fairly easily resolved.

My favorite eBay purchase? That would have to be the electronic locator beeper systems we use on Sheba, our deaf cat. Discontinued by the manufacturer because they were so fragile, they turned up in a liquidator's shop on eBay. After a few bidding wars with some guy from Atlanta, I was able to snap up 44 of them. We figure those should last Sheba for a lifetime. But just in case, I still have an active eBay search for them.