Wednesday, December 26, 2007


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?


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:


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:

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

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!"

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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).

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

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

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 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.