Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rolling over

Goodbye Christmas, it's nearly time for the new year. My mother-in-law started her drive back to Austin this morning. My cold is hanging on, just thinks my nose is a great place to be. The kids have been surprisingly easy to entertain. Sometimes our oldest gets a little unhinged when school is out. The lack of routine seems to set her off. But we got lucky -- not this time. They're back to school on Monday which seems too soon already. It makes my working schedule easier but still.

I am bored with myself and have resolved to learn something new. Spanish vocabulary perhaps. Nod suggested a phlebotomy course that I've looked at before. I don't think this is the time but I'll be sure and report if I fling myself into vein studies.

I finished The Help by Stockett and it was a book I enjoyed reading. The first chapter is an unpleasant experience so I wondered if it would be a "good for me" book that I would have to skim to finish so I wouldn't get too upset. But then the narrative shifted to another  character and there is plenty of sweet interleaved with the bitter. There are some weak moments but there is a lot of love and good observation there. I think the author can't resist pointing all her characters in a good direction at the end. I had a good time reading it and the afterword about the author's experience and investment is fascinating. I am wary of reading book reviews because I am going to go to a new book group meeting and discuss it! I'm excited! We'll see if I like this gang better than the last group I tried. They sound younger. The anticipation is great and we'll just see what develops.

I'm eating leftover cornbread stuffing with turkey and gravy and green chile. Happy sigh. I have to get to the grocery store to get the black eyed peas for new year's day. I think I have a smoked neck bone in the freezer to cook them with. I fed the cats and fish of the next door neighbors while they were away for a few days. When they got back they said we should do something new year's eve-y. We agreed that all of us are generally not midnight partiers. So we are all looking forward to an early happy hour after the kids are in bed. And the next day we'll have a brunch in the common house.

I am a bit fuzzy headed and still looking for new ideas. Send them when you find them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tea and Cookies

Doesn't that sound good? Now who can I set to baking?

Intrusive songs:
"We Wish You A Merry Christmas", but not an anonymous caroling version, it's the Kingston Trio Christmas album version. All earnest, peacenik, young man-like.

"You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" We watched the cartoon on Tuesday night and that actually got rid of this one (mostly). A nasty-wasty skunk!

"Angels From the Realms of Glory", not so bad really.

"Jingle Bells" by the Tijuana Brass. That's not mine, it's Nod's and he haaaates it. I only feel nostalgic delight when I remember the LP album cover my parents had. Mariachi trumpeters with shiny Christmas ornaments coming out of their trumpets. Happy sigh.

Health
Our collective cold may be receding without morphing into something worse. I went into the girls' bedroom last night and wedged a cushion under the head of Lexi's mattress. This was supposed to help her head drain so she would cough less. And whether my wedging had anything to do with it or not, she did cough less! We all slept better last night. I am still a rough-voiced vixen but my sore throat is a bit better and I feel less sorry for myself than yesterday.

Ovens
Just realized that by taking on two housesitting gigs for neighbors I have two extra ovens should I need them when the turkey is cooking. Heh. I never realized it before but luxury = spare ovens. Which reminds me I heard an insipid book review piece on NPR this morning (I accept that this is part of the inevitable buffet of holiday fluff pieces). The comment that got me was the assertion that luxury is not about money but about careful object choice and sincere home economy or something I really couldn't follow. Poppycock, luxury is explicitly about money and having something that most people don't have. The end.

Sparkle and Glow
Our tree is still beautiful. Plus Nod put the spare/unreliable strand of lights out on the little tree-in-a-pot outside and it's gorgeous! I strung up a paper garland across our living room. Because I didn't want to put tape on the painted walls it ended up being a limbo line for the adults. But Nod found a cuphook for the ceiling and now it's less of a finish line tape. He also hung stockings. I have more Christmas glitz than I expected, it's just exactly what I require. 

Movie fest continues
Watched It's a Wonderful Life last night. Realized too late that we should have chosen letterbox format - everyone's face was a little stretched. I liked it but not with the fervor of my early 90s self. Now it gets me more that George is stymied every time he tries to leave town. The horror aspect is amusing. It seemed to take a very long time to get to the "good part" with the angel. And can anyone tell me what that thing in the drugstore is? George makes a wish every time he goes past "I wish I had a million dollars" and then pushes the lever and when the flame appears he says "Hot Dog!" like he got his wish. I guess that it's a cigarette lighter for customers, at a convenient height accessible to children of course. And maybe the flint wheel doesn't light every time so that's the uncertainty/will-I-get-my-wish part? The Old Maid and the Cook should be that movie's alternate title, those are the two most cringeworthy elements from a modern perspective. What I still love: George's giddiness when he's restored and his eager acceptance of all the lumps along with all the good parts of his life. "Isn't it wonderful? I'm going to jail!" Like the joy of the reformed Scrooge. (Our Christmas movie fest included the Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine. I liked it okay and might watch it again in the future if I could skip the songs. Paul Williams had nothing to be proud of there.)

More Cooking
Making chicken and dumplings tonight. I have a turkey and a plan (dry brining). I don't have much else for the Christmas day feast but we'll get it together. MIL coming today. Will shop for husband's tools today. He bought something for his mom so I feel like we're closer to done. Time to do a quick blitzkrieg on toilets and sinks and I'll feel ready to host.

Tea
I'm drinking Muscat and Oolong tea. It's a Japanese combination from my coworker. It smells intensely of grapes, like Concord grapes but there is only a slight winy taste to the tea. Very pleasant but as Toshi says, it's too pungent to drink with food. For my tea and cookies I'll have to have some weak to moderate black tea. I'll give some to the girls with milk and sugar cubes too, that's always a big hit.

Precious Sun
I lit a candle for the solstice and am glad to have it behind us. Onward through the cold months. Cosy thoughts to all and to all a good holiday.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meaning and the Search for it

Blogging and the meaning of life
Reading blogs is all about control over my experience, and selecting what I read to my own taste. I get to read when I choose to, visit the writers that appeal to me. But as narrow and self determined as all that sounds, it's also a window. It brings me happy accidental discoveries. A blog post that gives me a bright close glimpse of another life is a metaphor for discovering the larger world.

How web hosting works
Whoopee's husband's illustration of how the web and web hosting works (squirrels in tin hats visiting trees).  
I love the sincere and hilarious attempt to understand. I think I get it more than Antonia does but I'm not quite there despite the cute squirrels.

Manifest This
Reverb 10 is a site encouraging everyone to "reflect on this year & manifest what's next". I don't like the verb "to manifest" used in terms of self actualization. (If someone is manifesting I expect them to be supernatural or at the very least a conjuror.) But I keep liking the thinking/writing projects created by their clever contributors. I've been reading them because Schmutzie, that fearless self telescoping word wrangler is doing them.  The prompt for 12/15: "Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010."

Mind blowing idea. I will try to corral my weak and wandering memory to do this. Remember the letting go of the bankruptcy and the old house. Finally being able to unclench in the new place, in early fall. New friends in our new neighborhood. The girls taking to music lessons like ducks to water. My husband going through his shame and failure and finding a new direction. Remember him rediscovering feelings of worth and satisfaction. Happily I will have my blog posts to fill in the gaps. And good god, that's 59 posts before this one! So remember to be proud of my beach worth of wordy sand castles. Here is Schmutzie's response to this prompt. 

Edited to add
I took the meat off of beef shank cuts last night. It was very educational, kind of difficult and a bit disturbing. I am hoping that my pot roast technique (braising in a covered pot with liquid for three hours) will be enough to make it tender. I have bones (with marrow!) left over that I think I should make stock from. Time to consult the Joy of Cooking.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crumbs

Random recipes for you. Homemade chicken nuggets from scratch. In case you need to do that. And I found rave reviews of this pot roast recipe. I just bought some shank cuts of beef and am going to try it with them. (There were no boneless short ribs on display and I didn't feel like having a discussion with the butcher.)

After all my media gobbling I have some commenting to do. I completed the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. I really liked the second one, to my surprise. The third one is a hoot just to marvel at everything they threw in. It felt like a food fight conducted with the contents of an entire Luby's cafeteria. And it made about that much sense. But there was some good clever writing when they got to the interesting curlicues of the story. I thought the horror element was surprisingly strong. Here's an intriguing article about horror in reference to two current Oscar contenders, Black Swan and 127 Hours. I don't want to see either one in the theater. I wouldn't mind seeing Black Swan once it's on DVD.

Back to Pirates: I was glad I had my finger on the FF button for some of the naval battle scenes that I found ho hum. But really the sum total was big dumb fun. Such a delicious cast: Geoffrey Rush, Mr. Depp, O. Bloom and I was charmed by my first exposure to Naomie Harris. She plays the voodoo lady/ocean spirit. I liked her better as a sort of Marie le Veau in the second movie. She didn't get to do much in the third. Except grow to be the fifty foot woman and turn into a shower of crustaceans. Oh Keira Knightly, Bill Nighy, Chow Yun Fat and Stellan SkarsgÄrd too, mustn't leave them out. Jack Davenport (excellent!) and the list goes on and on.

More Film
Watched the end of Catch Me If You Can last night with my husband. It's been a long time since we've watched anything together. What a good one that is. Leonardo Di Caprio is a gifted wayward teenager who learns how to impersonate people with a moderate amount of authority (pilots, doctors, lawyers) and forge checks in increasingly elaborate ways. Tom Hanks is the thoroughly uncool FBI agent who knows enough to track and sometimes catch him. And there's even a Christmas theme!

Books
I am disappointed that I have failed to like two more mystery novels by writers new to me. The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (who gets extra points for his supercool name) was reasonably entertaining but I thought it condescended to its characters a bit. I finished it dutifully but don't plan to look for another one. A Fete Worse Than Death, post WWI cosy by Gordon-Smith. I wanted to like it but couldn't muster the interest to even get through it. Cardboardy I'm afraid. Currently I'm reading the latest in Kim Harrison's sexy witch series Black Magic Sanction. Her previous book was a bit limp. If this one doesn't pan out I'm going to go back and read the first three in this alternate magical Cincinnati series again because they were a hilarious good time. I'm also trying to read The Polyglots by William Gerhardi which I found on The Guardian's 100 Comic Novels list. It is a turn of the century satire and much of it I don't have the references to appreciate. But I may muddle through. As my Christmas present to me I bought some $25 hair spray conditioner (eek!) and the latest Terry Pratchett out in paperback Unseen Academicals.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cooking up Christmas

For Sunday's potluck I got inspired only an hour before and managed to turn out roasted potatoes and broiled chicken with yogurt and indian spices. They turned out perfectly but I was unable to enjoy them very much due to a side effect of the antibiotic I was on for my skin. I had a metallic taste in my mouth which got worse and worse last week. By Sunday it felt as though I'd burned my tongue on hot chocolate (a frequent childhood occurrence because who can wait for it to cool off?) and it hadn't healed yet. Called my doc yesterday and got switched to tetracycline which may have other side effects. The metallic taste is fading and I look forward to its complete disappearance, perhaps tomorrow.

Yesterday I baked bread. I've been doing five-minutes-a-day bread and it's been wonderful. I use 3 1/2 cups of whole wheat* flour and 3 cups of white flour. I am trying it will less salt and less vinegar because that's a lot. My 'yica' as Bee put it is back so I've been eating plenty of raw dough too. It's chewy yeasty deliciousness. Today I had a sandwich made from the bread I baked and I felt all artisanal. One more modification for the recipe, I don't think it makes enough for three loaves. I think it makes two and a half loaves, and I just want you to be prepared. *It's a little confusing because of the repetition of the words "white" and "wheat" but the whole wheat flour I like to use is King Arthur brand White Whole Wheat flour. It works in all recipes and is the shit.

The Christmas is upon me though I feel washed away by the tide rather than prepared for the journey. Brashly boozy egg nog was crafted and consumed last Friday night and we had a good 15 neighbors to sing carols. The kids were taken to the nearby rec center to run around with a babysitter for a couple of hours to facilitate all this. It was a nice time. I need to get our frequent potlucker Bob to teach me his melody for Green Grow the Rushes O, very different from the one we know.

We got a tree on Sunday, venturing out in the extremely cold wind. Got a deal on the tallest tree I think we've ever had. I assume they guy gave us a deal to get us to buy something and thus justify their time out in the freezing whipping air. The tree is a leetle big for our stand and there was comedy gold as Nod and I tried to get it inserted and upright. I laughed so hard when it fell over on him and all I could see was his legs sticking out from under the horizontal tree. It is fragrant and has great depths: one string of lights hasn't done much for it so it may be time to throw more on there. We've held off on decorating so we can do it as a family tonight. To appease my children who have wanted to put decorations since the moment the tree crossed our threshold, I told them they could put up ten ornaments each. Hearing that Lexi was starting to bargain for more, I told her that if she saw other ornaments she wanted to put up -- no problem -- she could just take the first ten off and put up the others. This has worked surprisingly well. I will put on the xmas music and distribute the eggnog and we'll have that tree glitzed up tonight.

A co worker told me she had finished her xmas shopping last night. She has an excuse, she will be traveling for the hols. I only progressed to definite fear about gifts yesterday but had not done any shopping. Well working with that fear, today I ordered a CD for my mother. It's piano music performed by Dick Hyman who I heard on Prairie Home Companion over the weekend. But it's Bix Beiderbecke tunes and I don't know if that will really be her thing. At any rate, it's better than an empty placeholder. Her birthday (Dec. 28) present is done. I got her a Fuller Brush Man letter opener (red plastic) and a really rocking card (golden retriever standing in Caribbean shallows: Seize the Day, Casually). Now I need to write her a sweet note and get the pkg ready to go out next week.

Oh and the family picture, we haven't managed that yet. And gingerbread cookies. And and and. Good things all and I will concentrate on these achievable goals that bring me pleasure. What a luxury that we don't have to travel over the holidays.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dressed

It took me three tries to get my torso dressed Tuesday morning. Third shirt was the charm. I felt pretty dim for needing all those attempts. Any ideas for taking wrinkles out of cashmere? I have a thin green sweater I wanted to wear but its months in the winter storage box have left it too crumpled. Hm Lucky magazine, whoever they are, suggests a medium steam iron but with a damp white cloth between the sweater and the iron. That sounds promising. I settled on a blue striped blouse and a nylon/wool, shawl-collared cardigan. The radio announcer said it was 14F when I woke up.Today I am wearing a new sharp shouldered jacket with a brown and turquoise print and really great ankle boots. Here's to Jennifer who handed me down her shoes.

Tickle in the back of my throat. Result of licking envelopes? Or harbinger of worse to come? Thinking about illness reminds me that over the weekend we had a terrible experience in Target involving vomit which I tell you now so you can skip to the next para. Lexi felt nauseated when we pulled into the parking lot. But then she seemed to perk up a bit once out of the car. I guess I should have turned around and taken her home. But I didn't so she curled up in the basket while Katy shopped with her birthday gift cert. Lexi had not been interested in lunch earlier but ate a late afternoon snack of raw spinach and nuts that she cracked. I don't know if it was the weirdness of that combo or a bad nut or leaf but eventually she barfed over the side of the cart. Lucky for the Target cleaners it was on the linoleum. Sadly for all of my fellow humans in that part of the store, it was green and gross. I notified a clearly disgusted camera counter guy that clean up was required and got the kid to the restroom. She felt better immediately. It felt like an unskilled parenting moment and an iconic parenting moment all at once.

I'm working through the Big Bang Theory first season. It's not as hard as that phrasing made it sound. I read that Wil Wheaton's been doing an evil Wil character there in season 3 and 4. I'm liking them, Jim Parsons is very talented. Having lived in Los Alamos, NM I can opine that physics geeks are generally more grubby and monosyllabic though I can respect the artistic choice to change that up. (Before I obtained my present employment I interviewed for a part time office position with the physics and astronomy department. Interviewing with the chair who had a crappy haircut, highwater pants and a worn thin plaid shirt, I felt right at home.) Watching tv show entertainment without the ads tempts me to down them all in a sitting like eating an entire roll of sweet tarts instead of just five or six. And the library is breathing down my neck. I've been so greedy to watch things that I have them stacked up now and am trying to find the time to see them and then get them returned. Whew such pressures.

Two preposterous names I made up: Pristicod Barebones and Bingo Pete. I don't know why B and P are appealing so strongly today.

My skin is much better. But now I am officially tired of taking the oral antibiotics because I have a metallic taste in my mouth. I noticed it a couple days ago and now am tired of it. Too bad since I'm supposed to take these until January.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A New Tack

My mother has a diagnosis now and is taking medication and starting to feel better... we think. What a relief. Her doctor thinks some internal lining is inflamed, either heart (pericarditis) or something else. It happened after her stent placement so possibly there was a bacteria or virus brought in during the procedure. Hurray for anti inflammatories and for her not feeling so short of breath that she can't do anything active but just sit quietly. She'll be up and chewing out contractors in no time*.

*If you need a home improvement project accomplished, my mother would be the ultimate supervisor to make sure it got done correctly. She demands results and has extremely high standards (I might say unrealistic stds). I would never want to work for her.

Office xmas decorations are up this morning. The power of suggestion is never lost on me and I am humming carols to myself. Our new office manager told me tales of her family's tradition of going to the forest in Alaska to cut a Christmas tree. Usually it was rainy (she's from Ketchikan, think weather like Seattle only more so, and only a hair's breadth from being Canadian) rather than snowy. She explained that these were always real middle-of-the-forest trees. So they grow in pairs with one flat side and a length of leggy, branchless trunk. In fact she said they were so one-sided that they would put heavy ornaments on the bare side to try and counterweight the tree and keep it from toppling over.

Our tree cutting outing three years ago was so perfect (softly falling snow, pink cheeked little children and all) that I doubt we could match it. I'll probably get a little tree at the hardware store, they have nice ones. I like to get a tree about two weeks from the 25th so not this weekend but next.

Should you need some vicarious foodie joy, go read Katyboo. Her lush descriptions of that tasting menu are very convincing. Crab and paprika had me particularly interested. On a more quotidian food note, I will bake another lasagne tonight. The first one was wonderful and this time I will have some to freeze! 

Yesterday evening was strangely shaped. Katy was invited at short notice to go swimming after school as a birthday treat for a classmate. I agreed and sent her off with her suit and towel. I had the classmate's name, her mom's first name and that mom's cell phone. But that's all, I didn't know their address or even their last name. Katy of course had a wonderful time and the mom called us with their address finally so we could collect her. Lexi got a solo piano lesson and then her teacher was headed downtown to see the festival of trees and took Lexi with her for a quick visit. I had about an hour of unexpected kid-free time, it was refreshing. And then I was glad to get them back.