Thursday, March 31, 2011

. . . Cooking In, Store Run, Smatters of Sunshine & Hot Sync

Part 3

Cooking In

A few Thursdays ago, when the weather was cold, our NeedleCrafts group was discussing soup-making. One thing I do cook from time to time is split pea soup. I had dried split peas at home, so stopped by the grocery store on my way home to pick up a ham hock, an onion and a carrot. I had a piece of celery left from my senior lunch to add to the mix.

It was too late in the day to cook a soup. Despite the package instructions, 45 minutes is not enough time for split peas. Then something came up ... I think it was the week I went to my son's house ... and my little bag of goodies sat in the bottom of the refrigerator until this last Friday, when I threw the ham hock in a big pot of water, put it on the stove, and forgot about it for a few hours. Then Sister, who had arrived in town with Brother-in-law that morning, invited me to dinner. Just as well, because I'd again been too late to get the ham off the bone and cook the split peas.

The pot got put out in the cold garage for the night and I went for Sister's good cooking, where we decided to eat out on Saturday night.

I truly thought I'd never get any actual ham out of this ham hock, but I got more than I expected when I finally got back to soup-making on Sunday.


Does that look like any ham hock you've ever seen?

Took the bones out to the compost pile and saw something we hadn't seen in quite awhile, so I took a camera back outside to catch this patch of blue sky and a smattering of sunshine.




Yummmm! Except for the fact that pea soup green is an ugly color.




I pulled out ingredients to make corn meal muffins, obligatory with pea soup. I had all dry ingredients mixed and took a whiff of the milk before adding. Eeeuuuwww.

While on a store run, I might as well pick up mail, so it turned into an excursion. Since I'd last been into town, Daffodil Days had arrived. Local residents buy bouquets to honor someone who's had cancer, with proceeds to the American Cancer Society.



Although my late husband didn't have cancer, I usually get a bouquet in his memory on Daffodil Days.



Town is very quiet on this late Sunday afternoon, as wintry as it has been this March. There'd been a good crowd at dinner the night before, but they weren't hanging out downtown this day. I heard voices in the yard of the BBQ, which has been closed all winter.  Getting ready for Spring?


Deserted. Ravages of winter.





A snirt at the grocery store parking lot. Snirt = snow + dirt. Kelly Ripa is having an informal photo contest for the worst snirt in New York City. This one isn't even in the running, but it will last here for a long time.


The produce racks look cheerful out front of the market.








I purchase all the major food groups: cheese, corn, salsa, milk, fruit and tomatoes.




Fresh milk in hand, I mix up my muffins, also using half a cube of actual butter from the fridge as the fat source, left over from Christmas. Instructions are to "pour" the batter into the muffin pan.  Hah!



These didn't rise as much as usual and didn't have the crunch to the top that I like.



Not too much on presentation, but I finally got my good thick soup. A spoon practically stands up in it. (It's an invisible spoon here.)



And I finished with a kitchen spilling over with strainers and pots to wash, which is exactly why I don't often cook.  I did have three meals of split pea soup this week, with four more in the freezer. The biggest pot is waiting in the dishwasher now, to get the final ham grease off that hand washing didn't touch.

See you tomorrow.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Tear for A Tree

Remember back in February, when a heavy snow brought down a lot of trees in our little town? When my Tree Guy came right away to clear my driveway, and later to begin cleaning up the mess?

February 22

We left the remainder of the work until after I returned from visiting my son and family. Well, Tree Guy and crew returned today to finish up. The bobcat was here to lift the heavy oak logs. I originally intended to let him take them away, but I have a few friends who are interested in splitting some for firewood.


Then there was my bull pine. I may be the only person in California who loves the bull pines, with their grayish needles and their lanky branching. I had one bull pine, unfortunately having begun its life under the canopy of oak, wending its way upward, skinny and tall, through the branches of oak, seeking its own light.

See it there? It's reddish trunk not far to the left rear of the trailer? With its close-up so you can see its top finally beginning to reach above the surrounding oaks?




 But then there's this side view. It has worried me for years, fearing it would topple over on the trailer in the winds that swayed it.


Then just this past weekend, I saw a huge bull pine down over near Sister's house. It had, strangely enough, fallen uphill, where it did damage a fence, but, had it fallen the other way, it would have gotten a house.

On the same day, my friend Terri (of red zigzag afghan fame here) posted this picture of her husband on Facebook, at the root-ball of a 180-foot bull pine that had fallen just off their property at the bottom of the hill.


My confidence cracked and I had Tree Guy take my bull pine out. Tonight I weep for my tree. (Yes. I cry for trees, too.)

Up a tree with chainsaw
By late afternoon, logs were stacked and slash had been taken to the community compost pile. It looks very clean and orderly out there now, almost park-like.


I hate to see any of those old oaks go down. But I also remember something from way back when I was a pregnant young wife and my husband came home from a meeting, having walked through the park on a windy night. He was ghostly pale and in tears. A branch had fallen from an oak and broken the neck of and killed a young boy, whom my husband discovered there. As much as I love the trees, I respect that a falling branch is not a trivial matter.

There is a big hunk of oak in that pile that someone who is so inclined might use to make a coffee table top or something artistic. Anybody interested?

See you tomorrow.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

. . . Lost Gloves, Cooking In, Store Run, Smatters of Sunshine, and Hot Sync

Part Deux

Lost Gloves

It was a chilly evening (actually, it was more like cold) with intermittent rain when Sister, Brother-in-law and I went out for dinner, so before they picked me up, I'd neatly stacked my small purse, rain parka, scarf and gloves on a chair, to grab as soon as they drove up. They were at the door by the time I heard them drive in and had gathered my stuff, so we splashed out to their pick-up truck. 

Parking at the restaurant slopes a bit, so Sister and I tumbled out the downhill side of the truck and we all walked briskly down the parking lot, down the steps and were shown to our table. It wasn't until we were bundling up to leave that I started fumbling around for my gloves. Burgundy knit gloves. Came with a plaid burgundy scarf that I bought on an emergency basis on a fiercely stormy January day when friends and I had taken a train from Paris to Rouen to visit the Cathedral, which was completely buttoned down due to forecast of "une têmpete" of 100 kilometres per hour.

I couldn't find them on the seat of the booth, nor in my pockets, on the floor, in my tiny purse. Not in the truck, not on the pavement. They're getting a bit tattered -- I wear them a lot and they weren't high quality to start with -- but I've got the nostalgia attachment to them. I want them back but I don't want to obsess.  I "lose" things a lot and I can either search frantically for them, or wait for them to come back to me when they're ready. The latter works best, as long as there's not a deadline.

When they brought me home we looked on the ground around the truck, around the living room, on the chair where I thought I stacked my things before we left. We sat around for ages afterward, looking at old scanned family photos on the computer.

When my sister called late the next morning, she said they'd gone back to the restaurant parking lot to check, so while she waited, I went out in the driveway and followed the rain water flow out into the street and down the hill. No signs. We hung up and I took a few more glances around the room and in the chairs and was about to go back to my cooking project (you read that right . . . cooking) when I thought "burgundy gloves," "burgundy chair." The natural disguise. I looked more closely -- more like wishful thinking than real expectation, given how much time we'd spent there, both the night before and me this morning -- and what was that?


The burgundy chair

Burgundy on burgundy
 Shed a little light . . . and I can see.

They'd come back to me. I was happy. Sister was happy. Scarf and gloves were reunited.


See you tomorrow.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Tour Space, Eating Out, Lost Gloves, Cooking In, Store Run, Smatters of Sunshine, and Hot Sync

Part 1

BREAKING NEWS . . . Tour Space (or Space in Tour)

Jeanne Mills' quilters tour to Southwestern France has an opening for TWO people (singles also welcome), due to health issues experienced by two participants who have had to drop out. She must provide final counts to vendors within two weeks, so if you have a passport and can make a swift decision, read about this trip here and contact Jeanne.


The 2010 tour group sampling champagne
after touring the Taittinger Caves in Reims

My predictable Internet outages are playing havoc with my blogging schedule. Yes, I suppose I could blog in the daytime, but since my general plan was to provide something of a narrative of daily life, if I spend the day writing, I'll have even less to tell than I do if I wait until evening. Not much happens in the evening, compared to my days of mystery and excitement. Wait. That's Jessica Fletcher.

Eating Out

The appetizer

Sister and Brother-in-law ordered the calamares for an appetizer. I expressed the hope that it wouldn't look like a plateful of deep-fried tarantulas like a cousin-in-law had once been served, to her horror (and mine, too). These were fried in a spicy batter and served with an even spicier sauce, adding a very nice bite to the mild flavor of calamares. We three thought it a little too salty; it tasted like sea salt, given a sharp shake over the plate, and we expressed that opinion to the new assistant manager of the restaurant, who transmitted it to the chef.

Sister and I had tomato basil soup for starters, while Brother-in-law had the salad. She chose a red wine from Ironstone, as she'd been wanting to try some. Brother-in-law contemplated and contemplated, and, finally, before we all died of hunger, asked for the house merlot. Don't ask me for details about wine. I can tell you about the water.

Assistant manager graciously came back with an offer to comp our desserts to make up for the salt. He apparently told our waitress about it just then, because she came by to ask us whether we were ready for dessert yet. It was crowded in the restaurant. She missed the part where we needed dinner first, so we all had a good laugh.

The main course
I chose this center cut sirloin from the "smaller dinner" menu, with the garlic mashed potatoes and the best seasonal vegetable of all. I'm never sure how a chef will interpret "medium-rare" but this steak was perfect under the crisp onion rings.

Sister also chose from the smaller dinner menu, ordering the seared salmon with the great sauce whose name I can never remember. Brother-in-law, eyes bigger than his stomach, ordered two pork chops from the big boys' menu. We know what he had to eat for lunch the next day.



The dessert


My sister had the photogenic Lava Cake. Brother-in-law and I chose the berry cobbler with ice cream.












The Participants


Sister

We stayed to listen to the band for awhile, then adjourned to my house, where I introduced Sister to the addictive People recognition feature of Picasa 3 photo software. It dutifully scans every photo in my computer, of which there are thousands, and pulls out all the faces for identification and tagging. It's not super picky about faces, including those from statues on the front of Notre Dame, of portraits on the wall and faces of Jesus and saints in the stained glass windows my father designed.



Brother-in-law




















Moi





















This one is unique. I'm still waiting for Picasa to identify other shots of Chloe, but this is all so far.



See you tomorrow, Internet conditions willing.


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Office Hours Only

Those of us on the Left Coast have to remember to make those important calls to businesses on the Right Coast more than three hours earlier than we might be otherwise inclined. But that's not what this is about.

Last week some time, someone -- I don't remember who -- remarked that with all the storms and power and phone outages, phone calls weren't always going where intended. Lines were being crossed and odd conversations were ensuing.

A little light bulb went off in my brain while I was showering today, thinking about the odd pattern of my Internet down time. It has been going down each evening between, say, 5:10 and 6:10, and coming back on at between 8:15 and 9:00 in the morning. This has happened every night since March 17, and seems to be independent of the weather-related problems my Internet service provider has been dealing with.

"It's like someone is turning off the switch." So say I and so has said everyone I've described this to.

So, I'm thinking, it really does sound like someone is turning off the switch. The outage corresponds so perfectly to someone coming into an office, turning things on in the morning, and turning them back off when he/she leaves at night. It's probably not done on purpose where it's happening; it could be some major crossed wires with someplace outside the ISP's business. I think of several years ago when my computer monitor sat on a Power Director with its whole series of on-off switches for all the computer components plugged into it. And there was a master switch to turn them all on and off with just one push of the button. But I didn't want everything turned off.

What if ... the network is plugged into something with a master switch and someone figured it's easier to turn off one switch than several when coming and going from work, without realizing what all was plugged in?  Is that possible????

What if ... a wire is crossed somewhere and the network is going off because something totally unrelated is being turned on and off?

Anybody out there know if these are technically feasible explanations?

I really don't want to be a daytime blogger and blog reader forever.

When I woke up yesterday, a bit of snow had fallen overnight, leaving a very crystalline layer on flat surfaces, showing off patterns in the logs in this view from my window. The First Flower of Spring, there near its familiar log, hasn't got much more time with us, the yellow in the petals almost faded to brown.


Yesterday my sister and brother-in-law came up for a weekend getaway. I think this may be my sister's first trip up since the new floors were installed. I missed them on my first swing by their house. They were off opening an account in one of our town's little banks. They discovered something which annoys me mightily:

THE BANK NO LONGER PROVIDES THEIR UNIQUE LOCAL CHECKS, THE ONES WITH THE PICTURE OF A MAJOR NEARBY LANDMARK. THEY GOT TAKEN OVER BY SOME BIG BANK WHO SAYS IT'S TOO EXPENSIVE TO PROVIDE THE BEAUTIFUL CHECKS. I'VE ALMOST QUIT THE BANK OVER THIS TERRIBLE SITUATION AND MY SISTER ALMOST WALKED WHEN SHE FOUND THIS OUT.

COME ON, BANK, IT'S A MATTER OF IDENTITY!

If it looks like I'm shouting, I am. I suppose the only deterrent to my quitting them is that the other little local bank was absorbed by an even bigger outside bank when federal regulators showed up one night and took them over. Really, I have accounts both places, but have had the one with the (formerly) beautiful checks since before I even moved up here. I picked that bank because of them.

Meanwhile, I couldn't resist taking a picture of the annual display in front of my sister's house:





We connected later when she invited me for dinner. (She cooks, and knows I don't, so makes sure I get real food sometimes.) They'd brought their three "babies" along with them. despite all the gloomy weather forecasts.

Lola is this trip's featured baby.  She is tiny, much smaller than she appears in this photo with the serene expression on her face.




Tiny cat goes exploring . . .




. . . along the plate rail.




It's funny when two or more cats explore at once, especially when they reach the ends of the rails.

Later at home, Jean-Luc is mesmerized by TurboTax, resting comfortably on my arm (for ages), compelling me to make entries one-handed.  Maybe he'll find my misplaced decimal point.



See you tomorrow, Internet conditions willing.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursdays Out ... March 24

Still struggling with the Internet, but had a glimmer of hope this afternoon. I don't bug them. (At least, I don't think I do.) After all, we've been surrounded by days-long power outages, even closing down Yosemite, so no surprise that the local cable/internet system has been impacted.  But I called to follow up with my repeated overnight no-Internet situation, even after the boss spent over two hours up the pole outside of my house a couple of days ago.

The gal whom I'd reported the overnight-outage problem to earlier didn't pick up the call. One of the field guys did. (Rats! Do I have to explain what's happening again?) He excused himself to go to a monitor, then the boss came on the line. He'd just rebooted the entire system, following upgrades they'd been doing along with weather-damage repairs, and, he hoped, it would be coming up faster and better. He was heading up to our little town shortly.

Not long after we hung up, high winds hit, trees were flailing, rain swirled. We're being slammed. Oh, oh, I thought. Here it goes again.

Given the forecast and the intermittent rain that was falling this morning, Tory predicted that she and I would be the only ones at NeedleCrafts today. Surprise! One of our people had surgery yesterday and was due to be released from hospital later today, another had a houseguest who'd been displaced by the power outage, so they were excused. But the everyone else showed up.

Phyllis just isn't bothered by a little rain. She's knitting a sampler afghan, here beginning one of the little rectangles she'll put together into a big afghan, which she plans to put a backing on.
















Terri slipped and fell while bringing in her trash cans this morning, but came to NeedleCrafts anyway. And borrowed Aleve. Progress on her red afghan is, well, not very fast. She doesn't work on it at home and thinks she might not be able to talk and crochet at the same time. (Compare photo with previous Thursdays'.)














Rose lives way off in the forest up toward Yosemite, where her power has been out since Sunday, so she wanted to go somewhere warm and light and serving food, with people to talk to, even if she might not be able to make it home afterward. She hasn't been able to knit at home because she's been wrapped in a blanket with two cats on her lap.














Tory had to work today, so slipped in a little late and out a little early. I don't want to make comparisons, but how long ago was it that Tory had a giant zig zag afghan in another color she was working on, as opposed to someone else, who's  been on a red during the same time? She does crochet at home.


Me? I made the brilliant calculation that we would have a window in the weather to get in and out of The Little House. For once, I was right. Oh, and I haven't mastered that self-photo stuff the kids all seem to be able to do.


After my phone call to the my Internet guy, I stared morosely at my unconnected computer. I thought of opening Turbo Tax but remembered that last image before I closed it last night:


It's not the final word. I'm dismayed that it's the early word. I think it's time to search for a misplaced decimal point. But I was already tired and the thought of tackling that this afternoon made me think "nap." So I joined two sleeping cats on the bed. Or tried to. I was curled up on my side when one cat began to wander along my side, like a hiker along the top of a ridge, while the other little monster began chewing on my toes.

So I'm sleepy again now.

See you tomorrow, Internet conditions willing.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TAXES!


My Internet came back for long enough today to download the updates for Turbo Tax. So I've started my taxes.


'Nuff said!


See you tomorrow.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In the Sardine Can

Have you ever been in a Sardine Can -- er, aircraft, for those in the good seats -- when you went, "Whoa! What was that?!"

Like, you're just about to touch down and the plane does a stomach-dropping swoop skyward?

Or, you're late leaving your departure airport and the pilot rockets to your destination, only to slam on the brakes just before arrival and waffle around in giant circles until you're as late arriving as you were leaving. Don't you hate that when you need to make a connection?

Or you hit a rough patch that shakes the plane so hard that you're sure it'll tear apart and it goes on for over an hour and you're screaming -- you hope in the same pitch as the engine noise so no one will know -- and your fear of flying -- no, of crashing -- is swiftly reawakening, and you swear that if you survive this and land safely, you're taking a ship home, despite the fact that you get seasick and hate boats. It finally stops, for a little while, then starts again. For another half hour.

Does anyone ever tell you what's happening? Well, sometimes. In the first example, an earthquake had occurred as we were about to touch down and we had to wait for a runway inspection. It was a surprisingly short wait.

Second example, sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Third example, I've come to be reassured when the captain forewarns us to fasten our seat belts for a rough ride ahead. Not so reassured when we hit a big bump in clear skys and the staccato seat belt announcement also sends cabin crew scrambling to their jumpseats. I imagine the captain hates surprises, too.

The shake-me-apart flight occurred on my third ocean crossing in my modern era, which I count from 1999. There are a couple of pilot blogs I read that have eased my level of fear sufficiently to allow me to make eleven subsequent round trip ocean crossings and plan for a couple more.

One blog that is beautifully, often suspensefully, written, and gives insight into a pilot's mind and the flight deck environment is Flight Level 390, by the otherwise anonymous Captain Dave. I'm mentally holding his hand for reassurance when things get rough up there.

Another that I read is Cockpit Conversations by Aviatrix, to which she posts almost daily, on her life as a pilot and some more technical information on piloting. She recently posted a couple of pilot narratives about the quake in Japan, one on the ground loading passengers in Narita in preparation for takeoff, the other in the air, approaching Japan and looking to land. Both pilots describe their decision-making processes and resultant actions in great detail. Of equal interest is readers' comments on the choices made. (Scroll to the top if the page opens at the Comments.)

Next time the flight you're on seems to be engaging in the inexpliable, put yourself in the pilot's seat. What might he or she be dealing with at the moment to explain what you're experiencing?

See you tomorrow, Internet conditions willing.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

D & D

When my son's family spent Christmas in my little town, my granddaughter revealed herself to me as a Dungeon Master. Ashley? So sweet. So beautiful. So devious?

She mentioned developing something involving spiders. EEyuck! (Y'all wanna guess how I feel about spiders?)

I had heard of Dungeons & Dragons long ago as a topic of some controversy. Young people had gone dark places, done dark things, and talk was made of banning the game. "Really?" I had thought. Can it really be the fault of a game?

That aside, I had no clue about how it was played: cards, board, spin the wheel, computer, internet? The mental image was, of course, of gamers lurking in dark basements. You know. In dungeons.

I was at my son's house for the Celebration of Life for Jennifer when I began hearing that "the game," a weekly event, would be played on Monday evening. Dungeon Master Ashley spent much of that day in preparation, discussing with her boyfriend, who is not a participant this game group, the strategy and scoring.

Players Handbook
 As the appointed hour approached, the players began to stream in and took their places around the family dining table. They were familiar faces now, although I still haven't associated all names to the correct faces, most having wandered through on Saturday when out-of-town family was arriving, on Sunday at the Celebration of Life, and afterward again at the house.

I didn't check the game out immediately. Maybe I was avoiding the spider concept. But I eventually did check, and took a few photos of the players and the play. The Dungeon Master provides the narrative.





The playing field

The players

More players

The non players (That's Ashley's boyfriend on the left.)

After the game, some dance to the Wii and others play combat-type games on ... not sure which one. This household owns almost all game formats (except for something they're boycotting) and my grandson is now a game developer. Way back when, when I was young, and kids of friends and relatives went to work as computer game developers, I wondered how on earth they could make a living doing that. Could not have guessed.



By morning light:

The quiet board



Character Sheets

Polyhedral dice
 (To compare, detritus after one of my son's get-togethers in the high school years: Poker chips, a couple of decks of cards and empty Orange Crush cans. He still likes a good game of poker.)

I'm not a game player. Solitaire is as exciting as it gets. I like sitting around, eavesdropping, with people playing games, for the sociability of it, for vicariously sharing their triumphs and losses, but I will be happily quilting. The complexity of Dungeons & Dragons is beyond me, probably would have been even at a time when my mind was more agile. I gave up on chess then. So I can't explain D&D for you, but I Googled it and have copied an excerpt from Wikipedia below.

PLAY OVERVIEW

Dungeons & Dragons is a structured yet open-ended role-playing game. It is normally played indoors with the participants seated around a tabletop. Typically, each player controls only a single character, which represents an individual in a fictional setting. When working together as a group, these player characters (PCs) are often described as a ‘party’ of adventurers, with each member often having his or her own areas of specialty that contribute to the success of the whole. During the course of play, each player directs the actions of his or her character and its interactions with the other characters in the game. A game often continues over a series of meetings to complete a single adventure, and longer into a series of related gaming adventures, called a ‘campaign’.
The results of the party's choices and the overall storyline for the game are determined by the Dungeon Master (DM) according to the rules of the game and the DM's interpretation of those rules. The DM selects and describes the various non-player characters (NPCs), the party encounters, the settings in which these interactions occur, and the outcomes of those encounters based on the players' choices and actions. Encounters often take the form of battles with 'monsters' – a generic term used in D&D to describe potentially hostile beings such as animals, aberrant beings or mythical creatures. The game's extensive rules – which cover diverse subjects such as social interactions, magic use, combat, and the effect of the environment on PCs – help the DM to make these decisions. The DM may choose to deviate from the published rules or make up new ones if he or she feels it is necessary. 
The most recent versions of the game's rules are detailed in three core rulebooks: The Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. A Basic Game boxed set contains abbreviated rules to help beginners learn the game.
The only items required to play the game are the rulebooks, a character sheet for each player and a number of polyhedral dice. The current editions also assume, but do not require, the use of miniature figures or markers on a gridded surface. Earlier editions did not make this assumption. Many optional accessories are available to enhance the game, such as expansion rulebooks, pre-designed adventures and various campaign settings.
See you tomorrow.
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