Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve. The tree is lit.

The cats are cozy.

The shopping is done. The groceries are bought, the stew is in the crock pot and the snow is coming down in big fat flakes. True, the table isn't cleared and the floor isn't swept so the holiday isn't totally picture-perfect, but it's close.

This is the first time I haven't spent Christmas with parents or with sisters. I almost said this is the first time I haven't spent Christmas with family, but I am with family. I'm with Nico. This is the first time we've spent the actual holiday together, so we've been trying to hash out our traditions and figure out what Christmas has meant to each of us in the past and how we want to celebrate it as a family in the future.

For me, this is a quiet Christmas. No nieces and nephews, no brothers-in-law or cousins, no cooking or gossiping with the other women in my family. I miss the noise and the bustle.

But there are good things, too. Wonderful things. Being with Nico, waking up with him on Christmas morning. Planning out the Christmas menu myself (lamb! dressing! asparagus!). Today while we were shopping in down town Olympia there was a group of carolers wandering around. And then there's the snow. We've had to slow down because of it and plan things out a little more, which can be a hard thing to do over the holidays.

The quiet is nice, but I miss having kids around.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2.5 Months

It's been a while since I've posted. I've had a lot to post about, a lot of things rolling around in my head, but I've just been too tired to sit down and type anything out. The truth is I've been a little depressed.

Part of it is my job. I never intended to stay at this job very long. Aberdeen was supposed to be a stepping stone. The plan was to get my foot in the door, get a little experience under my belt and then find a better job in a large city. The economy was not supposed to collapse and trap me in Aberdeen. I know it's not forever and that things might be very different in a different setting and different library. But it's still very disappointing to find yourself so unhappy with the job you studied so hard for, the job you thought you'd love.

And part of it is just the usual holiday sadness. I miss my parents. My dad loved Christmas - loved it - and that makes this time of year especially hard. Thanks to Nico I am learning to love this holiday again but it's a slow process.

So here is a short recap of what the last 2.5 months have meant to me:

Pumpkin Pie Socks

I finished the socks in the Pumpkin Pie colorway from Handspun and Dyed Too. I knit the cuff in a sort of triangular stitch pattern to look like slices of pie. They're good socks, only they've been shrinking as I wash them so I have to be careful.

Wedding Stuff
We reserved our venue and set our date for the wedding next year. We also ordered our save the date cards and I bought my dress (more on that later).

Our pumpkin beer actually turned out OK. I used brown sugar as the priming sugar and was disappointed with the level of carbonation that provided, so perhaps next time I'll stick to corn sugar or maybe I'll try molasses. The pumpkin beer wasn't terribly spicy but it did have a pumpkininy taste. It also came out a little sweet, which is probably a good thing. It wasn't the best pumpkin beer I've had, but it wasn't too bad. I'm looking forward to trying a pumpkin porter next.

I did absolutely nothing for Halloween. No costume, no parties, nothing. How disappointing.

The Election
Wow. Just, wow. This election went the way I hoped it would, but it's all uphill from here.

The weekend before Thanksgiving both my sisters and I took a trip to Seattle. We stayed at the W Hotel, went shopping and generally had a fantastic time. We also stopped by the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.

And we went to David's Bridal so I could try on awful wedding dresses. I had an idea of the kind of dress I wanted and was surprised to find that style of dress looked really horrible on me. And I was even more surprised to find a dress I really liked that was nothing like what I thought I was going to get. So I ended up buying the dress. Huh.

I met my future in-laws when Nico and I flew to Oklahoma to spend the holiday with his parents. He hadn't seen them in about three years so this was very special for him. They were very nice people and they showed us a lot of hospitality. I still don't feel that I know them very well but we seem to be off to a pretty good start.


These are my potted chile pepper plants, almost completely covered in snow. Olympia and Western Washington in general have gotten a lot of the white shit over the last week or so. The driving is awful, no one's prepared, there aren't enough plows to go around, and today even work was cancelled. I love it!

Look how covered these cars are! People have been snowed in! Nico and I spent most of today getting chains for my tires. We tried buying chains at a couple of different places but it seemed like everyone was out of the kind we'd need for my car. As we were leaving one place, though, the guy parked next to us asked us if we wanted to buy the chains he'd bought previously that were the wrong size for his tires. Well, they were the right size for my tires, so I got a set of chains for $25! We took them over to a tire place to have them installed and drove around enjoying our new-found traction. They really do seem to make a difference. This means I will have no trouble getting to work tomorrow. Um. Yay.


And finally I spent tonight making Christmas cookies. I had already made Nico's favorite, the Goddamn Blackened Elf Balls, and tonight I made my favorites. These are Krumkake, but I also made spritz and oatmeal-cranberry cookies. My family has these recipes for krumkake and spritz that we've used forever, but this year I couldn't find them so I used a couple of recipes I found on the internet. Well, the krumkake came out alright in the end, but the spritz? Let's just say I've learned a valuable lesson: No matter what the Food Network tells you, if your family has a recipe they've used forever, there's probably a good reason for it. The spritz didn't hold their shape once baked and they don't taste the same as I'm used to. I need to find the family recipes, because these just aren't good enough.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Banana Slug Sighting!

It's been rainy and cool for the last few days, so yesterday I decided I would go hiking in the rain and mist at McLane Creek to look for banana slugs. That park is just as beautiful in the rain as it is in the sun, and I actually didn't get that wet hiking in the trees.

I wandered off the trail at one point and almost stepped on this little guy.

And to show you how 'city' I am, when I first saw it I thought that someone had dropped their headphones. Heh. Nope. No headphones, just a naturally occurring amphibian. Then a few feet away from the salamander I saw my first banana slug!

Not the most strapping specimen, but still pretty cool. If it had been stretched out I would estimate it to be 3 - 4 inches long. The poor little thing is in some kind of defensive mode with its eyes pulled in. Here's another picture where it looks even more like a frightened, greenish penis:

After this I went back to the trail and obeyed all posted signs. I saw another salamander and, at the very end of the trail, another banana slug. Boy am I lucky! This one has those characteristic spotty-banana markings, too.

Jackpot, my friends. It's good to have that checked off the list. There were also a ton of cool-looking mushrooms, if you like that kind of thing...

And so my attempt to reprogram myself to the Pac NW made some significant progress this weekend. I have to admit that Nico and I are still recovering from living in Aberdeen. We were so used to being home-bodies there and keeping ourselves aloof that it is still an effort for either of us to get out of the house and do something, try something new. But we're working on it. Last night we stopped by Orca Books for the first time. I can't believe we waited so long to go in there. It was great! It made Oly feel just a tiny bit more like home. And then afterwards we went to Quality Burrito and I actually remembered to order my burrito without rice this time. (Rice in the burritos. That's something that deserves its own blog post; I don't want to get into it right now.)

And then there's the wedding planning, which must begin in actuality now. It will be around this time next year. I was worried that having it in early October wouldn't be the best idea because the leaves might not be pretty enough yet, but they are. So that will be good. And now we're beginning to look for an actual place in Oly to throw this shin-dig. There are a couple of possibilities in the works that we're planning to take a look at, but it seems like every place I find is possibly too small (we don't know how many people we'll have, how many will be able to travel from AZ/MN) or a little far away or maybe a little too expensive. We'll figure it out.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hot Sauce

Today I made all the chiles I picked earlier this week into a nice green hot sauce! And I found these great little 'woozy' bottles at the local homebrew store this morning.

Here was my recipe, of which I made 4 batches:

3 - 3.5 cups coarsely sliced fresh chiles
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves
2 tbsp salt
3/4 cup white vinegar
2 cups water
Boil these in a pot for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp oil
another 1/2 cup white vinegar
Either transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to liquefy. Mine turned out med - med. hot.


We Call Upon the Author

We went and saw Nick Cave in concert this week in Seattle. It was so, sooo good.

I've loved Nick Cave for, oh, 13 years now and I never really thought I'd get to see him. The show exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds did a great and energetic live show. They played a really great mix of old and new stuff which surprised me because it seems like when a band is touring to support a new album most of what they play comes off the new album.

I really can't say enough about what a good time I had. After it was over I got one of the sound guys to give me a copy of the set list, which I've scanned in below. They also did a 3-song encore which included "Get Ready for Love," but I can't quite remember what the other 2 songs were. Oh, and it's on the set list, but they didn't do "The Weeping Song," which is too bad because it would've been interesting to hear him do it with someone other than Blixa Bargeld (I love that man's name). Oh, and "We Call Upon the Author"? Really outstanding.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Picked a Pepper

Slugs have found my pepper plants, and since the weather is getting cooler anyway I decided it was time to act. Yesterday evening I picked all these off the four Mystery Pepper plants.

And just to give you an idea of the size of these things...

I also picked all the stubby little jalapenos off the two jalapeno plants, which the deer seem to love to graze on.

I haven't picked anything off the two cayenne plants, because it seems somehow wrong to pick those before they turn red. But seeing as how it's fall now and it never did get hot enough to really ripen anything, I might pick those tomorrow.

I'm planning on turning all these peppers into hot sauce tomorrow. Of course, it probably won't be all that 'hot.' I might save a few out and make some fresh salsa. We'll see.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do Yer Part, Matey!

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Here at the library we're celebratin'! ARRRRRRRR!! We've got candy, pirate books, and pirate cake. This be the best part o' me job.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pumpkin Brew Day

I love pumpkin beer. Really. I mean, I luuuurrrvve it. I look forward to the fall and the first pumpkin beer of the season. And when I lived in Tucson I could get as much of it as I wanted. I could just go down to Plaza Liquor, where they sell hundreds of different brews, by the bottle, and knock myself out. Literally.

But now I live in Washington, where all the liquor stores are state-owned and focus more on actual liquor than on beer and wine and where the grocery stores, even the better ones, just don't have the selection I crave. So far I have seen only two pumpkin beers for sale here: Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale (owned by Coors) and Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale (owned by Anheuser-Busch). The beer snob in me finds this simply unacceptable.

What to do, what to do?

Since I started learning how to brew this summer the obvious answer is to make my own damn pumpkin beer. So I am.

A warning: I have only just started learning how to brew. So far I have only made two beers, each from a kit, plus today's pumpkin ale. I found the recipe called Thunderstruck Pumpkin Ale, by Yuri Rage, here. Credit where it's due. Because I'm so new I am doing the extract rather than the all-grain version.

So how's it done?

Well, first you take 60 oz. pure pumpkin puree

and spread it out on a cookie sheet.

Then you bake it at 350 degrees for an hour.

I know, it looks pretty much the same, right? Notice the difference in color, though. Now that pumpkin is carmelized! While you're doing that you take your flavoring grains,

and put them in a mesh bag, which you steep in 155 degree water for about 45 minutes.

Once that's done you remove the grain bag and bring the pot to a boil, then you add the light malt extract

and the baked pumpkin and stir like crazy until it comes back to a boil, at which point you add your bittering hops

and start your timer.

After boiling for 50 minutes you add the Irish moss

which is apparently some kind of dried seaweed that helps to clarify the beer, and because of all that pumpkin puree this beer will need clarifying. Then you boil for 10 more minutes. Then you chill the mixture, which is called the wort. You can chill the wort any number of ways. I put the pot on ice and add enough cold filtered water to make 5 gallons. When the wort is chilled you strain it into the primary fermenter

aka Big White Bucket, add your yeast, seal it up, pop in the water-lock and wait. In two weeks I'll transfer it to a secondary fermenter, add the flavoring spices, and wait again. Two weeks after that I'll bottle it, and two weeks after that I'll taste it to see how it's doing. It will probably need to age a little bit more. And hopefully it won't suck. I think it'll be pretty good. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Viva McLane Creek

This afternoon Nico and I bottled some amber ale and then headed out to McLane Creek to wander around and amaze ourselves at how beautiful Washington can be. To former desert dwellers like ourselves, this kind of nature is mythic. It's hard to believe that places like this actually exist outside of movies and storybooks, much less exist in our general neighborhood. It sounds totally silly but the presence of trees, ferns, water, moss, etc., is more thrilling than the average northerner can imagine. I plan to explore these trails more thoroughly in the coming weeks, but for now here's some eye candy:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sarah Palin is in Yer Liberries, Banning Yer Books

I don't normally rant about politics on this blog, and I know I'm a little late on the uptake with this one, but I need to mention this because it's an issue so close to my professional life and my own personal beliefs. In case you haven't seen the New York Times article or the Time Magazine article, the big hairy deal is that when Sarah Palin first became mayor of Wasilla, AK, she tried to have some books banned. When the librarian stood up to her she either threatened the woman's job or did fire her and then reinstate her when it appeared she had gone too far.

Between bookstores and libraries I have over 8 years experience working with the reading public, and during that time I have heard more people than I can remember express incredulity that anyone still tries to ban books in this day and age, and disgust that they often get away with it. Yes folks, people in this country do still try to ban books. And Sarah Palin is one of them.

Folks, this is not OK. You do not ban books. You do not ban books from a public library. You do not ban books from a public library in a small town. Small towns often have no bookstores; if you ban a book in a small-town library you are completely denying access to that book for the people who use and need the library most: children, people without internet, people who don't have the money to just order the book online. This is just one more thing to add to the shit-heap that is the Republican campaign.

For more information on challenged and banned books, visit the website for the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sugar Glass and the Tooth Fairy

So last weekend was a long weekend for both Nico and I, and this is rare. We wanted to do something special. We thought we'd drive the Olympic Peninsula on Monday as a last summer hurrah and get it neatly crossed off the to-do list. But when I was telling a friend about the plan, she made a teensy tiny comment: "Oh, that's a lot of driving for one day." Hmm. It didn't make much of an impact at first, but it stuck with me and kept ringing in my ears until Sunday night, when I finally decided to Google the route and found out that it would be 8 - 10 hours. Of driving. Oh, and then the next day? I'd be getting my wisdom teeth out.

Yeah. Not so much.

So we decided to drive to Tacoma instead, which is only about half an hour away. We went to the Museum of Glass. It was pretty awesome. If you're not familiar with it, the Museum of Glass is this very cool but relatively small art museum devoted to (you catch on quick) glass. There's a cone-shaped room called the Hot Shop where you can watch glass artists actually making and working with the stuff, then there are a couple of galleries and a number of installments. Outside of the museum is the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which is like a gallery in and of itself. All of this has to do with the fact that Tacoma is Dale Chihuly's hometown.

Here's the Hot Shop as seen from across the bridge:

Here's part of the Seaform Pavilion on the bridge. These are actually looking up, at the ceiling:

And here are the Crystal Towers, which are not actually glass but are instead a synthetic (Polyvitro). They make me think of sugar crystals. If I remember correctly, actual glass would've been too heavy to achieve this:

And after that my camera crapped out, so that's all you get. No pics of the Venetian Wall or of anything inside the actual museum.

I had seen photographs of Chihuly's work before and even though I thought it was impressive I never had gotten too excited about it. I thought glass was, well, maybe just a little bit boring. Paintings I can get on board with, sculpture and photography? Sure! I just never thought that glass was that interesting. But I was wrong. I found myself pretty intensely fascinated the whole time, and it wasn't all about Chihuly either. A couple of the galleries were closed because they were in transition, but I'm looking forward to going back again. I would very much recommend this museum to anyone in the area or anyone who makes the trip out here. And if you're arriving by car? The best thing to do is get free parking at the Tacoma Dome and take the Link lightrail (also free) to University Station, walk across the Bridge of Glass and you're there. Beautiful.

And then on Tuesday I had my wisdom teeth out. They put me to sleep, which was pretty awesome. One minute they're putting the IV in the back of my hand, and the next minute I'm waking up in a dark recovery room with my mouth packed full of gauze and Nico at my side. I couldn't have asked for anything easier. Hopefully this will be my only medical adventure for the year. The oral surgeon as Tooth Fairy was easily a million times better than the podiatrist as Toe Butcher, which was last year's adventure. Eaaugh.

So, mostly all week I've just been hanging out on the couch and crunching down the Vicodin. Which I love. I finished knitting some cabled wristies for a friend in AZ:

I'm also working on a good wool garter-stitch scarf, because last winter convinced me that all those pretty, flimsy scarves that worked so well in an AZ winter? Not cutting it in the Pac NW. I have big plans for this scarf. Secret plans. Secret, secret scarfy plans. Shhh.

And I started a new sock last night. This is the Pumpkin Pie yarn I bought last fall. I want to be wearing these socks in plenty of time for pie season this year. So far it looks less like pie and more like Tigger. Oh well. I've got a good pie-like stitch pattern planned for the cuff.

And the last thing is that yesterday, I. Well. I sort of ... signed up for a sock club. Over at Cables & Lace. This was totally unplanned, because I'm supposed to be on a budget, dammit. A simple little moment of weakness. I blame the Vicodin.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Upside-Down Blue Monkey

That's the name of the new socks I just finished knitting this week:

That's Cookie A.'s Monkey worked toe-up with an eye of partridge heel. I did the foot on a half-size smaller needle than the pattern calls for, then switched to a larger needle after the ankle. The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill Supersock, colorway Tropical Storm. I'm pretty pleased with them, and they're a bit lighter than the other socks I've made so I can wear them in slightly warmer weather.

It's been a while since I mentioned my chile plants. Well, those that were eaten by beasts of the forest have recovered quite well. They are all flowering and they all have peppers growing. I had to pick 3 off one of the mystery plants because they have some spectacular blossom-end rot going on:

I've run into this once or twice before while growing peppers and tomatoes. It has something to do with the amount of moisture and calcium the plant is getting. Sad. Hopefully this won't be too big a problem. I'm really hoping to make some home-grown hot sauce this year.