Friday, November 30, 2007

Ding, Dong . . .

. . . the Witch is dead!

Okay, so maybe that's not the most appropriate way to celebrate the end of NaPoBloMo. How about "School's Out for Summer?" No, that's not right. Send in the right song title, okay? -- my brain is just not cranking.

Mind you, I have stuff to write -- I've promised to do the multi-part, double-romance story of how Hub 1.0 and I met, which leads inexorably to how Starman and I met. I also want to explain about the Two House Problem, a problem I no longer have, but am still qualified to discuss. And it comes with pictures!

It just seems like so much work. And that's no way to feel about a blog, right? I should be all energized and excited. But after 33 entries this month, I'm dragging. I'm going to take some time to recover before I get back to the long chatty posts...

I did promise one thing, and that's how to get new blog posts automatically. I believe (remember, I'm old and not as tech savvy as I should be!) that you do it by joining a private group called "Narrow-enders," which results in your getting any new post as an e-mail. No navigating required. When you sign up, it will ask me if you're an okay person to join the group, so there might be a slight delay before the system starts. But that way, you don't have to worry that I'll write something new & exciting after, say, a week off and you'll miss it.

Here's where to sign up.

Let me know if that doesn't work for you. Mind you, you're not required to do this. You can just navigate over to the blog as normal and see if anyone's at home. Posting may be spotty over the holidays, but I'm not planning on abandoning it entirely.

Well, this is it. I should have some magic words to finish the last post for November, a cool, insightful comment that so perfectly sums up the past month, or this point in my life, or what it means to write 30+ entries. . .

{cue the crickets}

Wow, this feels a bit like that awkward moment at the end of an all-day party, when you're leaving and not quite sure what's the right thing to say. So I guess I'll fall back on that classic sentiment:

"The dip was amazing -- don't forget to send me the recipe...!"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Runnin' On Empty

Okay, so today we're off to the Bridge Studio for our last EasyBridge (TM) session, comprised of (composed of? I always get those confused) several boards that Mary's set up to illustrate -- and make us actually use -- the techniques and conventions we've learned. I should have studied for this but I've been busy with . . .

What? Starman's just come in to tell me that breakfast is ready. Gotta go!

[Seriously -- I got nothing for you, people. Read the title.]

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday Shopping

When I finish this, I have to go to the Amazon website and shop for myself. This should be a giddy thing, all abuzz with promise and excitement. I dunno -- I may not be in the mood for the holiday. I'm not entirely sure I'm ready for December.

Mind you, I love to shop. I have the shopping gene. I have the gift giving gene. I even have a color gene that allows me to match the item I'm holding in a store with colors in a house a thousand miles away. But for some reason, the excitement isn't there this year. Yet.

We had guests over Sunday night, and while it was still daylight, we took them up the road to see our acreage. We were blocking the road when our neighbors, G & G, came down their driveway and started toward us. They were off to do Christmas shopping. I flinched at the thought, and then flinched to notice myself flinch. But I like shopping, I thought.

And it's not like I haven't already started. I've got a half-dozen gifts for Starman already, three gifts for Hub 1.0, and even a present for Coffee Jones. Starman has two nieces and two nephews we're buying for this year (the adults in that family lack the shopping gene, I gather, so they've agreed to skip the adult-to-adult presents and just concentrate on the kids), and we have almost all the presents for them we need. And Starman already has all the presents for me he needs (he says). All that remains is for me to transfer my wish-list over to him.

So, off to shop for quilting books!

But before I go, I promised to recreate the post that Google gobbled on Monday. Basically it boiled down to two things: Make this recipe (unless you hate mushrooms), and read this blog. The blog is the more heartfelt recommendation; it's written by someone I don't know (his dad was one of our dinner guests on Sunday evening), and it's great fun. I started at the beginning , so that's what I've linked you to, and just read forward. There are only ten months' worth of entries, so it's not a life-long commitment. And if I tell you it's educational, you won't want to read it. So I won't. I'll tell you instead it's got funny lyrics about a translator named Farhad, set to the tune of "Rawhide." Can't miss that, can you?

And if the wild mushroom bread pudding doesn't appeal (because it's not healthy enough?), try this recipe for strawberries in wine. We had it over mango ice cream, and it was super yummy. Relatively healthy, even with the ice cream.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

No White Mittens Here!

Deer season opened here yesterday, and runs through December 8. At least, I think that's right -- I don't hunt, so I don't keep careful track. Still, when I drove to the county seat, Montrose, this morning, I must have passed a dozen SUVs and pickups, either parked with fluorescent orange men inside or nearby, or driving away from or back to a favored blind. No deer draped over the hood, though.

Yesterday, Starman and I saw a buck standing across our little dirt road, nibbling on the weeds. He must have been within forty feet of our bedroom window. The photos taken from inside the house were a bit murky, so Starman went outside to get a better shot, and was well up on the driveway before Buck decided this could be deleterious to his health and bounded off. That was a bit brazen, in my book.

Now, eating the weeds is to be encouraged, but when they start eating my lilac bushes, I am more concerned. So, on balance, I accommodate the deer but I don't romanticize them. I accept the rationales, both practical and vain, for hunting. The principal reason our land is marked as a "wildlife refuge" and therefore off limits to hunters is that I don't want to get shot.

You think, "Oh, don't be silly! Remember, Magdalen, I know what you look like -- and you ain't no deer!" But there was a famous case in Maine of a woman killed in her back yard because she was wearing white mittens. Read about the case, and think about the implications: In a state with a proud history of outdoorsmanship, a hunter shoots a woman who is outside of her own home -- a home he must have driven past to get to where he was hunting -- and he gets off without sanction because it was her fault for not wearing orange flash. Just precisely as if your own property is not safe, in fact is no different than being in woods marked for hunting.

I don't own white mittens, but I also don't own any orange safety gear. And while we have a large bit of property, so in theory I'm safe in my own backyard because it's surrounded by another 12 acres of woods, I assume hunters will wander in the woods regardless of property lines and posted No Hunting signs. And I assume they will make mistakes, shoot at nonexistent deer, and hit goodness knows what. Like me.

Our bit of Pennsylvania is just as proud of its hunting traditions as Maine is. I have no doubt that the average hunter hereabouts is as decent a citizen as was the man who killed Karen Wood. Certainly, the hunters I have met seem quite pleasant, if occasionally arrogant. They feel entitled to hunt; you can well imagine some biological advantage to the retention of the hunter/gatherer gene.

Under the circumstances, therefore, I get a little bit cautious this time of year. No long walks in the woods for me today! And I actually think about the bright spring green of my jacket -- it's not orange, but it is quite eye-catching. And I'm pretty sure it's a color the local deer wouldn't be caught dead in this season...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Google Ate My Blog Post

I had drafted a lovely long (I lie -- it was four paragraphs -- short by my standards) blog, and somehow "autosave" didn't work, and when I posted it, it didn't post, and there was only the merest scrap saved by Google.

You know what: It's a sign. I'm going to skip today, and tomorrow I'll write everything I wrote today and it will be BETTER!

You'll see -- you're going to be better off this way. And I'm going to go back to bed...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Default Settings

[N.B. We're in the home stretch on this blogging-every-day nonsense! I don't know who will be more relieved to be released from the unrelenting daily bondage: you or me. I literally know only one person who can stand me every single day with no time off for good behavior, and even HE complains that the blog doesn't offer him anything I haven't already told him in person! So we'll all celebrate December 1 for the start of our advent calendars and the end of daily Narrow End rambles!]

I've been thinking recently about the concept of the default setting -- you know, the set-up the computer goes back to when you reboot, for example. Only, I think we do this in real life. I'm talking about assumptions we make about people that are based not so much on current information as on old, old experiences. We react to the current-day situations as though people today are the same as people were when we were much younger.

This may make more sense with an example. I'm the youngest in my family. Ours was another unhappy-in-its-own-way family. Nothing new there. We played a lot of zero sum head games when I was a child, and as the youngest I often lost. One was that if there was any praise or appreciation going, it was a limited amount and couldn't be shared. (I don't even have to say how absurd this is -- the more honest compliments we pay people, the more there are for everyone to share. But remember: we're in Unhappy Family land here!)

I've noticed my siblings saying something nice about a third person who isn't present but fail to tell that person the compliment when the chance arises, not with any conscious intent to withhold the compliment from the third party, but just because. Because, I assume, that's the default setting: You don't tell something nice to someone directly. You just don't.

Now, as the youngest, I most wanted to impress my sibs, so I would try harder. And -- you guessed it! -- the harder I tried, the less response I would get.

Here's a quick anecdote, intended to show how deeply ingrained these lessons run. When my brother (I'll call him Tim) was 11 or 12, he got bored one day and took a copy of The New Yorker magazine and added up all the dollar figures in it. The circulation information, the ad copy, the price on the cover -- he came up with a total figure. He then wrote to the magazine informing them what the total was. They, naturally, were charmed, and used Tim for an ad campaign targeted to advertising executives. This required Tim to go to NYC for a photo shoot; he stayed at our dad's apartment, but got a fancy dinner at The Four Seasons restaurant. Pretty cool, hunh?

When Tim's next birthday rolled around, I asked him what sort of birthday cake he wanted. He announced, in that snotty way that older brothers sometimes use, that his favorite cake was the chocolate cake served at The Four Seasons, "and you can't make it!" Stung, I remembered this encounter for years, and when a chance came, and the New York Times ran the recipe for The Four Season's signature chocolate cake, I surprised him by making it for his birthday. You know how this story ends: he had NO recollection of the story I'd nursed in my heart! Oh, and the cake was just okay.

The point is -- no one made enough of a fuss over what Tim had done. I mean, really -- that's a great story, right? We should all have celebrated it, and him, in a big way. And they should have enjoyed my ability to bake, and we should have praised my sister's ability to sew, and so forth. I was not the only victim here, that's for sure!

Well, most of the people I know today don't play a zero sum game with their compliments, hoarding them all for themselves. Most people are more casual with that commodity. But I still assume people are like my family -- purposefully withholding their appreciation. And I continue to try too hard to impress them.

I made a vow recently to try a lot less hard to earn people's praise. In effect, to bring the volume down. And to stop assuming that everyone is critical until and unless they say something nice to me. That's important, because I get it that I don't come across as someone so wildly insecure that they need a steady IV of compliments. If anything, I probably come across as thinking very well of myself already!

I keep noticing my own default settings. At Thanksgiving dinner, Nina praised Hub 1.0's red cabbage, and I felt that age-old pang of hurt. Was none of the things I'd made good enough? Of course I know I was being irrational. She was encouraging Hub 1.0's novice efforts at cooking. And I know she knows that I know I'm a good & experienced cook. Plus, I'm sure she complimented me and I just didn't hear those comments as acutely. I'm clearly set up to hear praise directed to others as praise withheld from me.

I don't have this all worked out; in particularly, I don't know how to reset the default to something healthier. I'll let you know when I do. For right now, I'm just trying to keep my knee-jerk reactions from kicking other people too hard!

[It occurs to me that my preamble, read in light of this blog entry, now looks a bit sour, as though I'm certain everyone hates my blog, etc., etc. I didn't mean it that way. I really meant it just as I wrote it -- as a self-deprecating acknowledgment that even a good thing loses its appeal if you have it all the time. I'll continue to post to this blog after November ends, just not every day. But if you WANT to encourage me, I won't say no!]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Menu (Keepin' Up With the Joneses)

Having just read Coffee Jones's blog's Thanksgiving menu (with links to recipes), I gotta get in the game. Our company was much smaller: me, my ex- and current-husband, and our lovely neighbors, Nina & Rudy. She's Swedish, meaning the Europeans outnumbered the Americans 3-2, but there's a nice quality to Thanksgiving that is universal: Be grateful. And full.

Here, then, is what we made:

Crab Canapes with Cumin. These are lovely, and can actually be done in a low-fat, no-guilt version. (Really the only difference with the way I did them was I used full-fat sour cream and didn't worry about the amount of olive oil I used.) Unfortunately, I had forgotten that Starman has an issue with shellfish (could be rational, i.e., he is allergic, or irrational, i.e., he had it once and got sick so decided Never Again, but the bottom line is he doesn't do shellfish) and that Nina has gout, for which shellfish is verboten (along with chocolate, whole wheat, and legumes). Oh, well, more for Hub 1.0 and me!

Apricot-Glazed Turkey with Onion & Shallot Gravy. Very tasty, even if I over-cooked it (note to self: trust the recipe to know what it's talking about!) It's fussy, true enough, but when you taste that gravy (easiest in the world to make -- just take all the yummy onion goop in the bottom of the pan, skim off all the fat, then run the solids through the blender and heat), you'll be a convert. I wouldn't make another turkey recipe without a gun to my head.

New England Sausage, Apple & Dried Cranberry Stuffing. Also fussy. (Sorry, I just do fussy. Not newly-nuked-sweet potato-and-marshmallow fussy -- can't keep up with Coffee on that one! -- but yeah, I do fussy. Only if it's yummy, mind!) But surprisingly un-stodgy. The bread-to-veggies & fruit ratio on this one is not that bad, so if all your kids eat is stuffing - - ?

Red Cabbage with Apricots and Balsamic Vinegar. I don't recall why this is in our Thanksgiving repertoire, but it is. Luckily, as I've not been at my best this week, I had Hub 1.0 acting as sous-chef, and he literally made the entire thing from start to finish. And it's really good. (Even better when someone else has made it!)

Cranberry, Shallot & Cherry Compote. Are you getting the trend here? I cook with fruit. I like it, I like the juxtaposition of sweet fruitiness next to the richness of the gravy. Like the red cabbage, this has a sweet & sour quality from some wine & vinegar used to cook the cherries and shallots before the cranberries are added. It's principal merit is as a topping to the Perfect Turkey Leftover Sandwich!

Sweet Potato Puree with Brown Sugar and Sherry. Okay, so everything else was very yummy, but this is sublime. Food-of-the-gods good. But here's a tip: The recipe is unnecessarily fussy about timing. Roast the potatoes well in advance and leave them someplace to cool. They mix up in the mixer just fine at room temperature, and the whole thing reheats pretty easily on a low temp. What Coffee Jones's dad would have called "a bead of flame." Of course, these days we've all got fancy solid surface cooktops, but still....

We didn't get to the Green Beans with Roasted Onions. In fact, due to the fact the turkey finished early, we didn't even do the green beans just as a veg. Oh well, maybe next year...

For dessert, just one pie: Apple Pie with Walnut Streusel. I need a bigger pie pan for it, but it worked well, and I would definitely make it again. Served with vanilla ice cream.

Our house has a miniature version of today's McMansion great rooms: the kitchen is part of a larger room with the wood stove and comfy chairs. (In 1800, it was called the Keeping Room.) So our guests were able to chat with us even as we got the last recipes underway. That stage flowed into the dining room for the meal and good conversation, then dessert and more conversation, then just conversation. We're very lucky to Nina & Rudy next door. They leave in a month for their annual Skiing Sojourn: three months in Bozeman, Montana. I always regret their departure, and mark spring with their return.

One last note, and it's a serious one: I've taken a certain amount of flak from people -- loving, concerned people who can't be blamed for making normal assumptions -- about the divorce. Well, I wish they could have seen how hard Hub 1.0 worked on this dinner. He was my prep chef for many of the recipes, and my sous-chef on the cabbage and the canapes. (Literally -- I would swoop in and correct the seasoning. Pure Top Chef!) Then, yesterday, as I was still recovering from the cold and post-Thanksgiving and Starman was doing his four hours of coding, Hub 1.0 got all energetic and stripped down and recoated a butcher block counter with food-grade wood oil. Just because he felt like it.

Well, we just don't do normal here. Hub 1.0 is happy with his life in Philly, Starman is happy (enough) to have Hub 1.0 visit, and I'm so grateful -- sure, for the help in the kitchen, but also to have someone I know and love as much as Hub 1.0 be on good terms with us.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Last Quilt Post (For a While, at Least)

Here are the little Jones, Beanette & Bean, holding the quilts I made them. These pictures were taken in natural light -- the Jones' house has lots of that! -- so you can see the colors better.

Remember, those were the first two quilts I made. And now for something completely different: Here's my most recent quilting effort:

The pattern comes from a wonderful book, One-Block Wonders, by Maxine Rosenthal. Others have used this technique of lining up six or eight repeats of fabric to make identical triangles that fit together into kaleidoscopic polygons, but Maxine had the wit to arrange the resulting blocks into swirling, impressionistic watercolors.

I saw one of the resulting quilts at a local quilt shop and fell in love. I now have enough yard goods to make several of this style of quilt, but of course I had to start with a cheap dog end of fabric from my local box store. It was a stylized hibiscus print; it wouldn't have looked odd as a Hawaiian shirt. And this is what you get after you've stirred it up!

Coffee Jones famously loves blue & white, so I figured she'd accept the result. In fact, she has a tie-dyed T-shirt that has precisely these colors on it, so I knew I was pretty safe. Providentially, she was wearing that shirt when I handed this over to her in August.

Here's the close-up of the quilt, showing several hexagons. You can't even tell, but I did a large, all-over meander for the quilting.

And until I finish the quilt currently in progress, that's all you'll see of my quilting...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


One aspect of NaPoBloMo (I think that's what they're calling this thing of having everyone swear they'll blog every day in November) is that I don't get Turkey Day off. That's okay, though, because I'm going to practice my list of Things I'm Thankful For, so when it gets around to me at the dinner table, I won't forget anything.

  • Starman. Kinda obvious, but then thanks often are obvious. He's so wonderful, and I already knew from wonderful in the husband realm. But without taking anything away from Hub 1.0 (see below), Starman has challenged my fundamental thinking about what I deserve in a relationship. He thinks I'm awesome. You may know different, but you have to admit, it's really cool that he doesn't!

  • Hub 1.0. He's even better as an ex-husband because he's grown so much since when we were married. He sent me a picture of his new gas fireplace in the living room of a house I bought in 1998 for $92,000. It's so beautiful (the fireplace, and by extension, the house) that I actually started to cry. He did that! He's transforming that house. I'm so proud of him, I could burst. Divorce has truly agreed with him.

  • Coffee Jones. For being my Person, and my Crone of Honor, and for keeping me honest. We've come a long way, over a long time. No matter how rocky it's been, and no matter what challenges remain, I appreciate it when she calls to ask, "Is Chip there?"

  • All my blog readers! I love knowing that someone's reading these ramblings. Keep hanging in there!

  • All our friends here in the Endless Mountains, down in Philly, back in England, and various other spots.

  • Harmony. One of the reasons Hub 1.0 and I were able to accomplish a divorce with the minimum of bloodshed is that we had two houses, and he wanted one and Starman & I wanted the other. I'll write about the two-house problem another time, but here's one instance where it really worked well. It's meant that Starman and I had a place, a home ready made for us, here in the States. And it's such a lovely home, with traces of previous occupants and lots of my taste, but all against a backdrop that is pure 1800. It's a house of peace; even the angriest person I know was calmed when she entered it. Plus, you can't beat the wildlife. This morning, we looked out the window and saw 27 turkeys walking across our south meadow. That puts the "turkey" into Turkey Day, that's for sure!

  • The Bridge Studio. Starman and I love Mary and Harry at the Bridge Studio so much it's a little odd. They've made bridge fun for both of us, despite considerable odds. (Here's a quick example: Take the game you most love to play -- Monopoly, gin rummy, whatever -- and imagine playing it in a tournament setting against way better players, all the while following really really strict rules. Suddenly, not so fun, right? I understand why this is, but it's hard.) Mary, in particular, is absolutely lovely.

  • Starman's family. A nicer set of in-laws, I couldn't imagine.

  • Music, TV, opera, movies, books, magazines. And the time to enjoy them!

So there you have it. If you are reading this, I thank you.

Uh, okay, on to something else

I was going to post the last pictures of quilts for a while (we did take the photos while we were at Coffee Jones' place last week) but Google's server isn't cooperating with the uploading of photos.

This is too bad, because I really don't have anything else to talk about. I've got a nasty cold, the kind that makes you feel ver-r-ry sle-e-epy, and yet we have a massive shopping day ahead of us. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving -- you might have heard this somewhere already -- and we're hosting Hub 1.0 for the weekend, and our lovely neighbors, Nina & Rudy, for the turkey meal. I like entertaining. I really do. I'm just sorry I'm not feeling 100% for the event.

Still, Hub 1.0 claims now to have some cooking skills, so maybe I'll draft him as sous-chef for the event.

Have a lovely holiday everyone, and if you live in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, or celebrates it on another day, well, then you have some specific reasons to be thankful, like Dick Cheney.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It snowed at Harmony on Sunday night. We were prepared for this, meaning we put both cars into the barn to minimize car clean-up the next day. The snow has already melted, so we're back to looking grassy and between-seasons, but it is pretty with all the snow, right?

This is what you would see if you drove up to see us on a snowy day. The building on the right is the barn, located closer to our road than the house, but still a few hundred feet away. I know the house looks grey here, but it's actually a very pretty blue -- the color of the sheen on freshly picked blueberries!

These are the woods to the west. We have 24 acres: 12 is meadowlands, 12 is forested. Hence having trees to fell for firewood!

This is the view you get walking back from the barn.

Pretty hunh? Starman and I had a discussion recently about city living vs. suburban living vs. rural living. I grew up in old houses in small cities; Starman lived exclusively in British suburbs. We seem to like rural living, which is a nice compromise for both of us, but when we look ahead to our elder years (yeah, I know -- decades away, but we both have the planning gene, so the topic is as real to us as if we were in our 70s...), we don't agree. Starman just assumes that we'll move to a suburban community near Binghamton. I agree about Binghamton, but disagree about the suburbs. This isn't even a point of contention between us, because we are rational enough to see that this isn't a problem to solve for now. But I think it's good to explore embedded assumptions now rather than later.

Incidentally, check out the comments to my Games Day Roundup post. Someone has an automatic search engine checking blogs for mention of that specific game title. Which is fair, but it does make me itch to find a way to fit the specific name into random blog entries just so poor Dominic has to come check it out. I know, I know -- as Hub 1.0 would say, "Is that kind?" and of course it's not, but it is tempting....

Monday, November 19, 2007

Games Day Roundup

Yesterday, Starman and I joined an established group of dedicated gamers who meet monthly to play the latest games, or just old favorites. (In this case, gaming seems to be anything you need several people to play. No money involved, of course, and really it was all quite social.)

Starman's and my rebuses started off the event. Apart from the group's not knowing who Tina Brown and Kate Moss are, the rebuses seemed to do well as an ice breaker. Someone had brought Bang!, a card game that Starman and I have played with his niece & nephew in England. The rules are very complicated, though, and there's no good way (that I know of!) to cut them short and get playing. Later, we saw that these people take their rules very seriously, and seem to understand that you can't "just get started" with any new game.

Also on the agenda was supper (cooked for a motley crew indeed -- we had someone who couldn't eat gluten, yeast or dairy, someone who won't eat vegetables, someone who's not doing sugar, and a bunch of omnivores) and the script of a dinner theater murder mystery production our host had been in. I played Mama Scarpelli, the cleaver-wielding cook who held the purse strings. Starman played Lawrence "Larry" Lombardo, the band leader -- and was very good! When he died spouting every hepcat cliche about "buying the farm," etc., it was quite funny. As he had previously identified public performance as the scariest thing he could imagine actually doing, he was very brave even to volunteer. (I asked him about this on the way home, and he said that he hadn't realized what he was volunteering for.)

In addition to the murder mystery, we played Colisseum, a game for would-be Roman impressarios, Bang!, and a trivia/gambling game called Wits & Wagers. The way that one works is, everyone has a miniature white board onto which they write their estimate of the right answer. Answers are always numerical -- dates, speeds, weights, etc. -- and usually involve some sort of guessing. Everyone's guesstimates are then turned up and sorted from largest to smallest. The winning answer is the closest without going over. (Example: What was the average annual salary of people working in the metropolitan New York City area in January 2005? I guessed $48,000; the answer was something like $51,000, and the next highest guess was $72,000, so my guess was good.) But the fun starts when you have to bid on which guess you think is right -- using poker chips and a green baize betting cloth. We had seven people (the max allowed), so the middle of the seven guesses pays off at 1:1; the two on either side of the middle at 2:1, and so forth.

Of course, there are aways going to be some questions to which someone knows the right answer. Everyone assumed that Starman, being British, would know things like the year the Chunnel was opened, and how wide the English Channel is at its narrowest point. Hah! I (alone) know how bad his memory is. And with a table full of card players (the two non-bridge players had already left by that time), when the question was the number of different poker hands you can make with a 52-card deck, the game's M.C. had to caution us that she wasn't taking any back talk on that one! I jokingly suggested that it was a good thing the game didn't expect us to show all work, the way math exams used to -- half the company would be off scribbling equations involving exclamation points, like 5!, for factorials. I just guessed. (The answer is 2.5 million.) Similarly, when the question was the speed of sound at sea level in miles per hour, at least two people were trying to calculate in their heads from feet per second to miles per hour. I just guessed. Hey, I'd already warned them I had been a philosophy major in college! (I knew two things precisely: the number of Jack Nicklaus's major championships [18] and the year The Wizard of Oz was released [1939]. I wasn't the only one, either.)

All in all, a wonderful fun day. Starman and I hope to be invited back!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Games Day Rebuses

I've just tried -- not terribly hard, but tried -- to copy over some of the rebuses that Starman and I did for the Games Day we're going to this morning. The pictures ones didn't work, and knowing how hard it is to compose a blog entry with a single picture followed by text, I wasn't going to spend all morning struggling with two pictures, side by side.

[Here's the Who's buried in Grant's Tomb? version -- imagine a picture of a tiger followed by a picture of some trees, like outside someplace away from buildings and roads. Geddit? Okay. That's what you're missing, although some of them got harder. Email me if you want the full document.]

Here are some of the plain text ones. Good luck; Starman did these, and some of them are hard:





















A. A. R. O. N.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hey, You!

Yeah, you. You've been reading this blog now for a while. I've held up my end of the bargain, right? A new entry (at least) every day this month.

Well, it's time to pay your dues.

I've got a mock up of my new business card in front of me. This is for Starman's software business, which really is his business. (If you didn't know, he develops and maintains software products that help people construct and solve cryptic crossword puzzles.) I don't have a lot to do for the company, except occasionally handling customer concerns that aren't so technical that only Starman can deal with them. I don't do the books. I don't even wash the bottles. So, the question is:

What's my job title?

Here are some options: I can be a Vice President -- everyone knew until recently that vice presidents don't do anything important. (Based on the current occupants of the White House, Starman would be the "Vice President" and I would be the "President," but we 're looking for something that will work for us even past 2008.)

I can be "Customer Liaison" -- that's the closest we've come to my actual role. I can't be "Customer Service" because of all the technical stuff that I wouldn't be qualified to handle.

I had wanted "Simultaneous British- to American-English Translator," but Starman thinks that's too long for the space provided.

"Ombudsman" -- that's a possibility. It's the kind of word people have to look up -- which they could do using Starman's software. (To be fair, you wouldn't get a definition, although you would learn that you could clue it as "One who investigates complaints from crazy nomad bums.")

Well, I suppose I could just put "Crazy Nomad Bums" in the space for a job title. Then people would have to buy the software to find out what I did! (Starman could be Wild Dense Trip.)

But the one thing I know for sure -- one (or more) of you can come up with something better. So, help a poor blogger out! Submit a comment with your thoughts on my job title for this business card. I hope to get some new options, but at least opine on the best of my ideas here. And, by all means respond with votes for other reader's ideas. This is not an election I need to win!

After all, I already have a job. I just don't know what it is...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sleep Deprivation

Starman and I drove last night to Harrisburg (about 160 miles away on I-81) for a Marc Cohn concert. (He's the "Walking in Memphis" guy.) I've been listening to his music since before law school, which sounds like a long time -- hell, it is a long time -- but is only four albums' worth. As his long-time guitarist in the band reminded him, the Beatles' entire career was shorter than the gap between Marc's third and fourth CDs.

He famously had writer's block until the summer of 2005 when two things happened: he got shot in the head, and Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Mind you, he'd also had two kids by his first wife, then got divorced, got remarried, had two more kids, and still toured. Which is a lot, as any of you with kids will know. (I don't know this from first hand experience, but word gets around.)

Still, the creative experience is less about choice and so much more about necessity. And somehow after being shot he needed to write again. The songs on his newest CD, which he released just last month, deal with the question of what you do when you're given more time, as well as more of his typically autobiographical material. It was neat to have him explain what certain songs meant, but I really think most of his lyrics are self-explanatory with repeated hearings.

The concert was in a medium theater space in a small city, and Starman and I ended up in the very front row, in temporary seating on a platform over the orchestra pit. I can count on one hand the concerts I've been to (2 Joe Jacksons, 1 Indigo Girls, 1 Billy Joel & Elton John, 1 Alison Krauss & the Union Station, and now 1 Marc Cohn -- okay, so it's an unusual hand, but still...); I'm not fanatic about seeing/hearing in person my favorite performers, but I concede it's a different way to experience the music.

What was clear, though, was the contrast with the previous evening when we went to the Philadelphia Opera Company's performance of Hansel & Gretel. It's a lovely opera, particularly with the Maurice Sendak sets and costumes, but as we'll be seeing the Met production in high-def simulcast, I question the per-dollar utility of that trip and that live performance. Whereas, I think seeing Marc Cohn in concert was excellent value.

The real cost for these live performances is the increased sleep debt. Both times we got home around 1 a.m. and had to get up at 7 a.m. for bridge class. That wears thin after a while, and at our age. So I think I'll leave the more in-depth thoughts about the power of music and the nature of our aesthetic choices for another blog entry.

Instead, I'm going for a nap!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another short one

The opera was delightful, and we found parking pretty easily even if expensively. I mention the parking because I got the following email from Hub 1.0:

"I hope you {enjoyed / are enjoying} (depending on how long it {is / was}) the opera, but please tell the opera company your telephone number has changed. I do *not* need their canned lecture on the difficulties of finding parking in a hurry when several shows have 7:30 start times. :-)"

Fair enough, Hub -- I'll see if we can get that fixed!

Oh, and another item from the wit & wisdom of Hub 1.0:

"The world is divided into 10 types: Those who understand binary and those who don't."

See? I have a great ex-husband! And, as my current husband is making me breakfast, I count myself as very lucky.

Which reminds me -- check out this book: Porn For Women. Coffee Jones and I found it at the chichi gift store in Newburyport, and loved it. One favorite: "The NFL Playoffs are today. I bet we'll have no problem finding parking at the craft fair!" Coffee J.'s favorite showed a man at the ironing board saying, "Breakfast is on the table; I'll have your outfit done in five minutes."

Speaking of which, I suspect my breakfast is on the table now. Eat your hearts out, ladies!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not so much (today)

I'm waiting for a call to say if I have to go to this afternoon's Election Board meeting in the county courthouse. I can justify not working on the motions for the lawsuit because, technically, there are still settlement negotiations going on. Starman is finishing up the bucking (i.e., cutting into lengths) of the tree we felled yesterday and says he doesn't need me, on the tractor, to haul the resulting logs back to the barn. I didn't have the meeting last night with the brilliant genius designer, but we talked on the phone and have exchanged e-mails about a design concept, and he's amazing, so I'm relaxed and happy about that. I've even (finally) watched last week's episode of Grey's Anatomy!

So, as long as I don't take hours to compose and post this blog entry, I should have time to sew! Which actually starts with a general organization session in my office/workspace, tidying away the bits I have for the next two quilts into a wonderful tote that Coffee J. gave me over the weekend. Also, I have stash to put away. I've always been a clean-before-working type, not a clean-after-working type. And you know what they say: The world is split into two types of people -- those who split the world into two types, and those who don't.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Full Plate Special

Someone somewhere -- the Bridge Studio, maybe -- made the point about retirement resulting in boredom. You know -- the pleasingly active person retires and sinks without a trace into the Morass of Too Much Time On Their Hands, a sucky swamp already littered with the bodies of late middle aged folk and the "young elderly." All I can say is, I don't know anyone even remotely like that. My eightysomething aunt volunteers daily at the ACLU, and even applied for the paid position! Our seventysomething neighbors don't work outside the home, but they also volunteer, garden, entertain, and drive every year to Bozeman, Montana for three months of skiing.

Even this early in retirement, Starman and I have way too much to do, and we keep finding more. Here's this week, which was supposed to be the gateway to a less busy time:

Yesterday, we got up at 5 a.m. to drive from Lexington to Binghamton in time for an appointment at 11 a.m. Home for lunch, a brief rest, then we took the new car to the garage for its inspection. Some computer time, a simple supper, some TV, then to bed.

Today, Starman is off at the literacy center qualifying to volunteer, while I'm blogging, then lunch, then I see my literacy tutoree this afternoon. Starman has yoga this evening, and I will meet up with the designer to discuss my wedding dress. (Writing that reminded me to call him to confirm, which further reminded me to email the lawyer information she needs to do the wills and such documents. ) We may try to fit some tree cutting in this afternoon...

Tomorrow, I've been asked to attend the election board meeting in Montrose, which we can do provided we show up dressed for the opera and leave promptly; our tickets are for 7:30 in Philly.

Thursday, we have bridge, I have a telephone conference call in the afternoon, and we have concert tickets in Harrisburg for the evening.

Friday morning, we have bridge class in the morning and the weekly Listener Crossword to do in the evening.

Saturday, we have a charity dinner thing to go to.

Sunday, we have an all-day games event to attend. We're really excited about that!

Interspersed with all that I need to do some work on my lawsuit, Starman needs to continue work on a new release of one of his software products, I have a quilt to finish, we've got some stuff to do for the games day, and there's Thanksgiving to prepare for. And that's all on top of the usual things we do daily, like blogging and bridge practice. Plus I really must find time to exercise!

I've told people, and it's the truth: I go to bed every single day wishing there were three more hours to the day. When would I have time for a job??

Monday, November 12, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Occasionally, I do a weekend roundup for Coffee Jones (or she does one for me). We have such completely different lives: she's got two school-aged kids in a major metropolitan area, a full-time working husband, and her mother living with her. I'm childless, both Starman and I are pretty close to retired, and we live alone in a very rural part of Pennsylvania. Her weekends might involve a play date for one or both of the kids; mine might involve solving a cryptic crossword puzzle or two!

But, as we spent the weekend with the Joneses (mostly keeping up with them), I'll do the weekend roundup for you. There was family bridge (rubber bridge played with no goal other than having fun), computer bridge practice, some TV, some games with the kids, some games with the Joneses, and lots and lots of yummy food. Oh, and what's becoming almost an annual tradition: a trip to Newburyport, Massachusetts for Coffee J., Starman and me. This is a lovely seaport town that's good nice quirky shops and restaurants, an antiques mall called Oldies, and wonderful New England architecture.

Last year, the trip to Newburyport involved a conversation that changed CJ's life for the better; given how hard change can be, even for the better, this year we kept the topics real light! We got some good shopping done: the independent stationery shop had everything 50% off, so I was able to get absurdly overpriced Vera Wang place cards for the wedding reception, and something I think will do for wedding invitations, and a book by Angela Lansbury (?) on giving wedding toasts and speeches. Hey, at half-price, everything was only a little exorbitant!

We also bought a table at Oldie's for the Morning Room here (so called because its windows face east and south; in the afternoon, its robin's egg color scheme looks a bit cold and uninviting, but in the morning it's yummy). The Oldies table is handmade and pleasantly rustic -- it has a single slab of wood for the top (which isn't big -- maybe 18" x 24" ?) with nice breadboard edges. The table it replaced was bigger, but literally made of pressed cardboard; one corner of the top had started to delaminate to the point that you could strum the layers like a deck of playing cards! Hub 1.0 and I had bought it and two other tables for $15 from a sidewalk display in Philadelphia; they were to augment the meagre furnishings at my niece's college dorm suite. When she and her roommate graduated, two of the three pieces came back to us. We have been able to give one back, but the cardboard table mysteriously stayed here...

The interesting thing about this shopping experience was the negotiation between Starman and me about the table. I saw a beautiful rustic piece that's perfect for a 200+ year-old house. To me, the only drawback was the large knot on the table's surface. To Starman, the table lacked a cross-brace and therefore was potentially rickety. If it had to do anything other than hold magazines and a cup of tea, I'd worry, but it doesn't. Luckily, CJ was there to have an independent opinion. Clearly, she voted in favor of getting it, and her vote persuaded Starman. I'd have been fine if she'd persuaded me that it wasn't so special. I wasn't in love with it; I just liked it. And now that it's in place, I think Starman likes it too.

The thing I did regret not buying was an odd metal hoop, about four feet in diameter, that had two sturdy cross bars at the bottom to serve as feet. At the top of the hoop was a dangling hook, as if for a gong or bell or something. The hoop and its feet were painted fire engine red; the result was vaguely Asian. It would have looked great at CJ's house, which is mid-20th century modern. But we spotted it at the end of the tour of Oldies, and anyway, aesthetic touches like that are low down on the list of must-haves for that house, I gather. I had a teeny pang, though, when we got back to the house and I thought how perfect the red hoop would be just to the right of the door, where there's a bare stretch of wall and porch.

That observation may have been moot for CJ, whose purchase of powder blue Wellies (i.e., quintessential rain boots for the English garden/hunting/walking set) for the wedding was enough to put her in a VERY good mood for the rest of the evening. Color coordinated Wellies aren't a foreign concept at British weddings, we've learned. If everyone has appropriately rain-proof footgear, who cares if it rains? And, as CJ pointed out, having bought hers already, it won't rain for our April wedding! Now, I just have to find some in my size...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday breakfast

I've offered to make the pancakes for the Jones household, seeing as how I persuaded them to buy buttermilk yesterday for a cake I made. The cake was in honor of Coffee Jones' birthday, which follows Starman's birthday by a few days, and her own brother's birthday by two weeks. The cake followed a really awesome dinner made by Coffee's husband -- Mediterranean burgers and all things deliciously Middle Eastern. And the cake was followed by presents to all the birthday folk, as well as a really gorgeous housewarming present for the Joneses from her brother and sister-in-law. A lovely evening.

And now it is surprisingly quiet at 8:30 in the morning. I wonder how I can get Will Shortz and the NPR puzzle on a radio in time - - ?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sorry, dear, I was on the phone with the press...

We were getting ready for our trip to Lexington when the phone rang. It was Josh [unpronounceable last name] from the Scranton Times-Tribune, calling to ask me about the lawsuit. He's called twice since then, once while we were driving, once after we arrived at Coffee Jones's house. Let's hear it for cell phones!

What lawsuit? Oh, you know -- just your basic celebrity suing the little people . . . Like, don't you have one going on in your neighborhood?

Here's what happened. Hub 1.0 and I bought Harmony in 2000. At that time, our realtor pointed out the huge (old-fashioned-bank-branch huge) Greek Revival manse in town. It had been some sort of an environmental center and, we were assured, it had been renovated in a very inappropriate way. It was also massively out of proportion with its neighbors -- it looked like a doll house plunked down amid a miniature train layout.

About a year later, we heard that a D-list celebrity had bought it. Who? Well, do this: Take any famous sitcom from the 1980s, think of one of the male leads, and that's your celebrity. Honestly, I think that's all you need -- a has-been actor that everyone older than 25 remembers, with a Hollywood-based ego and the notion that our little town is a perfect "snow globe" setting.

So DLC bought the huge Tara house. At first, this seemed a benign if quirky addition to the milieu. He bought a couple modest Greek Revival cottages across the street from Tara and fixed them up. (We were told that one was for his mother, but I gather she has declined to live there.) When the volunteer fire company wanted to put in their new firehouse next door to Tara, where they already owned a building, he offered them a large amount of money to relocate. When the local meeting house -- which had been deeded to the township but was pretty unusable in its present state -- came up for auction, DLC bought it and tore it down. He bought the local delicatessen (which had gone out of business). He bought the defunct general store and tore that down. He bought the post office.

At the present time, DLC owns eight properties (at least) and Tara has been stripped of some of its inconveniently modest neighbors. When you drive into town, you see Tara in all its glory without any obstruction . . . once you look past the gazebo.

Ah, the gazebo. On a modest triangle of land created by the conjunction of three roads, the gazebo -- which is the same size you would have if you bought one at the garden center -- is brown and slightly rustic. And it cannot be denied that one sees the gazebo before, or at the same time, as one sees Tara. Tara's about 20 times as big, but still...

As I understand it, the local community group -- which owns the triangle and the gazebo -- hosted a couple events in the past year. And supposedly someone parked on DLC's property. That isn't hard to imagine; he owns property on all three sides of the triangle! He immediately consulted a lawyer, and before anyone knew what was happening, he'd sued the local community group. [Short form of the legal arguments involved: The old general store property deed mentions a residual right in the triangle. The triangle had been sold by the store owner to the LCG in 1941 with two restrictions: they have to keep it as a memorial park and they can't build on it. If they violated either condition, the property reverts to the general store deed. So, is the gazebo a "structure" in the sense the grantor wanted to prohibit, or is it the sort of thing you find in a memorial park? If the former, DLC may win and own the triangle (we do have some equitable defenses); if the latter, we win and the LCG retains the triangle.]

By virtue of having sent in $5 at some point, I belong to the LCG. They can't be super rich, if $5 is all it takes to belong! So when I heard they'd been sued, I volunteered my time pro bono. They had hired a lawyer locally, and he's very good, but free is free, so I got involved. I wanted to depose DLC, but my co-counsel pointed out that getting all the transcripts copied is the expensive part, so that was out. In fact, no discovery at all -- welcome to litigation in the boonies!

I did file a motion for summary judgment (translation for non-lawyers: it says to the judge, "There are no facts in dispute and based on the law, we win.") but the judge denied it without hearing. We kind of thought that was good news, because this particular judge has a habit of ruling against the side he imagines will ultimately win. But when we were ready for the bench trial, the judge recused himself. We're now back in limbo, waiting to be assigned to one of the judges from a neighboring county.

This is where the press comes in. We have a county-wide newspaper, and it ran a rather odd piece about the delay in the trial. This item caught the eye of someone associated with the Scranton newspaper, and the next thing I know, I'm fielding calls from Josh, who sounded young enough that asking him about his high school prom didn't seem out of order. I must not have been a terrible interviewee; by the end of the day he was calling me run his copy by me for help with the wording.

Now we'll see if they spell my name right!

Poignancy? Really?

I got a request recently for the entire multi-anecdote saga of how I met Hub 1.0, which in turn tells the saga of how Starman and I met. However, we're leaving this morning for Lexington, MA to see Coffee Jones and her beans, stay in their pod and provide a bit of a respite from their daily grind.

[I promise never to use those puns again. Honest. I promise.]

In light of the morning's schedule, I don't think I can do the full double romance justice. With apologies, I'll leave those stories for another day and move on to another request.

Someone I've only just met wrote, "I would like to read something of yours which is poignant." Hmm. This got me thinking about a lot of things, mostly humor. You see, Casper (the fellow asking for poignancy) is very funny on Bridge Base Online, which is where I first encountered him. That's the face he shows to that world. His recent e-mails to me have been more contemplative. I love, for example, how he described his marriage: " I have been Married to the woman I found at the age of 18....the first month of college...and....I don't just love her....I am still in love." Isn't that sweet?

I would so much rather make people laugh (or at least smile) than make them cry (or at least mist up). But, paradoxically, I love to cry at the sad bits of movies and books, particularly if there's a happy ending after the sad bit. Somewhere on this blog it lists my favorite books, one of which is "A Little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A rich but unspoilt girl has to endure deprivation and sadness before she makes enough friends to survive. Just when it looks hopeless, there's salvation! Now that's sadness followed by a poignant happy ending!

But to write something like that, myself? I dunno. I could try. The thing is, I've got that annoying philosopher's gene that makes me see both sides of a situation. When my mother died, for instance, I celebrated her life and my belief that she had died the way she wanted to die. It was years, literally, before I got selfish enough to wish she was here to see Harmony, to meet Starman, and to call on Saturday morning just to talk, the way she used to.

But one loss cut right to the bone, and I still can't think about it -- now more than 20 years later -- without crying. That was when Timmo died.

Timmo was a feral stray cat in Albany back in 1980 when I first met him. He was a tuxedo cat; probably an adolescent from a litter born that spring to a local stray. He would slink down the back yard to steal the gravy from my the dog's breakfast. It was a month before he wouldn't run away the moment the back door was opened. Then another month before he wouldn't run away when I stepped outside. And a third month before he would let me pet him. After that he was mine.

That house -- a small, woodframe townhouse, had been completely renovated by my mother, who started with a $10,000 shell. She put on a balcony in the back, and both her bedroom and mine opened onto that. Underneath the balcony on my side of the house was a pre-fab greenhouse. Timmo would jump from the retaining wall of the garden up to the roof of the greenhouse and from there up to the balcony and into my room. We could go away for the weekend, leave the door locked but open three inches, and Timmo could go in and out as he pleased.

But, as much as he loved his freedom, he loved me more. When I moved to a studio apartment in Portland, Maine, Timmo seemed completely happy to have his outdoor activities reduced to sitting on the window sill, looking down on the world. He also endured being alone during the day, I suppose because at the end of it, I always returned. For a stray, he was the best behaved cat I ever met -- he would sit on the floor next to where I was reading in bed, reach up and tap me politely on the arm if he wanted anything.

I'll spare you the story of how he died -- it would make you hate vets forever, and that's hardly fair -- but he died at age four of feline leukemia. Almost certainly he'd had the retrovirus by the time I adopted him. I have had other cats since then, and they were and are lovely, friendly, good natured companions. But not a single one has ever looked at me the way Timmo did, as though I was the most beloved of all God's creatures. In fact, no one -- human, feline or other -- has looked at me the way Timmo did.

Well, at my advanced age of 51, I can say that last fact is a good thing. I don't want Starman to think I am all there is in his world; I want him to have friends and loving relationships with lots of people. I think that's necessary for a successful life. But twenty-five years ago, when I had precious little sense of myself and my place in the world, to have even just a cat think I was all there was in his world was huge, and undoubtedly hugely healing. Losing Timmo was, and is, an indeliable sadness -- it's just not at the forefront of my emotional world these days. It's like a painting I've owned for all this time and don't really see as much as I used to. But when I look at it, really see it again, I'm struck again by the sadness of one tiny life, doomed from the start and ended too soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Just an update (nothing to get excited about)

The trip to Philadelphia was a qualified success. As you'll recall, Starman received his green card last month and saw that USCIS wanted him to channel Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue." He then did something so profoundly stupid he'll never live it down.

He followed directions.

Yes. I know. Shocking, isn't it? He saw that the accompanying letter said, "If there's a problem with your card, call this number." He called that number. The robot instructed him to send in the offending card. He sent in the card. (I did yell at him for not sending it registered/receipt requested, but that's a minor point.)

Imagine our surprise, then, when we got to the USCIS office in Philly, and a personage no less imposing than the guy checking our appointment slip yelled at us for mailing back the green card. It seems that we should have brought it straight to them. "Well," I wanted to scream at him, "You [as in USCIS] should have told us that!!!"

Luckily, the official we ultimately saw was willing to get past her initial disapproval and see our difficulty. (I also was willing to see that Starman was beating himself up worse than I could do it, so I shifted over to a more cheery attitude, assuring him that everything would be okay.) She verified that the green card had arrived at the Missouri center, but they hadn't started work on it. She stamped his passport -- a year's worth of temporary green card! -- and advised us to try with the Social Security office again with just the passport, but if that doesn't work, to wait until we get the green card again.

Whatever we do, she intoned solemnly, don't ask for the file. Once a regional office asks for the file, it will take much longer to get the green card back.

And there was something about a G-845, but I think that was mooted by later developments. Which is just as well, because I never entirely understood what the G-845 was supposed to do.

Here, then, is where we are: We are okay to travel in January, and again in April. We can see if the temporary green card in his passport is sufficient to get the social security number, but we're assured that if not, the green card will get back to us soon. And we learned never to follow directions again, but rather, to do what they tell us to do instead.

And no meeting with the nice designer guy. Maybe later...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


I have never been good with a diary, a Filofax, a calendar. I just don't think that way. I keep all my appointments in my head. If you think that system works, you are as nutsy as I am.

Starman has instituted a calendar online for us to share. This is ingenious. We can both access it, put stuff on it, refer to it several times a day. His opens as soon as he logs onto the Internet. Mine . . . doesn't. I don't look at mine. I should. I mean to. I feel bad when it's clear I haven't and bad things happen. Hell, I feel bad when it's clear I should be looking at it, but bad things haven't happened.

I don't know what my problem is. (Incidentally, nothing about that last sentence was meant to suggest that my calendar phobia is my only problem. Not even close!) I don't even think it's an old-dog-new-trick problem. I just don't work that way.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I know what today's calendar says. This morning we're driving to Philadelphia to see those nice people in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) about two things. First, Starman's green card came and was right in places, and wrong in one place. They had his middle name -- the name he actually goes by -- wrong by one letter. Kinda matters, particularly as the resulting misprint is a GIRL'S name. (This comes out like a Will Shortz puzzle on the radio: Take a four letter first name -- masculine -- change the last letter to an A, and you get a four letter girl's name.)

So he followed the instructions on the website, sent the green card in, and sat back & waited. Which probably would have been okay but for two wrinkles. First, he hadn't read all the fine print that explained they can take up to 90 days to send back his green card, and he won't be allowed back in the country without it. Well, to be fair, he sort of knew that he might have to go to a USCIS office to get his passport stamped (again) with a temporary green card, closer to the date in January when we want to go back to see his family.

But that's not the big, hairy, obnoxious wrinkle. We come by the wrinkle-from-hell courtesy of the Social Security Administration. The rule is, as soon as he got his Employment Authorization Card (which he still has) he can get a Social Security number. So he applied. He didn't get a SS#. He got a form letter that said it might take four weeks. That was seven weeks ago. You can't call to inquire about the status of this. Our fear is that the Social Security Administration has been told by Homeland Security that Starman's paperwork is "under review" even though his green card was granted and is merely having a typo fixed, and that somehow translates into "Do Not Give This Person A Social Security Number NO Matter What" in the Social Security system.

Just pause with me for a moment, and think about all the things you can't do without a Social Security number. Get a driver's license. Have a bank account. Credit cards. An investment account. All he wants to do is invest in our (shaky) economy, and he can't. It's beyond bizarre and annoying.

So, we're trying to get that fixed. Good luck to us, hunh?

And the one other thing on my calendar today? Meet with a producer and costume designer in the Binghamton area to discuss the possibility of his taking umpteen yards of offwhite damask and making me a wedding dress. He's been recommended by a friend, he's seemed really nice in our e-mails back and forth, and I've even seen him onstage (dressed -- by himself -- as Pooh Bah in The Mikado) and he looks smart/talented/delightful.

So -- confrontational interview with government employees jaded by post-911 policies or friendly talk with talented person to discuss my wedding dress. Guess which one I'm dreading. (Insert ironically smiling emoticon here. Which is what? :-/ ?)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Election Day

It's Election Day!

So why are you reading a blog? Go Vote! (This exempts Starman, who's not yet eligible for citizenship and thus can't vote; Hub 1.0, who is eligible but won't take citizenship thus won't vote; Debbie, simply because I doubt it's election day in Canada, and anyone who's reading this after already voting.)

Okay, while they're all off voting, here's a story for Sharyn, my #1 fan. (Really -- my shopping list? I don't even read it half the time! I am truly humbled.)

When we moved here I culled through my collection of paperback romance novels and collected duplicates and no-longer-wanted volumes for Starman to hawk on Amazon Marketplace, where you sell the book for a penny but make a couple bucks in excess postage and handling. But, as that's not the sort of job you leap into while you're also juggling moving, immigration, learning bridge, and just getting acclimated to American sports and culture, the collection of extra books remained in his office.

When the Quest Center -- hippie new age place where Starman goes for yoga -- had a jumble sale, he donated some of the books. That was fine by me; anywhere other than in my office was fine by me! When he came back from yoga that week, he said that one woman there had bought all the books we'd donated. She teaches kung fu at the Center, he explained.

That was a couple months ago. Last Saturday we were at Mamacita's, the local Mexican restaurant, and we ran into this woman and her husband. She said she'd really enjoyed the books. "I read them [romances] all the time," she gushed.

"Oh, how nice. Who are your favorite authors?" I asked.

She gave me a stunned look. Favorite authors? What would such creatures look like?

Finally she gave a rueful laugh. "They're really all the same to me..." and went on to explain that she's more of a sci-fi/fantasy fan. "You know, Tolkien, etc." So the romances she just reads and passes along. She seemed amazed I have books I don't get rid of.

Now, Sharyn -- you and I know better. I read across genres, but I have favorite authors in every genre and if I didn't, I wouldn't read that genre. And who doesn't keep some favorites on the shelves for that dark, dark day when you just have to re-re-read some particular favorite? And how can you read contemporaries, historicals, Regencies, good authors, crappy authors, and just so-so authors and say, "They're all the same"?

I think she's a pod person.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Quilting 201 -- The Sixth Quilt from A to Zach

The first step in quilting, at least for me and at least at this point (mid-2005) in my education, was to have a recipient in mind. My sixth quilt was to go to Zach, the (then-) newborn baby of my friend Kristin. I first talked to her about it before Zach was born, and she explained how she and EJ, her husband, had different aesthetics for the baby's room. (I think one of them wanted bold, and the other wanted simple.) It struck me that a quilt with two colors and a fair bit of contrast between them, but low contrast within each color range might work to make both parents happy. And happy parents means a happy baby, right?

I had a pattern for a crib quilt using a variation of the Perkiomen Valley or Split Nine-Patch block. (I did find the book I got the idea from -- a cheesy freebie, cited below -- but I don't think you violate any copyright laws figuring out how to make it from my pictures and/or any discussion of the specific block.) I had a novelty fabric I'd bought online that I loved -- I described it to Kristin as "Mother Goose illustrated by Salvador Dali" and she thought that sounded wonderful. In the end, I decided it didn't deserve to be cut up, so I used it as the backing. Hey, if the quilt's not on the wall, you're going to see the back at some point, right?

I used that fabric to pull colors for the top. I started with a novelty print that's actually in Bean Jones's "Cat" quilt -- cute animals on a fairly saturated cerulean blue background. That gave me the blue I wanted for the dark sides of the blocks, and I just pulled light -- but not white! -- stripes and prints from my stash. I fussy cut the animals for the middle blocks in the nine-patches, and strips for piecing the triangles. Here are the fabrics:

This is in the craft room at Hub 1.0's house. It doesn't look like this anymore -- he's reorganized it to better suit his bookbinding -- but for what it's worth, here's what it looked like when I sewed there:

The sewing machine is the small white cabinet on the left; it gets pulled out and unfolded for use. My fabric stash is folded on the shelves of an Ikea media shelving unit. The original yardage for Zach's quilt is on the right, probably waiting to be ironed. Here's the other end of the room:

Hub 1.0 and I installed Ikea kitchen cabinets with counter tops that also went over his existing plan chest (useful for large sheets of the sorts of things bookbinders use; he brought that over from London when he moved in). Everything was carefully arranged so that the working surfaces are ergonomically appropriate for people our height. It may be a bit low for him now that he's the principal user, but it's still got to be way better than it was in the "boiler room" of his parents' home in London!

The next stage is to cut the single-color squares and make squares that have one triangle of dark and one of light. These get sewn together, one light and one dark, with a double line of sewing along the diagonal. Cut between the two lines of stitching, and you've got triangles. When you have to make a lot of half-square triangles (which is what the result is called), you can use a paper template product called Thangles. That's what I did with Zach's quilt. Here's a cheaper and thus better way, which I didn't know about at the time!

Then you sew together the block. Sew a dark square to a dark square to the dark side of a half-square triangle square. That makes the bottom third. The middle is dark square to a fussy-cut square to a light square. The top is a half-square triangle turned so you sew the light side to a light square and to another light square. Sew the three stripes together, matching seams, and you have a block! Sew a bunch more in the same fashion, trying to keep it so the different lights and darks are intersperse in a faux-random (which is not random!) way.

This shows the fussy cut center square:

Next you organize the blocks and sew them together to make the top. At this point, there was a long gap in my sewing, and in an effort to get this quilt finished before Zach went to college, I took the top to the April 2006 national quilt show at Paducah. I was taking a bunch of classes, one of which was on color and value. I held up the quilt top, which was oblong in roughly crib-like proportions, and everyone wanted me to make enough blocks to square the quilt so that it would make a full light square within a full blue square.

I didn't take their advice. I had some practical reasons, and some personal reasons (I made 6 trips to the U.K. in 2006, so my quilting time was severely curtailed), and I'm not sure I'd have had enough of the backing fabric, but ultimately, I doubted their advice. People just want things to be finished. Well, this block -- like a traditional log cabin block -- doesn't do "finished" well. If I had squared it, there would have been a new square growing at the corners. It has to stop somewhere! But judge for yourself:

I dunno -- I like that it pushes out to either side and not in all four directions.

Here's a close-up of the machine quilting I did:

I did stars in one of the light stripes and a continuous loopy bubble meander in another, an all-over meander on the blue stripes, and vague outlines on the animals I'd fussy-cut. Not proper trapunto, but a little more of an accent.

Here's the Dali-esq fabric:

Isn't that great fabric? Childlike without being too cutesy. Here's how it contrasts with the quilt and the binding, which I picked out really carefully on Hub 1.0's and my trip to New Bend, North Carolina for my 50th birthday:

And that's how you make a quilt!

The pattern came from "Artistry with Quilts," a slim volume produced by Wizard Attachments. I believe they have three "Artistry with Ribbons" and two "Artistry with Elastic" publications! There's a clue what they sell...

An Odd Interlude

Before I post about how to make a quilt ...

Well, even before I post about the odd thing I'm going to post before I post about how to make a quilt, can I tell you something?

I'm convinced I'm boring. No, I'm not looking for reassurance. I guess I'm actually trying to reassure you. See, it's the conundrum about blogging. It should be like receiving a lovely long e-mail filled with friendly news from someone without carrying the obligation to write back, but is it? Or is it like reading a long article on a subject you're not sure you care about? I want it to be the former, but I end up convinced it's the latter. And that's okay, because people can stop reading and go do something else. So -- as I believe all my blog entries to be only remotely interesting, and then only to some of you -- feel free to go do something else and then check back later to see if the later entries are more interesting.

Oh, and I have to figure out how to be funnier. That turns out to be surprisingly hard to do. I'm not sure how Dooce manages it!

But I digress. Okay, so back to the digression I had actually planned to write about.

I noticed yesterday, and verified today, that my panty liners are asymmetrical. (Um, this may be a good time to suggest that my male readers not worry too much if they don't understand what I'm talking about...) Not asymmetrical from side to side, but from front to back. They have wings, right? And while the wings are lined up relative to each other, they are closer to one end than the other. That means it makes a difference which way you attach it. Or, rather, someone thinks it matters which way you attach it.

Well, this got me thinking. Who worries about this? Industrial engineers? I mean -- there's evidence of purposive planning involved here. There may be patents on the design, or one of the machines that make the things. (Hub 1.0 could tell us...!) Someone with a Ph.D. has considered this. Packaging was constructed so that even the individual wrapper is a factor. Marketing has considered if the asymmetrical design is a selling point. And I'll bet there was a meeting with a lot of people attending to discuss whether there needed to be instructions on the package how to orient the panty liner to best line the panty!

And meanwhile, I -- the dumb dork user -- had no clue until yesterday. (I could pretend it was a new brand, one I hadn't previously used, but it would be lies, all lies. I've used a lot of the things; never noticed. Until yesterday.) I have almost certainly installed one of them wrong. I don't believe disaster befell me. (Although -- now that I think about it there have been some "sticky butt" situations recently. I assumed it was a coincidence, but now? There could be a connection!)

Somehow this suggests something really significant about American consumerism, but I'm not sure how to express it. It's like the entire economy is based on stuff like these specially-designed panty liners -- we don't need them, but they solve a problem so people buy them, so the manufacturer hires a team that designs, packages, and markets them, and suddenly a lot of people are employed, so they can afford goods and services, which floats the economy so that most of us can afford panty liners. With wings. That keep the economy aloft.

Ah -- there's the connection! The aeronautics of our economy!

Thanks. I'm glad I worked that out. But not as glad as I was when I (finally!) noticed the things weren't symmetrical...

More Nerds Over Here says I'm an Uber Cool Nerd King.  What are you?  Click here!

That's Hub 1.0's Nerd Test result. Starman's is coming; he took the wrong test at first, so he'll take the right test and we'll post that result.

And what's up with my being the Dumbest Dork in the group? I'll own that badge proudly, but what did I answer right to get it? says I'm an Uber Cool Nerd King.  What  are you?  Click here!

There, my perfect match -- Starman's just as dumb/dorky/awkward as I am! Yippee!!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I'll Show You Mine...

Thanks to a quick check of the infamous Chutney Hut blog, I have taken my Nerds Test, and can reveal the truth to all: says I'm an Uber Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

I'm not too surprised I scored so low on computers; they kept asking me about my IP address. I encourage my readers to channel their inner nerds and report back how they did.

And for those of you who know both me and Dino Burger, the proprietor of the Chutney Hut (aka Coffee Jones' hubby), you will be amazed to know I out-scored him on sci-fi/comics (I think solely because Starman and I conspired last year to get me some of vintage Millie The Model comics from my childhood, so technically I could put my hands on a Marvel comic!) and literature. However, I am 8% more of a dumb dork than he is. I think that's right...

Quilting 102

Continuing the curriculum of quilting basics, here's the next stage in my education.

After making two basic nine-patch quilts, it was time to start making slightly more complicated quilts. I began asking people what they wanted, while cleverly steering potential recipients away from the Baltimore Album quilts (translation for non-quilters -- LOTS of very difficult applique). Here's one I did for my aunt, who sensibly asked for a Trip Around The World in traditional Amish solid fabrics:

I adore Trip Around the World quilts, and was glad to have a chance to make one. (That was one of the patterns I fully intended to make into duvet covers, before law school.) There's such scope for color and value progression and contrast. I used computer software (Electric Quilt 5) to help me figure out which order I wanted for the 16 blues and greens I'd selected. If you order them differently, it's a completely different looking quilt! As I recall, that was a much lengthier process than I had expected. And once again, I know where the mistakes are. But it's a lovely quilt, and I do enjoy seeing it in Lexington, when we visit.

Next up, a quilt for Coffee Jones. These photos show it on our bed here at Harmony; its natural habitat chez Jones is uber-modern.

I had collected over 100 blue-and-white prints before even starting to sew this! (It's her signature color.) Then, on a quilt-shop-hopping trip through Tennessee, I saw a "Yellow Brick Road" quilt done entirely in blue-and-white prints. Perfect for CJ, I figured. I had the pattern already, so I got started putting together all the blocks. That's right -- there are blocks for this quilt, but they are constructed so that you shouldn't easily be able to spot them. And, no, there aren't 100 prints here -- not all blues have the same sort of tonality; I used the cobalt-based blues, leaving the periwinkles and turquoises for another day.

I will say, there are fewer construction mistakes on this quilt than its predecessors, but the quilting has some glitches. {cough cough} [If you need the white-on-white quilting on the border redone, CJ, just let me know!] I am truly honored that decorating decisions have been made with this quilt as their bedroom's focal point. How cool is that?

And now for something rather different. This is a flannel lap quilt I designed myself specifically to showcase the lovely folk art prints. I did this for my sister's 60th birthday; both pictures were taken by my neighbor, George, because I was literally still whipstitching the binding on, in a mad rush to make the last post on the Saturday before her birthday!

Those are animals on the large octagonal patches. I'm sorry there's no photo of the backing of this quilt, which had nice flannels printed to look like hooked rugs.

And yes, that's me sewing away madly to get the thing done. I did get to the post office with about 5 minutes to spare. There are some construction mistakes on this quilt, as I recall, and the quilting isn't spectacular, but for my first effort at designing a quilt, I'm satisfied.

The next post will be Quilting 201 -- the sixth quilt I made wasn't any harder to put together, but my skills were improving and I think that shows. Also, I did take photos of the quilt in process, as well of the quilt when it was done. So, you'll get to see what making a quilt looks like, from fabric selection through the final product.

That will be the last quilt post for a week or more -- I stupidly gave away my most recent quilt upon completion without taking pictures of it, but we're going to visit it next weekend. We'll take pictures, I promise.

Oh, and I'm feeling guilty about not identifying the quilt designers appropriately. The two quilts I made first, "There's {a Dog} {Two Cats} on My Quilt," were designed by Billy Lauder, who is featured at EasyMade. The Trip Around The World pattern is traditional, but I did use a book, The Simply Joys of Quilting (30 Timeless Quilt Projects) by Joan Hanson & Mary Hickey, for help with piecing and constuction. There is also an Eleanor Burns book from the "Quilt in a Day" series: Trip Around the World Quilt, although I'm pretty sure I didn't use it for my aunt's quilt. Finally, the Yellow Brick Road pattern is by Terry Atkinson, of Atkinson Designs. Now I have to find the freebie quilt pamplet I got that has the pattern for Zach's quilt . . . eek! It's in the "could be anywhere" category...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Quilting 101

It all started with TV.

Back in the day (around about 1990) there was a quilting show on PBS affiliates starring Eleanor Burns. She showed how to sew strips of fabric together, cut them up into sections, and sew those together. I thought the patchwork aspects of this was way cool, so I bought a lot of fabric (naturally) and started sewing. Mind you, I didn't want to make any of this into quilts -- I had this "bright" idea that I could fashion the resulting quilt tops (meaning the patchwork without the batting and backing that makes up a quilt) into duvet covers. (Okay, so I later learned there is a way of doing this, but I wasn't going to use anything that clever.) I bought enough fabric for several duvet covers, and made precisely . . . no quilt tops. Maybe two-thirds of one, and I still have that partially-made quilt top. I'll finish it some day...

Well, as some of you know, in 1992 I went to law school. No quilting there! Years passed, I kept the fabric but did no sewing, and moved on to other crafts. (I'll save cross stitch for another blog entry.) Eventually I stopped being a full time lawyer (yippee!) and Hub 1.0 and I got our very first DVR, a lovely little TiVo with 60 hours of memory. Hmm... what to watch? I'd gotten into the habit of watching HGTV for all their room makeover shows, and noticed that they ran Simply Quilts everyday. I told you it all started with TV!

What I learned watching Simply Quilts was this: There are a heck of a lot of ways to sew three layers together to make a quilt. Innumerable blocks, layouts and designs for piecing, applique, whole cloth quilts, embellishments, crazy quilts -- you name it, someone's doing it. And what was great about the program was that it showed it all: the basics for beginners all the way to the quilts that win Best in Show at Paducah or Houston -- and one program put together a lot of the "100 Best Quilts of the Past 100 Years" -- wow! Talk about inspirational.

So I started sewing. I signed up for a class on machine quilting and bought me a way-expensive sewing machine two days before the class.

Here's the first quilt I did, and frankly the sewing is WAY better than the photography. This is a pattern I saw on Simply Quilts. It's called "There's a Dog on My Quilt" The colors are way off, presumably because we photographed it on our third-floor landing with the light on, and that light still had the hideous 1970s green & yellow plastic faux-stained glass fixture -- so all the pretty pinks and purples look like week-old bruises. But you can still get the idea.

This was a gift for Coffee Jones's daughter, aka the "Beanette." She had a thing for dogs, although she favored West Highland terriers, which even I now think of as "Kirby" dogs because that's what she called her stuffed dog. Still, a brown mutt with rather more hound than terrier -- I think that's okay.

And what with the bad photography, you can't see all the mistakes. Just as well hunh.

Okay, on to the companion quilt!

I made this gift for the Jones' boy child (just known as the Bean?) immediately after the one for the Beanette, and I wisely kept them together until I could give them at the same time. It's called "There Are Two Cats on My Quilt" and it was done the same way as the doggy quilt. Only this time I made an effort to fashion the two cats with appropriate fabrics for the Jones' household cats: India and Duke. [The cats don't need special blognoms, do they, CJ?]

From a techinical standpoint, these aren't bad first quilts -- my contrast is good, color selection is fine, I happen to know my corners don't all match up, but as quilts for kids, I'm not unhappy.

And from a technical standpoint, I've learned a lot about uploading photos to a blog. Step one is -- load all your images first! I'll continue to show my quilts, in chronological order, in future blog entries.