Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Not really. I am a trifle opaque today, and more likely to absorb than reflect anything. Yesterday's batch of fruitcake came out very well, and when it stopped snowing I went to the Post Office to finish my gift giving and send a few people a few things.

I looked over most of this past year's entries, and I am not surprised to hear that this is the wettest year on record, and that was before it snowed today some five more inches (light and fluffy).

I need to expand my social life, and of course, Get a Job. This next one, ideally, will not involve standing too much, working with the more than normally insane, in an office of often fewer than one other person (and I'm not sure I was all there either), being forced to wear pantyhose, or selling anything I don't like. None of these necessarily apply to my former place of work, I'm just saying what would be nice. And if it turned out to be eligible for the federal definition of 'employment,'and therefore 'unemployment,' as apparently a 501 C3 religious organization is NOT, that would be nice too. My office paid unemployment insurance; it was somewhat of a shock to hear that wherever it was going, it wasn't to me.

If everyone can manage to remain as healthy in 2009 as they were in 2008, we will continue to subsidize the facial tissue industry and be doing very well.

It is not yet quite time to look over the amount of knitting I did this year, but I am at least five scarves and a sweater better off than I was last year. Here are two of them:

The one on the left was intended to be a nice quiet 2-color Noro Silk Garden k1,p1 scarf, and like all the ones I have made, came out more unsettled than I had in mind. I do wonder whether anyone not already a knitter is as fascinated by the color play as knitters are. The ones I have made are weird.

The one on the right is the K1P1 2 color Rowan Tapestry (sheep wool and soy silk), and it is less blue than it appears no my screen. One person suggested she found it deprssing. Even I have described it as a mix of the colors to be found in abandoned, half-drunk* day-old cups of variously cream-enhanced coffees, but it is at least tranquil. If I had more confidence of finding a wearer I might like to try the soft blues and browns; this was the soft grays and browns. I also worry how much the Rowan will pill; but it was soft and lovely to knit.

I think I will spend this evening on restarting Arwen for the New Year, though I am well along in another Noro Kureyon in browns and whites and off-white. The cats want it to be summer. I think I will have to settle for it being January. Could be much worse. I am wishing all of us improved economic outlooks and morale; refreshment from the election news in a stream of quietly encouraging political stories; good health, good friends, good times.

*'half-drunken' didn't work either. I think they were half full.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

And the bedpost was my own!

So then it was CHRISTMAS EVE. I arose and finished making plum pudding and then fruitcake (this batch made 36 muffin-sized, perfect for taking to people's houses and easy to eat) and then I wrapped. and then I had a cup of tea, and then I wrapped. And then I was going to have another cup of tea, but it was three pm and I had intended to drop fruitcakes off at the deli before it closed at four, to say nothing of arriving in Boston by about two pm. Or three. Four at the latest.

I got the last dishes washed and the last package wrapped just before three-fifteen and drove as quickly as seemed feasible. I reached the deli at ten to four, just in time to give fruitcakes and serious "Merry Christmas!" wishes as they were taking off their aprons and closing down. Then I drove to Boston, which I reached about half-past five, just as the OBD, her boyfriend, and the ex were also arriving at my parents'. All of us seemed tired.

My father makes cassoulet for Christmas Eve. There seemed to be more bacon in it than usual; delicious. (The OBD has a small meat-free dish). For dessert, we have sweet chestnut puree with whipped cream, and then we try to open presents. People seemed pleased with their gifts (I was, certainly), even though my parents received Smartwool irregulars instead of handmade socks.

The daughter and I staggered off to the ex's, where the OBD talked Toby out from under the bureau. Apparently he and my ex's cat Shenzi are both omega kitties; when they encounter one another, my ex says, they compete to see who can get away fastest. It isn't quite that bad.

Christmas Day dawned. Toby made sure we were awake at a reasonable hour (Shenzi is more decorous). My ex put the roast beast into the oven and we had tea and mince pies and fruitcake for breakfast (my ex thinks about 500 mini-muffin sized mince pies came out of the oven this year. Next year, my ex threatens, mince pies for family only. Except that people like the daughter's boyfriend's family look forward to them, and everyone at church).

My ex has a new electric mixer, one that does not spray Yorkshire pudding batter all over the kitchen. This is my Christmas Day job; I supply the plum pudding, the hard sauce, and the Yorkshire pudding. My plum pudding is based on the Fanny Farmer date steamed pudding only with no nuts and a lot more fruit and using gluten-free flour. The Yorkshire pudding gets made in three batches--one gluten free, with beef fat, one regular flour with vegetable oil, and one regular. For the second or third year I disappointed everyone by not setting the oven on fire. We set off the smoke alarm a couple of times, but nothing too exciting, and the Yorkshire pudding ALL came out well (the gluten-free does not rise as it should, but neither is it gummy or puck-shaped). The plum pudding slumped as it came out of the basin, but everyone thought it tasted better than usual. This may have been the effect of very successful hard sauce (flavored with Jameson's instead of Christian Brothers). While making the Yorkshire I had a wicked case of nostalgia and thought I would have to go cry in the bathroom, but I has been given chocolate and it pulled me through.

My parents brought a neighbor and my ex invited two friends from church and Lisa arrived ON TIME. It turned out that she and one of the friends from church had been friends several years ago when they were both involved with Harvard. We ate a lot. No one keeled over. It was a very fine holiday.

Lisa and I got back to NH about eight pm (I think) and sat in a gentle stupor. She got herself up early and we had pleasant conversation ("Have you found your power cord?") until she left in time to get to Manchester Airport. A sit was not snowing, I think she made it. I have a headcold and spent Friday not doing anything and today, Saturday, I am not much more ambitious. Finishing the second-to-last Noro scarf.

Another Christmas and everyone lived. Success!

And I still have power!

So then....
Sunday, the Sunday before Christmas, my mother called and said it was snowing an inch an hour in Boston. Not a good shopping day. In NJ, it was 35 and cloudy, eventually even sunny. The Only Beloved Daughter needed to go to the mall. It was surprisingly navigable, with parking places and everything; apparently the bad day had been the day before, when there were lines going out of the stores. We were lucky; lines were short, fast, and cheerful.

On Monday the OBD and I drove back to MA, only she had lost her wallet earlier in the month and had no driver's license. The traffic from the exit to Shoppers' World in Natick stretched back to Framingham. It was an awful warning about the hazards of consumerism. We had Toby with us, which was another reason the OBD was not taking the bus (the bus and the train will not take animals even in crates)(don't get me started). He was reasonably brave and sat on Ellie's lap or hid under her seat. My ex met us at Riverside and accepted the cat. We cut through Lexington. The snow there was really impressive; it had been plowed into 4-foot berms and was still stuck all over the trees and drifted up against the walls of buildings to about three feet in places. Snow always looks more severe in towns than it does in the country; there are fewer places to put it and it takes up a lot of space, completely fouling the ecology of parking places. And making driving slower, which was all right since I could crane my neck and exclaim.

I dropped the daughter at her boyfriend's house in Woburn, and skipped over to visit Alice in Winchester. Where we found Ellie's computer in the backseat. Since she has two papers due, we went back to Woburn though in the interval it had become Rush Hour and Rt 3 was slow...a ten-minute there-trip from Woburn became an hour-long back-again-trip to Woburn. Ellie's boyfriend's mother suggested we wait out some of the traffic by sharing their pizza, and it was delightful. Around eight pm, Alice threaded me through some back roads to avoid the Burlington Mall traffic, which was, according to Alice's iPhone, formidable. We reached my house about a quarter to ten. Paul my plow guy had come through, although it was not as much snow in NH as there had seemed to be in Lexington.

I have known Alice for it will be 20 years in September; she's 23 now and a much more interesting conversationalist than she she used to be, in fact a more complicated and gracious individual in a lot of ways. She is annoyingly gifted in the clothing-design ways, possibly something to do with being a math major and a computer science grad student. She earned the cats' eternal gratitude by shovelling off the secondary front door steps, so they can make a circle: from asking me to let them out through the kitchenette, through the plowed driveway to the proper front steps Paul shovelled out of kindness, in through the cat-enabled other front door, through the house to ask to be let out through the kitchenette... they hope somewhere the weather will be better.

Sometime in the last week or so, the dynamic has changed and Marten is gratuitously beating the daylights out of Willow. It has become any more serene.

Lisa and I had lived intensively in the kitchenette, and though all the dishes were washed the room was pretty well trashed once again. Alice and I managed to find enough space to sit and barely, to bake. This involved things like putting the food processor (for almond-meal) on the floor and upsetting the cat in front of the fire. Alice earned my eternal gratitude by chopping two pounds of dried fruit. At last, I made fruitcake, and plum pudding. At least up to the crunch time, the Psychological Moment, the point of No Return where one adds wet to dry. Then it was time to forge into Concord for lunch, a trip to the LL Bean's outlet (irregular Smartwool socks for half-price), The Elegant Ewe, and taking Alice to the bus station.

For some reason, possibly the driving the day before, I was tired. But I needed to go to the Co-op (gluten free-flours) and the utterly delightful deli (I bring wine). I have not bee to the deli latel because I know it is an easy place to spend too much money, but I like the staff and they are kind of me. I must have looked really awful because the manager was concerned and Jen behind the counter made me a small baguette and blue cheese snack. I felt life return to part of my brain. I finished my shopping and went home, where the cats explained that they are tired of winter, I usually like winter but I am not feeling as cheerful this year as I did last; I think the romance of five days by flash- and lantern-light has taken some of the edge off of my insouciance. Also, I still need a job.

it IS better now

I appear not to have mentioned that I got my power back at 2 AM on the Wednesday, Dec 17. (That would be five days of powerlessness, which, at that, was better than than the poor sods in Fitchburg, MA, and actually also better than many people in NH. NH had 95% of its power back by Christmas Eve, only to have it go out again in Manchester and some other little hamlets).

The return of the electricity was a great relief even to an indifferent hostess like me. I had promised God I would vacuum if I got the power back, and I spent three hours cleaning ONE ROOM (the kitchenette) and it still looked kind of full. But I made it to the Manchester airport without getting lost (I have learned there's "Next Right" that isn't actually the Next Right) and it is always good to have Lisa. We bought wine and went to Daniel's and stayed up too late. The next day, Wednesday, we went to Concord and shopped. Lisa wanted funny socks to send to her friends in California. We reached the shop of the Society for the Protection of NH Forests not long after four and did not leave till nearly five, wondering whether her grandmother needed a wrought-iron key rack with chickens on it or truly funny nightshirts. Then we went to the Post Office, where the line went very quickly and they believe Lisa's presents would make it CA before Christmas. We went home and stayed up too late.

On Friday, it was forecast to snow; I gave Lisa the car and she went into Concord and exercised and did work. I knitted until I finished the Rowan Tapestry Noro-style ribbed scarf. I started a Noro scarf (#4) that I hope would be sort of plausibly discreet and guy colored. I did not make fruitcake. When Lisa got home, it had begun to snow and she did not make gingerbread. We did not stay up so late because we appeared to be tired.

Saturday I drove to NJ . Lisa did, indeed, make gingerbread before we left, which smelled wonderful. It was supposed to have stopped snowing around midnight; it was still going strong when we pulled out of my driveway around noon. (See previous post.)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

from the thinterland

I am in New Jersey (291 miles, 6 hrs 26 minutes. In Google's dreams, baby). It took two hours to leave my snowy (10") driveway, get to Manchester Airport and drop Lisa, and get back to Route 93. It was not until Danbury that the traffic felt secure enough to speed up to a steady 50 mph. I didn't think the traffic were being stupid; there was slush and spray ad it was unsafe. You could tell going 40 or 45 was a good thing because there were no obvious spin outs and death-crashes. Took a long time to get anywhere, though. And I may not have made the best choices at some points, but on the other handn I was never lost either.

So I reached Piscataway in about ten hours, and it was at least a change from being home feeling anxious (I think intense snow a any deadlines at all(I don't want to miss Christmas) makes me vaguely unhappy, which is a pity because it really is pretty and as long as I have electricity I am greatly blessed). And soon we will have pizza which is better here.

The Mt. Kisco exit off 684 is a terrible place to get gas, as it turns out the gas stations are MILES off the road and has only expensive attendant-driven gas stations, but it has a KICKASS United Methodist church which this picture does not show up its weird wonderfulness, although I may have just been tired.

There is a good oldies station in New York (FM 104.3)a) but they are SO WRONG about the best Christmas Rock and Roll of All Time #3 being Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmas Time even if it is a vicious brainworm, and b)it fades out well before I get to Piscataway.

Quiche for breakfast. I should come here more often.

Friday, December 19, 2008

for some values of normal

The power came back on at two in the morning on Wednesday!! I flushed the toilet out of sheer joie de vivre! As of eighty-thirty, the internet was still having difficulties, so I will go turn the router off and on a few times after I have drunken my freshly made hot tea and perhaps had a shower! It's italics time all over; well, over all but about 80,000 of 400,000+ households. For whom it may be after Christmas before they get their power back.

I did not mention that my parents had obtained me a little pack of four Coleman four-Double A-battery lanterns, which looked like toys or lights for pagans wishing to set up a circle in an area of high winds (four colors). They also gave me a package of 32 AA batteries. I was pleased but surprised to find they were really good and each gave as much light as my reliable Czech railway lanterns. And no chimneys to clean, no fear of inadvertently spilling kerosene and provoking a fiery disaster (Not quite as romantic and not so easy to know when one is running out of fuel, either). But I was surprised how lighthearted the lanterns made me.

So soon I will throw away a few things from the refrigerators and --

oh yeah, so far I have something over three inches of white fluffy snow with more and some freezing rain to come. Gibber. How winterwonderland for the visitor from California.

Now it's Friday. The snow (10" - 14") is not supposed to start until this afternoon, and it's supposed to be over after midnight, and Paul has promised to come plow me out so I can go to New Jersey. If it is completely Apocalyptic (Fimbulwinter) we will see if we need to send in a ringer from MA. And something else is supposed to happen on Sunday, and I am supposed to get back on Monday. I feel the weather is getting out of hand. And Christmas. Could we just take a deep breath and a few days off?

Some of these (there are a lot of black and white photos here, no captions) are just lovely, the trees and fences in snow and some of New York. I am not as much a fan of the chimneys, but I can see why he liked them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

So on Wednesday I went to lab, and on Thursday I went to the grocery store, and I made Largely White Stew* and bread and I had somewhat intended to make Holiday Fruitcake, rather than become... . ANYWAY. It was a chilly nasty drizzle evening and the radio warned of doom. I watched three issues of the Daily Show (loving the Internet) and just was considering going to bed when the power went off. It went on and off a couple more times (I know this because the lights connected to remotes (which are part of the ceiling fans) turned on and I got out of bed to turn them off.

But when I awoke Friday morning I had to listen to NPR on the handy bedside transistor radio and there was no tea to be had from the cold, dark, microwave. The radio said hundreds of thousands were without electricity. I was encouraged to learn that the boss of the state emergency management office was from Henniker, but they were saying it might be Tuesday before there was power again. They were having trouble reaching some of the areas because so many trees were down.

Since the lunatic who built my house provided it with an oil furnace, gas log-effect stoves at the rooms in each end (the Loom Room and the kitchenette), a woodstove, and various electric space heaters, I am not cold. During the day it is not dark, either. The woodstove is not made of wood, nor yet of iron, but is a snazzy soapstone which does not get hot enough to cook on.

When contractors have not inexplicably vanished from your life, leaving a gas stove with a working clock but no gas (and a completely paid-for but uninstalled set of half-bathroom fixtures in your guestroom), this is an inconvenience. As it is now, it meant withdrawal, so I stayed in bed as long as I could. The cats helped. Willow still hates Marten, who wishes she would play with him. I called my mom on the cell phone, I called Sarah (who has no power and no heat, either), and I was called by my daughter to whom I had texted poorly "No-power.No-tea.Very-sad]]". She wanted to make sure there was nothing sadder happening than the lack of tea (as if). I called Paul the plower and contractor who has been if erratic at least really faithful up to this kitchen renovation. He did not answer his phone. Then my phone, whose battery is nearing the end of its useful life, went dead, so I put in the car to recharge (the car will only do this is the key is in the ignition and turned one and a half clicks toward ignition). After awhile I drove down my driveway, which had limbs on it thicker than my thigh and a tree gracefully tilted across. I went back up the driveway. I knitted. I sulked. I listened to the radio. Every few minutes you could hear a crashing noise or ice sliding off a tree or the roof, or as I had all night, a sound like a gunshot followed by a crash – another tree learning that being deciduous is not enough. (Actually, a lot of it was white pine boughs. Very pretty with the icing.)

Then I put on serious clothes and went to move tree limbs. It was about 37 degrees Fahrenheit, with occasional sunlight and as beautiful as an ice storm can be, amazingly detailed frosting and lighting effects. I lopped smaller limbs off the larger limbs and parts of the skinnier trees overhanging the road (first having looked hard to make sure none of them were involved with powerlines). Most of the limbs went; the tree is still hanging there; even if you are not doing anything dumb you can still make your back unhappy about the whole logging thing. The surface of the driveway was a couple of inches deep in crushed ice and icicles that had already come off the trees. Covered in sweat and pine tar, I went to the hardware store to look at camping stoves.

The hardware store had a generator. It was full of people (and a Borzoi), all of them quite cheerful and buying out the battery section. Everyone was happy to talk about how dire it was and the roads that were impassable. I heard the words "winter wonderland" more than once. I scored a Sterno stove (cooler than most candles, but less sooty) and the last one-burner camping stove. They were out of small gas bottles, as was the grocery store, and the feed and grain was closed, so I drove to Bradford and observed the telephone poles broken off at the root. The hardware store there had a generator and small bottles of propane, and I bought two and went home. FINALLY, a cup of tea. And some stew.
At some point I washed the dishes in the sink and used up my remaining water pressure. I have buckets along the eavesline, now full of ice, so I brought in some to provide water to flush the toilets. It was very cold that night but my house was fine. The log effect stoves and the oil furnace were keeping me (and my water pipes) perfectly toasty, even though they have electric thermostats, so I was better off than most people.

On Saturday the power failures in New England led the NPR news. Out of 700,000 plus customers, more than 400,000 were out of juice, including a big piece of Manchester. I found I had left the cell phone in the car and my parents had called several times and assumed, since I wasn't answering, that I had fallen in the driveway and broken my hip. I reassured them and called a couple of other people and plugged the phone back in to the car charger. Around two I decided It would be a good idea to go into Concord and find a cybercafe. The car would not start. I assumed I had somehow drained the battery and I was not very happy.

While checking on the car to see if it might have changed its mind I saw the flock of turkeys wandering around the icy wastes. They made an almighty racket just as I was going inside, so I looked again and saw a bunch of them flying into the top of a tree. The fox was looking at them, but after a moment it gave up. It's still beautiful. My cats said no one but a fool would go outside anyway.

I called some people and Doug said he would come by the next day, which was fine, and I left an unkind remark on my still-vanished contractor's answering machine. He showed up just before dark and said his power had been out and he had not been able to charge his cell phone or receive calls. We examined my driveway I coasted the car down beyond the tree – Paul's truck couldn't get under it -- and we tried to jump the battery. The car went from having dashboard lights and making a clicking noise to a nasty crunching noise and complete darkness.

I retreated to my kitchenette. The Prairie Home Companion was broadcasting from New York. Bright lights, decadence. I finished a Noro scarf and worked on my father's socks and another scarf (Rowan Tapestry). I read Patrick O'Brien. I usually try to wait a year or two between rereading Aubrey and Maturin, but Majorca and tropical seas. Pretty nice.

It was still cold on Sunday. Doug appeared with a new battery and an interest in dancing with chainsaws, so I met him in the driveway (Marten walked me down but he said his feet were cold and he was NOT liking the chainsaw) and we switched out the old battery. It did no good. We did have fun taking the overhanging tree the rest of the way down, without breaking any bones or amputating anything or even getting frostbite. I called Triple A and asked for a tow to the Subaru dealer and Doug took me to Concord. All the ice has melted in Concord and except for a high river and a few big branches still waiting it looks like nothing has happened. Doug and Sarah C had lost power for a few hours Thursday night, but they had amazing facilities like hot water and microwaves and even television. It was very strange.

This morning, the Subaru people found that my car had blown a main fuse, way back in the wiring (we had looked at the easily accessible fuses) and although it was $90 on top of the $60+ extra towing fees it was much cheaper than a new starter motor or a new alternator, so I am back with wheels and sitting in a Panera drinking tea and electric current and wireless internet service. Although I feel like I am failing my Grownup class and I probably need to live somewhere that doesn't involve chainsaws, it's a lot better than yesterday. And it's 47 Fahrenheit, so there will be melting.

*Sauté an onion and oregano, possible thyme, possibly mint if you like mint, and some sliced potatoes until the onion is translucent or browner. Add one can rinsed white beans, one can hominy, and one can artichoke hearts. Add the juice from the artichokes and enough water to cover. Cook until the potatoes are done. If you like and have bacon, I imagine you might add bacon. Serve with or without cheese.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

migration of the community organizers

Saturday we were to take Rob (clean air) to the bus station and then Bryn (toxic awareness) and I would be free to go to Goodwill. This meant that in the morning we waited for Rob to finish packing, so Bryn finished knitting her rabbit (the one to which there is a link somewhere on this page) and then we all went into Concord. We put Bryn's luggage and some extra bits and pieces from my house into her very nice new home/apartment, high above Concord Main Street (not so new -- the building was a steel building and part of the Chicago Exposition in 1893 and came to Concord by train. What is really neat is that the bay windows in her apartment were not leaking cold air), and Rob went to finish things at the office.

Looking for recyclable sweaters for Sarah's latest venture (to which I will post the link as soon as she says I may; she is doing reclaimed all-natural fiber yarn and little interesting natural-fiber cloth packs for crafters) has given me a new appreciation for thrift stores. They stimulate the hunting and gathering instincts. Bryn doesn't need quite everything, and she will only be in Concord for a couple of years, so no pianos. We went to Goodwill and the Salvation Army and found her some RevereWare and measuring spoons and my favorite, a mint-condition stainless steel dish rack for a dollar. Not exciting, but useful, and SUCH a DEAL. I do love helping other people spend money.

Then we raced and got Rob to the bus station, and headed for the supermarket. Which involved making sure Bryn could find the local source of sushi, and then I took her and her groceries home and went home myself, and I finished my first Noro striped scarf (as seen recently on on the Yarn Harlot(and several posts following, and earlier, everywhere else, and now Sarah is also making them but she stopped after only three). It was strange-looking, but I was fond enough of it to cast on another. And yes, I have looked for enough other Noro around the house (and well, around town...) that I may have a few more in my future. Such as the one made out of Rowan Tapestry (170 Country and 178 Whirlpool, I think). If I am spared and can work a pair of socks for my father in, I may offer people a choice; is making striped scarves just for the colorplay and then inflicting them on others selfish?

Friday evening I had made a pineapple upside down cake in honor of Doug's birthday; Saturday morning I made unnecessary but tasty cream cheese/coconut frosting (so as to get the coconut into the pineapple coconut set). Then I took Bryn for a few more items at Target and went to Doug and Sarah C's. Deb D and I surprised him by providing birthday cake (a day or so late) and Doug and Sarah provided us with a warm, dry knitting venue. Unfortunately it is December and the lack of light made it harder to stay awake, despite the companionship (which did include a new woodstove... I blame the warmth).

Then it snowed fairly convincingly for an inch or so. Monday morning when I awoke my thermometer read 3 degrees Fahrenheit, brilliantly sunny. Since Sarah D is starting a new job next week, she has this week free and had asked if I might accompany her to WEBS in Northampton, MA. I could not let her to go to such a den of iniquity by herself, particularly as she had not been there before....

More scarves, maybe some socks? If the yarn is for specific projects for specific people it has no calories, right?