Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good Riddance to 2016 - but not to the silver linings

Here we are in the final hours of 2016 and all I have to say is, good riddance! What a year. Mostly the election is what made it the pits. The lead-up was excruciating. I have an appointment on the 5th to be fitted with a mouth guard because as of October I have been clenching my teeth so badly I can't actually chew. It was really bad until I realized it was stress from the election. Then it became only medium bad. At work I actually had to make myself drop my jaw to relax. The last two weeks of the madness, I could not listen to the news and instead switched to favorite comedian channels on Pandora.
Then the election happened.
And I still cannot believe it. Every time I hear "President Elect Trump" I feel like I am in an alternate dimension and just want to throw up. All of the consequent decisions about our country's future sickens me and I am scared. I am just hoping that some good ol' boys from The GOP can wrangle things into some semblance of normalcy. Otherwise, I truly fear for what we might be in for. Seriously - Senator McCain - hop to! And good grief, where is Arlen Spector when you need him!? Uch - Oy - Augh!
This election is the reason my blogging dropped off so drastically. Much has happened and while I wanted to post - I simply couldn't find the energy. But in the last few hours of 2016 - I have. I reviewed my photos and have found the following silver linings:

1. In August my fabulous tenant made Jalapeño bread again.
 Last year she received some of the jalapeños from my farm share while she was taking care of kitties in the summer. So I gave her this years' crop in hopes she would make the delicious cheddar jalapeño bread again and she did! It is especially good with fried eggs. When I cooked with it this year I couldn't have a cyclops so i put two eggs in and enjoyed the smiley face.

2. As of September, apparently I have a new cat. 
I have been telling people I have two and a half cats. This is Butch. Butch showed up a few years ago as a feral kitty in my yard. He and Jacques tangled often so I decided he had to get fixed and get his shots. It was quite traumatic for him and in spite of the fact that he was so sweet while he was recuperating, he eventually broke out and would not come anywhere near me for the following two years.
This September though, I tried to talk to him more than usual. Eventually I left a small dish with a little food in it for him. I think that did the trick. At first he would only howl at me - in a loud and complaining tone. Eventually he let me pet him and finally I was allowed to pick him up. The epic purring gave it away that this kitty wanted to be loved. He is really beautiful, an almost perfectly symmetrical tuxedo cat. He reminds me of those wall clocks with the eyes that go back and forth with the ticker. He is only half mine because he is going to have to supplement his diet with scavenging and continued hunting of the nasty squirrels in my garden. I feel a little guilty because I'd like to keep him as an outdoor cat to catch the rodents. But he also clearly wants to be part of a family so I am considering allowing him to leave to a loving family. There are two perspective folks. We shall see...

3. My Night Blooming Cereus bloomed. Not just once but almost 10 blooms.

 I missed the first few as previously reported. But the while cleaning the garden in September I noticed a few buds. I watched carefully and as they grew I knew they'd bloom. So at the end of September, Miss Mary and I sat outside one night and watched them for several hours. The scent is exquisite and the change in the bloom is minute by minute. I've pondered why they bloomed this year after several years of dormancy. I wonder if it had something to do with Katie watching over them while I was away in August. I must consult her to see if she did anything special.

4. Throughout the fall, I've been working on editioning my book from 2015, Luminary.

While it sounds fairly straight forward, it is anything but. Ten copies, total 150 prints - but they are sun prints so there are a ton of factors. Clouds, angle of the sun, how much solution I've applied, all affect the final result. Instead of just 150 perfect prints I've done closer to 250.

It is a rather involved production.

Which includes trying to find the best angle of the sun. Then of course, there is always the chance that Jacques will decide to sit on them. 

Or at least the paper for the covers ($22/sheet).

5. I also knitted a lot.
 I made a pair of mittens for my friend Melanie who lives in the fridged Berkshires of Massachusetts. These were so fun to make and it was really hard not to post about them on my blog because she actually reads my blog! I suppose I could have posted without saying who they were for - but I wanted them to be a complete surprise. 
I also knitted a pair of Owlie socks for my sister for Christmas.
I think I have to make myself a pair of these - I love them!

And then I knitted socks with yarn Melanie gave me from her travels to Italy. These are a single skein that knit up into stripes.
Fun, fast and easy! What more could you wish for!?
I also knitted my dad a pair of navy blue socks and Ann got a pair of sea-foam turquoise with a "fish-tail" cable stitch on them. Of course - that couldn't go smoothly. The day before I was supposed to fly to California - I was madly knitting away on her second sock. I finished early afternoon, plenty of time to block and dry it. I hung it by the heating vent so it would be really dry before packing it and didn't remember it until I was on the train to the airport. I was upset that she received a single sock in her box instead of a standard pair. But alas, there was nothing to be done about it. The second sock will travel in the new year.

6. General update on Swee'Pea
Swee'Pea is also doing fine this year in spite of a bout with epiglotitis. Good Grief. That cost me a pretty penny. But he is fine and happily taking his pills and that is all that counts.

7.  My semester teaching was eventful but also fun. I had wonderful students who actually wanted to follow my directions exactly! No kidding! They all consulted each other on "now what did she say, how do I do that?" I was floored. Many wonderful final projects and simply amazing people. In the next semester I'm teaching a class the students lobbied for. An advanced book arts class which is not normally on the schedule. I am flattered and thrilled and really looking forward to the class. It should be lots of fun.
In the winter the Academy of Natural Sciences, which is located next to the college, put out their animatron dinosaurs. We can't figure out if they move on a motion sensor or a timer. Either way it is fun to watch people who haven't encountered them before, start when they suddenly start moving and roaring. When it finally got cold, someone put scarves and mittens on T-rex and Triceratops. I actually laughed out loud. So witty.

8. Christmas in California
My nephew got his new obsession, a trash can. Yes his very own wheeley trashcan to put everything in. 
Now. He also got two Tonka dump trucks because his mommy and I think alike and both got him the same thing. That'll learn me. I gotta consult the mommy to know if he's already getting it. We decided it was okay as he now has one for outside and one for inside - or one for later when the first one is kaput. 
At the moment, Liam decided it really was only good for sitting.  
Grandpa made him a fabulous box of stuff to open and close, switch on and off, buckle and unbuckle and all sorts of fun things.
He decided at the moment the best use for it was to stand on it.

 At the end of the unwrapping the trashcan was once again brought forth to be filled.

We really didn't have to do much clean up at all. Just hand him the paper and tell him it's trash. 
All gone!
At the end of the gift giving marathon, Liam and I looked at pictures and videos of him on his mommy's phone. 

That right there would be the family trademark look-of-concentration. He is clearly "one of us".

I myself received a Cameo Silhouette paper cutter.  And I cannot wait to put it into action!

9. After Christmas my Aunt Lois and I got together so she could teach me how to make Uncle Ralph's mother's Rum Cake. It is a super secret recipe, carefully guarded and only made for Uncle Ralph. When I arrived, my cousin David, who was rushing out on his way out to the airport, implored me to learn to make the cake. It's a family tradition. Well - consider it done David!

This is an all day affair - the secrets of which I will not divulge.
Suffice to say there is baking:
 and cooking:
and inspection.
(that would be Miss Mittens - a big kitty).

And it is all worth it. The cake is delicious. You'll have to take my word for it 'cause I'm sworn to secrecy. 

10. My birthday was wonderful. We started out at an incredible new-ish coffee shop, La Monarcha, Ann's fabulous idea.
My sister and nephew met us there. And he was kind of the star of the show.
There was plenty of trash for him to put away under Grandpa's supervision. 
After breakfast we went for a little walk which culminated in Liam thoroughly inspecting Grandma and Grandpa's mini van.
There were so many gadgets and switches and things to open and close. He was completely entertained for a good 20 minutes.
The day was gorgeously warm at 82°F. We headed to the beach for a few hours and consumed the obligatory In-N-Out burgers while there.
The cup became the perfect beach toy even though there was an entire bag full of other more commercial toys. 
The water was a bit cold and after an initial trial, Liam wasn't really interested in taking the waters again. That was fine. There was plenty of sand for him to scoop and dump, and scoop and dump, and scoop and dump. 

Wishing you all a wonderful 2017 ~ xotara

Friday, November 11, 2016

Still not my fault

Here's a screen shot of the online news,
Almost 90% in my ward voted for Hillary. 
Huge protests in Philadelphia. 
I might need to get out there too. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What. Happened. !!!???

Whatever just happened - not my fault. Seriously. Not my fault. I voted for Hillary.

I made it through the day. But needed some retail therapy. A kitchen gadget store close to work is going out of business so I thought I'd see if there might be anything I needed. I remembered that one by one over the summer my kitchen timers have died. So I purchased a new one.

Not until I got home did I start pondering the irony of my purchase and wondering how much time there is until election day 2020? Tuesday Nov 3rd, 2020 is only 1455 days away.
Let's get this timer going so we can move past this nightmare.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

It seems so long ago

It was just August, wasn't it? I mean like, yesterday, right? 
But somehow it is now the middle of September and I haven't blogged at all. 
Well, let's get caught up so that I can start posting in real time. There's been good stuff happening around here!
I was in California for 10 days which explains a lot of the absence.
I got to spend time with my (still) completely adorable nephew, but not enough of course. 
He is very interested in:
1. moving dirt from one pile to another
2. carrying rocks around 
3. loading up drawers of his toys and then dumping them out
4. pushing empty 5 gallonl buckets down the driveway 
5. the gardeners and 
6. chocolate pokey
While I was visiting he was still working out how to make a water bottle with a straw work. Lets just say there is a lot of backwash. He's a good veggie eater too, everything from spinach and kale, to poblano chiles and guacamole. 

We also visited the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo for a great origami exhibit.
I used to go here way back in the '90s to visit the Temporary Contemporary. I wouldn't  have recognized the neighborhood. It has completely changed. For the better - there is a Metro stop right across from the museum. LA is getting public transportation!? Who knew? 
We got an extra little treat because the museum was hosting a free exhibit of the Kubo and the Two Strings movie. I had seen the trailer and would never have guessed that it was a stop action film. The exhibit was of some of the sets and dolls of the main characters.  
What I enjoyed most were the planning boards for each character. Fabric, clothing, foot ware, and accessories were all explored in miniature. 
Here they recreated typical Japanese fabric pattern with a rubber stamp! Love it.  

I was also treated to a wonderful night at the Hollywood Bowl. Yoyo Ma's experimental music group the Silkroad brings together an incredibly diverse group of musicians who make fantastic music together. And I just love the Hollywood Bowl anyway. It was a lovely evening. 

And I got some more type. That is a beautiful little batch of 36pt Cooper.  

The return to Philadelphia was tough. It was a hot hot hot summer and humid as "walking into a dog's mouth" was the best description I heard. And just as gross too. I can't remember the last time I had to have my air conditioners on for so long. 

Of course in all of that heat I decided I needed to try to make ketchup.
 My farm share has been as abundant as ever. The week before I left I received quite a lot of tomatoes, plus several from my garden. I also happen to have a cookbook in the lab that is in need of conserving with no less than 5 ketchup recipes. I used those and several I found online to invent my own thing. I cooked it up and canned it before I left for California. 
When I came back I had a few days off so I opened it all back up and cooked it down to the right consistency on the stove for ten hours. yes. ten.
 Yes. that's crazy. However, the canning and boiling things down later plan isn't so dumb. I think I'll make another batch and can it now, then come February when I need 10 hours of heat in my kitchen, I can open the cans and boil it down then.
How did it turn out? Meh - not so great. It's fine. It certainly isn't as good as Heinz even though it is more natural. But I don't have the right flavors yet. Close - but not quite. I think this is too sweet, it needs more zing. I'll keep trying. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Busy Busy

Well, first of all, its' been hot. 
I mean really hot. 
Like Swee'Pea can't handle it and so he is melting in front of the air conditioner kind of hot. Poor baby. 
Jacques, on the other hand, does not like the air conditioners, and so when they are on, he pees on my bed. Yup. It has been a challenge to keep ahead of his little brain - I tell ya. 

Before we get on to current events I have to do a catch up on a post I've been trying to post for a few weeks now.... My front steps!!! 

After a few seasons of snow and freezing and general weather, my pathetic little patch job on the front steps has given out. 
It was really bad. 
Lota of loose cement and dips and missing pieces. Thus the big orange cone. 

Step one: research online and find Qickcrete, a resurfacing concrete. Yay! 
Step two: filling all of the deep problems and missing parts with patches of thick Qickcrete. 

Step three: resurface the entire width of the step with the same material. So that it looks MUCH better. 
And you know, there is something about wet concrete... people just can't resist making some kind of impression on it! 

So I used violet leaves pressed under bricks.  
The results are kind of, meh - 

But I tried something new. If I decide I really hate them, I can use more Qickcrete to cover them up! 
      The "mostly dry" front steps. I am so glad to have this task off my plate. 

Back to more of contemporary times in Philadelphia - we survived the DNC! 
And it was hot for the DNC too. Even worse than right now. It did not let up. Oy vey! 
The DNC was an interesting week. My place of employment was involved in PoliticalFest which was really cool. We had a lot of visitors and a lot of press. Because I work right smack in Center City Philadelphia, Wednesday morning I walked right into this! (see above)
That is only one block of Police Presence. There were quite a few more.
Later in the day we found out that Joe Biden was having breakfast at a pub a few blocks north of us. The Philly PD pulled out all the stops. I had to make a huge detour to get to work. Still, as annoyed as I was to have to make a detour in the 8am heat of 85°F + 185% humidity, it was kinda neat to know that someone that important was within less than 100 yards of me. 

I escaped the Philadelphia heat and Thursday DNC craziness to drive up to the Berkshires for Melanie and Doug's Wedding Par-tay! 
And what a weekend it was! 

Melanie had an opening of her work, a solo show, which I did not get to spend enough time with. But what I saw was gorgous. So many new pieces and so many fabulous new books. Yay! Yay! This show seems like a milestone for her, a chapter in conclusion. :)

The Wedding Party was wonderful. They have an enormous space and were able to pitch a tent, have a live band, a pig roast, and and and. It was really fun. And I somehow manage to give myself a black eye. sigh. Let's just say that flat file cabinets - the metal ones? They are really hard and they really hurt when your face lands on them.

An additional bonus in North Adams (which did not over-shadow the Wedding Par-tay) was that I found a schoolmate from UArts also had a show at Mass MOCA.
Alex Da Corte was such a nice young man. (Do I sound my age or what!? Ugh.) Well! he was/is. He brought me a dozen Gerber Daisies for my MFA opening! If that isn't a sweetie? I don't know what is. It was so nice to see that he has continued his bright streak in the art world.
Sunday morning, after a lot of coffee and laughs about my fresh black eye, Melanie and I did "The Short Walk" which hits about 100yrds of the Appalachian Trail.  So I can truthfully say to people, "I hiked the AT this weekend." Ha! 

Then it was time to head home. I had to stop at Barnes and Noble to pick up the new Harry Potter! 
I managed to restrain myself until I was in New York. Then I had to stop at a rest stop, get a cup of coffee and read at least a few scenes of the first act. Gah! it's amazing! NEW Harry Potter stuff! Eeeeeee! 

Ahem, (one week later) I finished the book on Friday and I don't think I'm quite as excited as I was. I really need to talk to some other people who've read it, who KNEW it was a play (because they were paying attention) and who LOVE Harry Potter as much as I do. I shall reserve judgement until such time. I'd love to see the play. I can't even begin to imagine how on earth they are going to put this production together. 

In the garden....
Ah my garden. It was completely overgrown by the time I got home. In some good ways and some not. The brick walkway is completely covered. But my basil and tomatoes have finally, (finally!) done their jobs.

Unfortunately I missed my Night Blooming Cereus.
Sunday morning I discovered the spent bloom.  
As far as I know it is only the second time it has bloomed in the seven years I have cared for this plant. And I missed it. Bummer. In case you don't know, these only bloom one night. in the year.  They are so beautiful and the scent is indescribable. Sigh. Finger's crossed for next year.

Sunflowers have also finally started to bloom. It's sad that I am so allergic to them. :(

As a treat to myself I purchased some Orange "Cone Flowers" aka, Echinacea. I love the firey orange/red/yellow colors. I've planted them next to the purples and hope they take and reappear next year.   

My farm share has been abundant this year. I've made two batches of pickles! The haul form today will yield quite a few more goodies. I can't wait.