Sunday, December 31, 2006

2007 New Year's Resolutions Part 1

This is the time of year when everyone is thinking about the resolutions they want to make for the new year. I was trying to come up with a clever way of approaching the issue, so I did a little on-line research. There are many people clamoring for the chance to offer advice, but I found one site in particular to be an amusing source. The United States government has a few suggestions for New Year's resolutions. Can you believe this? The federal government! I was not aware that this was such a matter for public concern. Nevertheless, these resolutions are not too bad in a general kind of way:

1. Lose weight
2. Pay off debt
3. Save money
4. Get a better job
5. Get fit
6. Eat right
7. Get a better education
8. Drink less
9. Quit smoking
10. Reduce stress overall
11. Reduce work stress
12. Take a trip
13. Volunteer to help others

I feel very fortunate that I do not need to worry too much about 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, or 9. I also feel that 1 and 5 should be the same goal (to exercise), and that 10 and 11 can be combined into one goal. Therefore I find myself with some extra room on my list for more personalized goals. In reviewing my list from last year I see that several goals are met (take that evil Pro Cert!), but several other goals are still, ahem, on the table if you will. Tomorrow I will publish the new list.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

My 2006 Year In Review

On the whole, 2006 was a pretty darn good year. Sure there were some bumps along the way (aren't there always?) but nothing really major to complain about. 2006 was not quite as exciting as 2004 and 2005 in that we did not travel to the other side of the world, but this was our first year in our new house and that was pretty momentous. This is my personal year in review in no particular order:

1. New House--- I can't speak for M, but I am thoroughly pleased with our house purchase. Of course there are always changes and improvements we'd like to make, but over all it is a very good house. We enjoy the peace and quiet, the lovely backyard, the space to entertain, the indoor carparking, and just plenty of room to swing the proverbial cat (not that we would of course).

2. Grew The First Garden--- We the first one at the new house anyway. I really like having a yard again because I get to putter around with flowers and vegetables. I wasn't even sure a veggie garden would grow in our backyard because of the shadow of the house, but even the tomatoes made it. I'm already looking forward to next year.

3. Pulled Off Another Country Fair--- The fair is a family tradition going back before I was born, so it is nice that we are able to keep in up even though we are no longer printers. I love getting to camp with both brothers and enjoy all the tasty food. It's also fun to watch M enjoy them afresh.

4. Took Local Vacations--- We did enjoy the Oregon coast and Portland quite a bit. They may not be very exotic locales, but they are beautiful and easy to do in a long weekend.

5. Snowed My Mom--- The one sort of far away place we visited this year was Pittsburgh. This was part of a plan to surprise my mom with a trip to see my baby brother, JM. With a little help from our friends we managed to get her a little time off work. We told her we wanted to go out to dinner, and she didn't even bat an eyelash until we were getting out at the airport. What a great time! Pittsburgh is not nearly so rusted or icky as we thought. In fact, we really enjoyed ourselves.

6. Saw NYC--- It was a very quick trip, and we certainly did not see everything, but at least we can now say we've been to New York. It really is overwhelming in so many ways. I think we will need a return visit once we've saved up another small fortune to pay for the hotel room.

7. Positive Political Change!--- The election was not a complete sweep, but it did do a lot for my political outlook. I actually feel that there may be some hope on a number of fronts. However, as R likes to say, the Democrats are very good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

8. Finished Pro Cert--- For those who don't remember, the Pro Cert is an evil state requirement for keeping my job. I spent two years jumping through meaningless hoops and paying lots of money in order to prove that I wasn't a bad teacher. I finally jumped through the flaming hoop with spikes all around while wearing a blindfold and writing checks, and they decided I had passed. Now I am the proud owner of a PROFESSIONAL teaching certificate (as opposed to a nasty old provisional one) and I am allowed to go on with my career.

9. Survived Lock Down--- More than three hours laying on the floor in the dark was not my idea of a good time. At least it all turned out to be nothing.

10. Survived The Hanukah Storm Of 2006--- Three days without power seemed really long especially when the temperature in our house went down to 47 degrees F, but it turns out we were some of the lucky ones. I don't know how some people survived more than a week without light and heat.

That's it for the big memorable stuff. Did I forget anything important? I'm estimating that I also brushed my teeth about 1000 times too, but that kind of accomplishment just isn't very exciting. Let's hope next year is at least as good as this one.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lavender Shortbread Recipe

Before Christmas a friend invited me to her house for a cookie baking party. She and her two small assistants were making a variety of Christmas goodies which sounded like the perfect way to revel in the holiday spirit. When I arrived with my bag of butter and sugar and such, I found them poring over a magazine of cookie recipes. We had a tough time choosing which cookies to make first, but eventually we settled on a few types.

Layered minty chocolate came first, followed by simple rolled sugar cookies, and the third one we decided to try was a type of shortbread. Now I have always been a fan of shortbread. It's just so delicate and subtle. There is even a charming Scottish saying about how every woman's fingers add a different flavor as she kneads in the butter (no! not because she forgot to wash!).

The only unusual thing about this recipe was the addition of two extra ingredients. Crystallized ginger and two heaping tablespoons of dried lavender are what makes this one unique. Tasting the end result was quite a treat. In my opinion the ginger is not really needed, but the lavender is truly a lovely flavor with the tender shortbread. Here is my favorite shortbread recipe with the lavender added in:

Lavender Shortbread
1 and 1/4 cups cold unsalted butter (or this actually does work with a good margarine too)
1/4 cup powdered sugar (lightly spooned)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (more if you like it sweeter, but I don't recommend it)
2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 TBS dried lavender (make sure it's food quality)

This is dead simple to make. Use a fork, a pastry cutter (this is the best method), or a food processor (if you're feeling sacrilegious) to blend the butter and sugar until pea-sized crumbs are formed. Add flour and lavender and continue to blend. The mixture will be crumbly. Press together with fingers until a ball of dough is formed. Roll out dough into a disc, and cut the disc into pie slice shapes. Dock the round of dough with a fork to prevent bubbles. Bake at 275 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour until golden brown. Do not give in to the temptation to bake at a higher temperature. Cool on a wire rack. Store in a tightly sealed container to preserve texture.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blue Boxing Day

Boo, I hate the end of Christmas. Our holiday was lovely, and I am glad for all the good things, but I still feel a little blue. I think I am especially miffed this year because the storm and the power outage ate a good week of the holiday season for most of us up here. Many people are able to continue in the holiday spirit until after New Year's, but I am not very thrilled by that holiday. So it's time to take down the tree and wind up the lights and pack away the stockings. Now comes the part of winter about which I am less happy. The long gray days stretch from now until the first little dribs of sun start to come out in March (if we're very lucky) or May (if we really aren't). Oh well, I suppose I was getting tired of the muzak versions of all the Christmas carols anyway. I think I'll just go plant some garlic since that's the only gardening fun a person can really have in the end of December.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

"What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace." -- Agnes M. Pharo

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day. Their old familiar carols play. And wild and sweet the words repeat. Of peace on earth goodwill to men." -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve 2006

I hope everyone will have a warm and happy day today. We will start cooking Christmas Eve dinner soon, and most of the presents are already wrapped. The stockings are not yet hung by the chimney with care, but I will get to that before we go to bed. I do not plan to wear a kerchief as we have wonderful blessed electricity to keep us warm. Remember to listen for the click, click, click of reindeer hooves on the roof tonight, but don't peek or else there might be trouble.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Two Things

First of all, happy Hanukah to all. The first night of Hanukah was the day we were all reeling from the storm. The last night was yesterday. For some of the Jewish people in our region the significance of the holiday was powerfully reinforced by the situation (or so I am told). Everyone (Jewish and non) is certainly giving thanks for the light and the heat having been returned to us. An especially happy holiday to P, A, and S, and to my Dear Auntie E wherever she may have gotten to now.

Second, yesterday was also the first day of winter. The is somewhat hard to believe given the weather we've gotten during "autumn," but we are told that things should be calming down any time now. While I agree with the nieces that a white Christmas would be nice, I would be very happy not to lose any more school days to snow. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the stuff, but if we have to make up any more snow days at the end of the year, we will be there into July. As it is, the last day of school is scheduled for my birthday, and that is something that has never happened before in my memory.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


My baby brother arrived last night! Woo Hoo! The holidays may now begin! M and Big Niece accompanied me to the airport to pick him up. This was a doubly exciting event because Big Niece has never stayed up past midnight before last night. She gets very pale and very solemn when she is tired, but she is really quite a trooper. She was also thrilled by the adventure, and especially by the appearance of Uncle J at the end of it all. The next several days should be very good indeed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hanukah Storm 2006 Part 3: Fun in the Dark

Three nights in the dark really changes your perspective on what counts as amusement. For example, tending the fire can be a really absorbing task when you don't have much else going on. A sink full of warm dishwater can be quite appealing when you are in no hurry to get on to something else (and its 50 degrees in your house). We spent quite a bit of time on conversational odds and ends, but even that gets tough when you are cut off from your usual sources of new information. My confidence in our compatibility is bolstered by the fact that we did not get on each others nerves even when we were stuck inside and huddled by the fire all that time.

The outage reminded me of how much in a hurry we usually are. When there are so many things that need doing, and so many amusements, you are constantly trying to wrap up and move on to the next. It was almost forcibly relaxing to not have another thing waiting. Nevertheless, I can see why TV seems like such a miracle in the third world. I find it pretty exciting too now that we have it back.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hanukah Storm 2006 Part 2

Only one more couple in our circle of friends is still waiting for power. It turns out that our 65 hours was not too bad when you compared to others. Some areas are not going back up until FRIDAY OR SATURDAY. I cannot imagine having another three or four days to go. I keep thinking over and over how lucky we are to have heat and light again. It reminds me how tough life must be for people who never have the help of electricity to get by.

This morning as I was leaving our neighborhood I saw a huge crane working on levering a massive tree out of a backyard. Fir trees have once again been the bane of our area. I have always believed that the shallow root system of firs was what caused them to fall so easily. However, a biologist recently pointed out to me that many of our native varieties have shallow roots. Therefore, the mystery of why they fall remains. Nevertheless, I do feel vindicated in my refusal to consider houses with tall skinny firs nearby. The realtor thought I was nuts (and I probably am) but it turns out I was right about the trees.

I will never forget the sight of a 50 foot plus fir tree broken off and fallen across the road. The only thing holding it up was the power lines it had crashed through on its way down. There were probably 20 feet of headroom between the tree and the road. Emergency services had placed a "road closed" sign just in front of the tree, but some clever, clever person moved the sign to the side, and everyone was just driving UNDER the tree and the (live?) power lines. Talk about taking your life into your hands. We are very lucky to have come out of this whole thing with so little trouble.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

December Storm 2006 Part 1

Computer access severly limited. Storm damage was not too serious, but our house lost power for almost three days. It was 48 degrees in our bedroom this morning. The kitties are NOT amused. We had to burn the old fence to stay warm. One tree was damaged, and lots of fence was lost. We are SO happy to have heat and light again. If you have the power and internet to read this you are one lucky person. More soon.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wet Car Update

This is the part I love about going to a dealer for service. Finding and fixing the leak cost about $260. Removing and dry-cleaning the carpet will cost more than $1100. Why so expensive? Because it will take more than 12 hours to remove and clean the carpet. The man just assumed that I was signing up for the entire job, and he was surprised when I said I wasn't so sure about the carpet. He warned me that it MIGHT start to smell if I don't replace the carpet. I asked if it would cause any body or mechanical damage, but he said no, it just might start to smell. For goodness sake! It's had leaks before and never gotten wiffy. I've had other water leaks in cars, and nothing horrible every came of them. If it starts to get smelly I plan to apply a bit of bleach and a heft sprinkling of baking soda. Baking soda only costs $.89 per box.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Car Puddle

For some time now my car has had a little problem with wetness. Not a big problem, mind you, just a damp patch on the floor when it rains really hard. It dries out quickly enough, and I've been lucky not to have any problems with mildew or stinky-ness. The odd bit is that there is no visible leak. The windshield is fine, the top seems sealed, and there is really no obvious way that the water is getting in. Three different mechanics have tried to find the problem without success. Mostly I've just lived with the problem, and been really glad that I had covered parking. Yesterday, however, things got quite a bit worse.

Washington may be the rainiest state in the U.S. (or is it Oregon?) but our rain is usually of the constant mist sort. It rarely pours for hours on end, but yesterday was special. I've never been in a proper monsoon, but I think it must be something like what we had. It was raining so hard that it was hard to see as you ran from building to building, and it did this for quite some time. Needless to say, when I went out to my car to go home I was not very happy. Instead of a little wet patch I found a two inch deep puddle of water on the driver's side. I sloshed my way home (even getting my cuffs wet in the process) and used beach towels to soak up the worst of the water.

Now I have accepted the need to do the unthinkable. I am taking my poor wet car TO THE DEALER! Normally I am loath to do this because I think they rip you off at every turn (I have many experiences to back this up) but I don't think I have a lot of choices at this point. Theoretically they will be able to find the leak because they know the ins and outs of this specific model of car. That or they will just spend 700 hours at $50 per hour inspecting each and every seam twice. Ouch, my wallet hurts already.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Burning the Midnight Cat Food

M had some extra work to complete one night last week, so he came home, had dinner with me, watched a little tv, and then went up to the office to work. Around 10:30 I kissed him goodnight and went to bed as usual. Everyone was comfortable with this plan except the cat. MY sweet little cat came up to bed with me and curled up next to my feet. HIS evil, evil, demon cat decided that if M was staying up then so was he. And he was thrilled about the idea of a late night. He went galloping up and down the hall, he attacked my feet, he jumped on the other cat. He generally went wild. The final straw was when he raced into the bedroom after midnight meowing bloody murder. M had to come take him into the office and shut the door. I ended up getting about three hours less sleep than usual that night, and I was not a cheerful person the next morning. People usually say they like keeping cats because they are quiet, unobtrusive, and do not cause much trouble. Obviously these people have not met our cat.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Holiday Cheer

Yesterday I finally put up the twinkle lights at our house! Of course I forgot to test them before putting them up (that would have required thinking ahead) so I was REALLY happy that they actually lit up when I plugged them in. I had actually forgotten from last year to this one that they are twinkle lights. I plugged them in and then got a nice surprise when they started to flicker. It is always a precarious job getting them up, but the pay off is definitely worthwhile. They look beautiful! The next step is to decorate the inside of the house. Operation get-a-tree is taking place this weekend. Winter holidays are invaluable for making you feel warm and happy during the middle of the gray season.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Democratic Potential?

With only two years to go before the 2008 presidential election, things are already kicking into gear. The furor over Hilary Clinton's potential (and likely) run is putting the spotlight on all Democrats. Bloggers, news outlets, and commentators are all falling over themselves with slates of possible candidates. Some, like Politics 1, have a veritable laundry list of potentials. They seem to include anyone and everyone who ever uttered a word about the presidency. To be fair, they do include a section on those who've said they will NOT run. Their may run list includes Hilary Clinton (of course), Evan Bayh, Joseph Biden, Christ Dodd, John Kerry, Barak Obama, Bill Richardson, and John Edwards. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.

Calling the odds for this slate is Polling Report. They have gathered together a number of public opinion polls about the popularity of some candidates. Their meta report makes for some very interesting reading, and it puts Hilary Clinton at the top of the list. Al Gore seems to be something of a spoiler in the polls drawing 10% or more depending on the poll. Given that he has denied a run, this is pretty high. I would vote for him in a second, but I doubt I will have the chance. My biggest concern about this slate is that none seem remotely like a slam dunk. We need someone who can actually win!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Kinder Gentler CIA?

Do the words cute and friendly come first to mind when you think of the Central Intelligence Agency? Perhaps a few people think this way, but I think most associate the CIA with secret assassinations and tortured confessions. For decade after decade this image seemed to be okay with the folks in government, but now it seems things are supposed to change. Apparently someone noticed the hard image and decided that the agency needed some softening up. The CIA website has undergone a facelift, and one of the newest features is a cute kid-friendly what kind of spy am I quiz. It turns out that I am a "thoughtful observer" so there could certainly be a place for me at the CIA.

In fact, it "takes all kinds" to run the agency, so visit the website today and consider a career in international espionage. You will probably end up pushing paper in an office somewhere, but if you are lucky you might get to try out drug or gun running, or you might have the chance to develop new and more creative forms of "interrogation". If you are really, really lucky you might end up a "hero" like Johnny Mike.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Christmas Quiz

Several months ago a new friend of ours, D, decided to pass around one of those "getting to know you" quizzes that float around in cyber space. Several of us had all sorts of fun reading each other's answers (the question "what kind of underwear are you wearing right now" got all sorts of interesting and creative answers). When I ran across this Christmas themed version of the quiz I knew it would be fun. There may not be any under garment-related questions, but at least it gets a person in the feel of the season.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Both and in large quantities please! Eggnog lattes are a good invention too.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Big important presents are just set under the tree, but smaller stuff is often wrapped by Santa. Strange that Santa’s handwriting is a lot like my mom and dad’s.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White please. Call me a light bigot.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Down home in Oregon we don’t just hang the mistletoe; we shoot it out of treetops with our rifles.

5. When do you put your decorations up? I would put them up right after Thanksgiving. However, I’ve lived with one killjoy (my mom) and then another (M) so I have to wait until a bit later.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Tamales! I’m not making this up. My dad’s family is from New Mexico, so it really is an old family tradition to make tamales for Christmas dinner.
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Christmas was 100% unadulterated magic in our house. I honestly can’t think of a single bad one.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? There is no “learn” about Santa; Santa simply is.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No NEVER! We must not give in to the foreign devils and their Christmas-Eve-present-opening ways!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? We start with the lights and then we sort of hurl the other stuff on top.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Are you kidding? You mean fluffy white flakes of pure joy and time off work? Of course I love them.

12. Can you ice skate?! Yes, veeery slowly and close to the edge of the rink.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My car is pretty memorable, but there have been SO many good things over the years.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? It reminds me of that feeling you got when you were a kid and you were trying to get to sleep on Chirstmas Eve. Also M looks cute in the Santa hat.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? You name the marzipan creation and I will probably drool over it. Phefferneuse is good too. Also most kinds of pie and cookies. Maybe I can just live at the gym for the month of January.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Selecting and decorating the REAL tree is pretty good, but search through your stocking on Christmas morning has to be the winner.

17. What tops your tree? That depends on who wins the argument that year.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving would be the politic answer wouldn’t it?

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? I love Christmas music, but not Muzak, if you know what I mean. I’m quite fond of Santa Baby and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. If you ever have to listen to me sing around Christmas please as tolerant as possible. It makes me unreasonably happy to sing carols.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tasting Words

The New York Times had a fascinating article a few days ago about people who suffer from a rare form of synaesthesia. Synaethesia itself is a condition wherein a person's senses become sort of cross-wired due to injury or birth defect. For example a person may see certain letters as tinged with an associated color, or they may hear certain words as musical notes. In this even rarer form, people actually experience sensations of flavor when they see certain words. One man they quoted hates to drive because certain words (presumably those on road signs?) make him taste earwax and pistachio ice-cream. Granted this could have a positive effect if you were able to discover words that created pleasant tastes. However, can you imagine what flavor words like unctuous, platitude, or outrageous might have?