Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Many years ago when I was a newspaper reporter, I worked in a little town that has a summer festival in celebration of the local (now mostly defunct) egg-producing industry. There is a parade and carnival, with the usual rides and crafty things for sale. There is, or at least there was that year, a cheesecake-making contest. Local gourmands compete fiercely for ribbons and recognition. The only requirement is that each cheesecake recipe must include at least three eggs.

It was judged that year by an assemblage of representatives from various media and news outlets. It is an ingenious way to guarantee that your event gets ample news coverage - to feed media members cheesecake.

So the contest was at 10:30 a.m. I was there, the other paper sent a representative, the local weatherman guy from Bangor was there, and a few radio and sales people I didn't recognize. There were something like 20 cheesecakes and they were split up into categories for plain cheesecake, flavored cheesecake, and "special" cheesecakes - the uber-fancy ones.

I had never been a judge in such a contest, but the organizers were very ... well ... organized about it. First we all went though and judged each cake on its appearance. We were given little score cards and golf pencils to mark them. Then a slice was cut from each cake, placed on a small plate next to a cup of plastic forks. We went down the line, taking a new fork at each piece of cheesecake, taking a bite, discarding the fork, and judging the dessert on things like flavor, texture and "mouthfeel" whatever the hell that is.

The fanciest cheesecake was a double-chocolate-raspberry swirled thing that the chef had then decorated with pansies. It was truly a work of art. And it tasted fabulous and looked beautiful and I suddenly understood what "mouthfeel" meant. And I loved it.

By the end of the tasting, what at first seemed like the greatest story assignment I had ever encountered in my still-very-new career had turned into a grim gastronomical endurance test. Twenty bites of oh-my-god-rich cheesecakes before lunch is really not the great idea one might first think. We judges looked at each other with relief in our eyes as we tossed our last forks into the provided trash bin.

Except there was a three-way tie for one of the non-"special" categories. So we had to go back through those three cheesecakes anew, with cards and pencils, offering our opinion. Then there was a two-way tie. Dear god in heaven, is there no mercy?? We barely took a taste of the remaining two offerings, and peeking at each other's cards, conspired for one to win over the other, we really didn't care whose it was, just so we didn't have to eat any more. And only then, having fulfilled our judgely duties, we were mercifully dismissed.

Just in time for lunch.

No thanks, I think I'll pass.

On the up side, the contestants had all agreed to allow their winning recipes to be published, and so I offer you my adaptation of the Double-Chocolate-Raspberry Cheesecake that won the 1994 Pittsfield Egg Festival Cheesecake Contest. I have no memory now of who the creator of this marvel is, only that she was exceedingly proud of herself, and with good reason. It's to die for.

Double Chocolate-Raspberry Marble Cheesecake

version A (the original):
1 stick oleo, melted
1 package (10.25 ounce) brownie mix
mix together and press into bottom and up the sides of a spring-form pan.

version B (adjusted to be soy-free):
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup Ghirardelli's baking cocoa (yes, the quality is worth the extra buck a can!)
1 stick butter, melted
Sift the dry ingredients together, then add the melted butter and mix together. Press into the bottom and sides of a spring-form pan.

The Filling:
4 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
6 small or 4 large eggs
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar

Raspberry Puree:
1/2 cup raspberries
1/8 cup sugar

version A:
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted

version B (because I didn't have any unsweetened chocolate handy):
1 Tbsp melted butter
3 Tbsp cocoa

For filling, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl and beating well after each one. Beat in sugar, cream and vanilla until very smooth. Pour all but 1 cup into the prepared pan.

Add 1/2 cup of the filling to the raspberry puree, and the other half cup to the chocolate. Blend each well, then drop spoonfulls of each onto the top of the filling, and swirl gently with a knife until you get the desired pattern.

Bake at 350 degrees F for one hour. After 1 hour, turn off the oven, open the door, and allow the cheesecake to cool slowly until it gets to room temperature. Then place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 8 hours. Garnish as desired with raspberries or chocolate (or pansies).

Now along the right side are the pictures of what it looked like going together:

From top to bottom we have butter, dry ingredients sifted together, melted butter, added to dry, mixed enough, the lined pan and then the crust formed into the pan.

Of course there is a story behind why the pan has waxed paper in it. It got lent out over the summer and came back with its shiny black coating all shredded and peeling. Yeah, ick. So I buttered it and stuck the waxed paper to it and am now shopping for a new 10" spring-form pan.

Oh, here's a tip that never gets explained anywhere: once I got it mixed well, I divided the crust in half and pressed one portion into the bottom of the pan, then set the pan on edge and pressed the rest to the sides, a little bit at a time, all the way around. It was kind of a pain, but it came out looking beautiful. I smoothed it with the back of a spoon, too.

And for the record, I have tried both the package mix and the home-made versions of the crust, and the home-made version is the better of the two, no question.

Below that we've got the beginnings of the filling. Four of the BIG blocks of cream cheese - I use the local store brand, plus eggs and whipping cream. This is not a low-fat thing. It's a cheesecake. You want low-fat, go make yourself a nice salad and leave me the hell alone. Go. Now.

Another thing that is useful to know is that while cream cheese might be smooth when it is still cold, the "smooth" you're looking for in the mixing process is "smooth and creamy and spreadable like peanut butter on hot toast" as opposed to "smooth but still stiff".

The recipe says to add the vanilla after the eggs, but long history has taught me that I never remember to add it there, so I put it in with my first egg. I do this no matter what I am baking. If it frigs with the end flavor, then so be it. If I don't do it that way, it simply never gets in at all.

It's important to make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl when you add each egg or else you get big lumps of non-whipped cream cheese, which make funky pockets of goo in the middle of the cheesecake. Even in non-elite culinary circles, that is considered bad form.

As you can see, I made the raspberry puree in my Magic Bullet. I love that thing. It is truly one of the most useful gadgets in my kitchen. Oh, when you get berries - if fresh are not available or too expensive out-of-season, make sure to get frozen whole berries that are not packed in any kind of syrup. The recipe depends on the pucker of the berries to counter the heavy sweetness of everything else.

I think this is the recipe that finally killed Old Yeller, my grandmother's circa 1938 Sunbeam Mixmaster stand mixer. Gawd but I loved that mixer. It was sturdy as hell, the base had a little metal spinny thing that allowed the white glass bowl to spin this way and that for easy scraping of the sides or adding ingredients here and there. Oh, man, it was just a marvel. Unfortunately, the motor gave out and even the old guys who fix appliances were unable to do more than clean it up and oil it. The parts simply are no longer available. I think it now serves as a boat mooring. Damned thing weighed a ton!

When the cheesecake has been in the oven for an hour, turn it off and open the door. This time the cheesecake was taller than I have ever made one before! As the cooler air of the kitchen hit it, the center began to sink, but not to black-hole-like proportions. It settled softly, and much of the rest of the cheesecake settled with it. I had to let it cool gently there for a couple hours before putting it in the fridge to set. It is the rapid temperature change that causes the sink-hole in a cheesecake.

By the time it was fully chilled, including a final blast of cold from 90 minutes spent in L's car in a howling snowstorm, the center of the cheesecake had sunk to just over two inches high. Not beautiful, but not horrid, either.

We brought it in from the car and took off the spring form pan, then carefully peeled off the waxed paper from the sides and bottom. It was touchy going, but not impossible. Not a thing you want to hurry through, that's for sure.

We tried to cut off the toasted brown top, but gave up when we realized that we would have to sacrifice some of the wonderful chocolate crust on the outside edge of the thing. Screw that! was the sentiment. It's not the prettiest, but we didn't want to throw away any of the flavor. So we cut it. The crust was nice and firm, sort of with a toasted feel to it (must be that stick of butter!) and the hot knife had no problem slicing through. Per usual, the first slice looked like monkeys had cut it with a grapefruit knife, so we didn't get a picture of that. But you can see how the other pieces came out.

As we cross over from the last dark year of the Bush regime into the promised light and hope of our president-elect, my wish for you is health, happiness, prosperity, peace where you are, and if making a cheesecake will brighten your day, then please take this recipe. It is the best one I have ever tasted. Happy New Year.



Will someone please explain this?

How does she breathe? It makes no sense.

In celebration of what we in recovery call "amateur night" I'm making double chocolate raspberry cheesecake for this evening's dessert. We plan to celebrate the Scottish New Year, which falls at the utterly civilized time of about 7 p.m. Eastern. Much more sensible than staying up until midnight in the middle of the freakin' winter.

Oh, and I'll have pictures and the recipe when the cheesecake is done. It smells yummy!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another tile job

So I've got another tile job. This one looks to be both easier and more difficult than the last one. Easier because it will not be in a broom closet. More difficult because it is going to involve partial demolition. Oh, and it involves 1970s colors, I think. That could be a problem.

See, the ceiling in the half bathroom downstairs started leaking a while back whenever someone upstairs was showering. A previous contractor sort of patched the ceiling downstairs, but then hurt his back and hasn't been seen since. Upstairs, some of the tiles in the tub surround started to come off, revealing what the renter/client described as "dark, wet wood" which means the tiles were probably mounted to plywood. Not uncommon, but nasty once a leak develops in the grout, because the wood swells with the water and forces other tiles to come loose and fall off. It's a bad situation. That's why I'll be putting up wonderboard and sealing it with fiberglass resin. I don't want any wood to get wet. Ever.

Because she was concerned about the water leak causing more damage, the lady I will be working for took the pro-active step of lining the inside of the tiled shower enclosure with shower curtains and plastic sheeting. She did an admirable job, too, in keeping most of the water from getting at the tiles and loose grout. Here are some of the pictures.

First, you can see the plastic and duct tape sealing job. Inelegant as it appears, it is working very well.

Next you can see how she taped the shower curtain up with clear tape to cover the tiles and grout where she feared there might be leaks. Again, it is not an ideal long-term solution, but it is working very well as a stop-gap measure.

The ceiling tiles seem to be ok. I mean aside from the fact that they are turquoise. There is not much I can do about that. I plan to leave them if it is at all possible (dear god, please let it be so!). I HATE putting tiles up overhead. Gurk!

I am unsure the actual vintage of these tiles, so I measured them to see what I might find in the store when I go shopping. Modern tiles I think are 4 1/4 inches on a side. These are 4 1/8. Doesn't it just figure? The measurements and counts will be all different. Grr.

Add to this mix the fact that the tiles wrap around the entire bathroom to a height of about four feet. I will not be replacing them all, just the ones on the three interior walls of the tub enclosure, and probably the few around the corner from the faucet end of things so that I can stop at the "inny" corner instead of the "outie" one. Someone please tell me you understand that. In any case, I will have to be very careful in my ripping and tearing. I don't want to have to replace more tiles than is absolutely necessary, and I don't want to damage the tiles that will remain. It will be fussy work at the edges. In the middle I can swing a medium-big hammer, but not at the edges. Urk.

Oh, and the stairway is narrow and outrageously steep - essentially a carpeted ladder. I am not looking forward to humping cement board up there, or tile or tools, saw horses and grout. Did you know that tile adhesive comes in 50-pound bags like cement? Yeah. I'm looking forward to that. I am thinking that the old tiles might get put into five-gallon pails and lowered out the window to the back yard. Those stairs are just killer!

So that's what I am up against. While staying at my aunt's house. While blogging in secret, out behind the gym. While sleeping in a twin bed in a room that is very, very pink and frilly. Sigh. I did charge extra for that stuff, dontcha know.

On the bright side, I will be able to attend all of the old meetings that I used to go to when I was newly sober, some years ago. Methinks I have changed a bit since those days. I was thin, enthusiastic, (acting) straight and my hair was brown, at least when I wasn't dying it strange colors. Oh, and I was 20 and hadn't done any real recovery work. Now I'm a fat, grumpy old lesbian with gray hair and a bad attitude. But at least I've done some stepwork. Oh, it'll be fun to see them all. Seriously, it will be fun. I am looking forward to it immensely. Just not the tile part. Or the pink room.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oh hell

Gotta go back. Did an estimate, made it worth my while, and she liked it anyway.

I go back to my aunt's house next weekend and stay for a week.

So I can do a tile job for a neighbor lady.

And NaBloPoMo at the same time.

I'm thinking there will be lots of pictures of tiles.

I had so hoped to write about sex.


recipe time

Oh man.

I got a cookbook for Christmas. Greetings from Maine Recipes from the Maine Kitchen put out by the Cancer Community Center. It's a non-profit kind of thing that does good works. You can get a copy of this cookbook at Do it. The organization is cool and the recipes are much better than you usually get from stuff with Maine twice in the title.

First recipe I try is something I am going to post because I know that Jen over at Never a Dull Moment is looking for easy gluten-free recipes and I don't know if Robin at Around The Island might not be able to use it because there is Coconut milk instead of critter milk, and I think she has dairy issues with her kids.

In any case, it is yummy and I found all the ingredients at Hannaford, a Maine-based supermarket chain, so I'm pretty sure anyone will be able to find the ingredients without too much trouble. And don't get freaked out that it calls for mussels. This would work just as easily with boneless chicken breast cut up pretty small or tofu if you are vegetarian.

Thai Mussels

Serves 6 as an appetizer or two as a meal.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes (20 if you make rice)

1/4 cup butter
4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I used a 28-ounce can of diced)
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
2 Tbsp ginger, peeled and minced fine
2 cans (14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp Thai Red Curry Paste
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tsp salt (I forgot and never missed it)
3 pounds of mussels, scrubbed clean (ours came in a 2-lb. bag, so that's what I used)

(I used our big wok to cook this)
Melt butter in bottom of a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Add tomatoes, garlic, and ginger, saute until garlic is tender.

Add is coconut milk, curry paste, salt and cilantro, reserving some cilantro for garnish.

Simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Add mussels, cover and cook until mussels open, about 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that don't open. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle on the rest of the cilantro.

Serve with plenty of crusty fresh bread to soak up the delicious sauce. (Dawn adds: or boil up some rice noodles and serve it in bowls like a large, lumpy soup.)

It was absolutely fantastic. The butter can be switched with margarine or oil according to your tastes, the mussels can be switched for boneless chicken breast, it can be served with bread, over rice noodles or on a plate of steamed rice.

{ASIDE: puppy is fine. Everything is working out. Ahem.}

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Puppy update

Which is a little inaccurate, technically. Quinn is nearly two years old, so she is really not a puppy still, but you know what I mean.

Nothing to report. She slept like a sedated pillow last night. I just went in a poked at the lump that represents a small dog sleeping under the covers and got her best wookie grunt in reply. She's under there, she's asleep, and when the steak is done - or perhaps when she is done with the steak - she'll let us know and we (OK, Laura and she) will go outside to deal with it. She seems not to care that others in the blog world are concerned for her well-being. She's still sleeping and wants to stay that way, thank you very much.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!

Good gawd but it feels good to sit at my own kitchen table with a cup of decaf that I didn't have to fight anyone for and type on my blog without hiding anything from anyone. Ahhhh. I even took off my bra. Life is good. There is no longer any need to hunker down behind the gym.

So we were up and out at a reasonable hour. L, bless her, packed the car while I was showering and getting ready. As it turns out, she was able to pack nearly everything into the trunk so we could have Quinn's soft-sided, zip-together doggie crate in the back seat with room to spare. I was very impressed.

Father L had given us each gift cards at a local grocery store chain on Christmas eve, so we had to spend them on our way north. Cool enough. We stopped in New Hampshire and picked up some nice stuff - wicked cheap prosciutto, some nice pancetta, a beautiful sirloin roast, some steak tips and some shaved steak for steak bomb sandwiches later this week. Oh, and we got some doughnuts too. Sticky yummy goodness!

So we uncrated Quinn for the ride and sequestered her while we were out of the vehicle. Seems like a good plan. Keep her out of the prosciutto and all. She hates it, but at least it is not as harsh as the wire cage she lived in back in the puppy mill. I mean she has her piglet blankie and a chewie toy, so it could certainly be worse.

We met our friends S and M (how much fun is that?!?!) for lunch in Portland and we lingered over the Thai noodles for nearly two hours. Time to go. M says he'll come say hello to Quinn (they're best buddies, after all) and get an auxiliary tin of cookies for his parents. As we approach the car, I notice that the little pooch is sitting in her favorite perch - atop the back of the front seat on the arm rest. She can see all around the car that way and thinks she's pretty special.


She was in the cage when we went in for lunch. Oh shit.

We get to the car to find our near hysterical pup (afraid we'd abandoned her) and a collapsed cage. It appears that she got her nails into the space between the zipper bits and simply unzipped the thing until it came apart and freed her. Well I'll be damned. What a clever little beastie she is!

And then I noticed the yellow Styrofoam tray lying face down on the upholstery. The plastic was peeled back in a fashion that indicated that whatever the contents had been, they no longer lived in the safe confines of polystyrene and Saran Wrap. Oh dear.

L flipped the tray over to reveal one fairly long piece of sirloin steak tip.

Only there had been two in the package, and the package held a pound of beef.

That means our little dog ate on half-pound of raw steak while sitting on the burgundy crushed velour upholstery of the back seat (hey, the car came with the shit and it is -or was- in mint condition).

Oh dear indeed.

I called Quinn's foster mom, the one we got her from back in March, and explained the situation. She was far more amused than panicked and explained that our job at this point was to wait, administer water as much and as often as she'd like it, and to walk her as soon as the half-pound of beef begins to indicate that it has made its way through her guts.

I can hardly wait.

It's been about eight hours now - I expect something pretty soon. I think that's going to be L's job when it happens. Ewie.

In other news on the way home, I met up with two of my half-sisters whom I have not seen in nearly a decade. We found each other on facebook, and it was good to sit and talk with them today. We tried to get in touch years ago, but life intervened, and now we're back, older, a little wiser, more mature, and probably a little more sane. Let's hope at least.

My blog buddy Robin (the Jewish girl in Israel, mind you) reminded me of the Dar Williams song the Christians and the Pagans after reading of our adventures over the holiday.

And you know what? I can't watch it without crying. Even now. There is so much there that rings true - family strains and feuds, hate, rejection, acceptance in unexpected places, all of it.

Happy Boxing Day to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

One last puff...

It's nearly 11 p.m. on Christmas night. The presents have been opened and appropriately admired; dinner has been cooked and eaten, and also admired; friends have been visited, cookies delivered and arguments over religion concluded on friendly terms ('tis the season for miracles, I am told).

I got a new coffee pot to replace my old one that broke. I got a new immersion blender (sexy stainless one from Cuisinart!) to replace my aging one, and new bedroom slippers. I am delighted. Oh, and a new pair of Carhart work pants, which I am wearing now, and a Maine cookbook that has lots of cool stuff in it that I don't have in my other cookbooks. L got a computer game that measures her brain age, plus a little cartridge that allows her to curse at 41 different games. She seems quite happy. Quinn got two jackets, a series of squeaky/chewy toys and a little electric pencil sharpener thing to trim her nails. She seemed most pleased with the leftover gravy from lunch that ended up in her kibble dish. My aunt got a gorgeous Alfred Dunner red wool coat, a turtleneck/fleece sweater ensemble, a hooded sweatshirt with a map of MDI so she can point to where we live, and a few odds and ends. She also seemed quite pleased with our gift-selecting abilities.

My aunt - who is in fact a retired school principal - is upstairs in bed and has successfully been prevented from learning of the existence of this blog. Devout Catholic that she is, she prefers not to acknowledge things that make her uncomfortable. Knowing that I have a secret thing like this would make her uncomfortable, ergo, she does not see it. It is a similar thing to the "somebody else's problem shield" described by Douglas Adams in his Hitchiker's Guide series. Look it up, it's worth reading - all of it. Reading them in order helps.

We're looking forward to heading home tomorrow morning. We've got some friends to see and visits to make on the way, plus the good Father L. gave us each gift cards to a local grocery chain, so we're going to stock up on stuff we can't find back in Maine - Italian specialty items, cheap meats, ground chourizo, that kind of stuff. We'll be home hopefully by suppertime and before the weekend's anticipated foul weather. I'd rather be there if the basement is going to flood.

I have an estimate to put together for a woman here in Massachusetts that could net me a nice chunk of change, although it will mean that I'll have to come down for a week or so to do it. I am not sure how much I want to do that and be away from home, but we'll see what happens. I'll quote a price that makes it worth my while and see what she says. If it's entertaining at all, you'll read about it here.

The clock on Episcopal church around the corner has just struck 11. It's time to tuck in for the night. We've got some packing and getting ready to do in the morning before we hit the road. The holiday is mostly over and we have managed to survive it. Here's hoping that you all have survived as well. Happy Holidays, all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quinn's new boots

Attention! Especially for the ladies!!

Go pee now. Before you hit play.

Just trust me.

OK, this is probably the most horrible quality video you'll see on YouTube. It is my little dog's new boots and her second time ever wearing them. She is not terribly thrilled with them.

Of course there is a legitimate reason why we have these boots for this little dog. Her feet have been through an awful lot. For the first year of her life, Quinn was in a puppy mill. Her feet never touched the ground, only the wire cage in which she lived. When the mill was raided and she was rescued, her feet were swollen to nearly three times their normal size and she could hardly walk on them. After months with a holistic vet and tender treatment in foster care and with us, her feet are still sensitive. So much so that she could not walk for just five minutes yesterday in a snowy parking lot. Her little feet hurt so badly that she just laid down on her side in the parking lot and tucked her feet up so they didn't touch the snow. It nearly broke my heart. So today we took some of our Christmas money and bought her some boots to protect her little feet.

That's me on the right in the black jeans and work boots. L is the one running the camera and laughing like a lunatic. Enjoy.

snow pics

Still behind the gym. Here are some pictures of what I shoveled Monday. There is a long front walk and a big driveway. Note how high the banks of snow are on each side and think "she did all that with a shovel?" Yeah. My concern now is the heavy snow on the metal roof - I fear it will come down and form a huge, sodden (then frozen) mound in front of all the exits to the house.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Texture is everything

OK, maybe quantity is important, too.

I'm talking about snow here, kids. Get yer minds outta the gutter!

You saw the post of Quinn's most UN-excellent adventure to go pee last night. Poor thing couldn't squat, because no matter what she did, her feet never hit anything solid and the snow was ALWAYS snug up against her undercarriage. Think about that for a moment, will you? Brrr!

The snow last night was wet and sticky - great for snowballs and snowmen and forts and stuff like that. Except it was pitch black, cold as hell and blowing a gale, so we opted not to make snow sculptures in our yard. Well, after the snow stopped falling and the clouds cleared, the temperature dropped. All of that wet, sticky snow turned solid. The wind had compacted it quite solidly in several places in the yard, including under the bumper and whole driver's side of my truck. The kitchen door opened only because L went out there last night and shoveled a wee little space on the steps to allow that to happen.

The upshot of all this verbiage? That shit was heavy. I mean seriously heavy. But dry, so it didn't stick to the shovel, like wet snow will do. That'll jerk your arm right out of the socket when you're trying to fling snow and it won't let go of the shovel at the end of your arm's arc. I hate that.

But what did happen was the snow was frozen and compacted, sort of like a cross between flour and frozen cool-whip. I could cut great square cubes of snow with my shovel - so great in fact that I could barely lift them. I ended up chopping squares, then scooping the top half of the square off before going back for the bottom half. That's a lot of chopping and scooping and tossing, let me tell you.

And the day just got longer and longer as it went. Shovel out the truck, get it unstuck (LOVE 4WD!) head out and do one lady's walk and path for the oil man. Go to next account, shovel wide path up front, extra wide to allow access for emergency personnel if necessary (they're seniors, so I fuss and fret over them) In through the house to the garage and the little snow blower. That. just. won't. start.

No matter what we do. Push this, pull that, push the little squirty button a bunch, spray starter stuff in there, nada. Well, I told the gent, I've shoveled bigger and worse. He did not look convinced, but it's true. When I was a kid and there was a snow day, I shoveled. And we had a looooong driveway.

The only way to do something like this is one row at a time, one scoop at a time and just keep going.

I set to work. The driveway is probably 18 feet wide by 40 or 50 feet long. It was filled with that self-same dense-packed stuff I described above. To a depth ranging from about 12 inches to about 30 inches (wind had made drifts as well). There was an absolutely obscene mound of snow and crap at the mouth of the driveway left by the town plow truck. Fortunately, I begged a favor from a guy I knew in the next parking lot. His truck had a plow, so he came and knocked it back a bit for me. Still, it was a long haul. After three hours, I was nearly all-in.

But they had a friend who needed help getting her car shoveled out, so I went there and helped her. Turns out she had another friend who needed HER car shoveled out, so I went over to the other parking lot. Then I remembered that I was supposed to bring the snow blower to the garage, I went back to the other place, picked it up (literally - it's not that big) and dropped it off.

By the time I hit the bank to deposit all of my riches it was already getting dark. I got home to find that I had absconded with all the good shovels this morning, so I still had to dig out L's car for us to take to Massachusetts in the morning.

As they say in Minnesota, Uf-da!

I am some freakin' sore tonight. My back hurts from the backs of my knees all the way up and over and down again to my chin. Damn. My face is windburned, although I did keep lip balm on, so I am not bleeding as well. I think I will probably not be able to move tomorrow. A four-hour-and-a-bit ride in the Crown Vic will be a wonderful thing - that car rides like my couch, but more comfortable.

Posting may be spotty due to the sneak-around factor at my aunt's house for the next few days, so please bear with me. I'll be behind the gym with the pilfered smokes. Winston reds.

P.S. I'll try to get a picture of the yards I shoveled before we leave town tomorrow and post them here if I can. You gotta see this stuff!

cookie time!

While something like two feet of snow fell outside yesterday, I baked cookies. What you see here is a tin I made up for an elderly lady I will see this morning when I go shovel out her house.

There are chocolate chip, sugar, ginger, macaroons, Russian Tea Cakes (the gumdrop ones) and baklava made with walnuts and baklava made with spiced dried apples, cranberries and raisins. The cookies I made yesterday, the baklava I made a few days ago.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A story in three chapters

Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 (with notation).

Chapter 3.

The end.

Move over, Max!

There's a new reindeer dog in the neighborhood!

We found the reindeer antlers in the box with the wrapping paper, so we tried them on Quinn. Only they didn't fit her head, so we had to improvise. She's not convinced.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Into the fray...

The entire progressive political world has got its panties in a large and uncomfortable bunch over Rev. Rick Warren giving the invocation prayer at Barack Obama's inauguration next month.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year, Warren's written a couple of books about living with purpose and he's got a mega-church somewhere west of here (California) and preaches to thousands each Sunday in what looks like a converted multiplex theater. He gets all het up and paces and shouts, a lot like black preachers sometimes do, but this guy's white, so conservative white people like him instead of fear him. Here is the Wiki page on him. Research at your own leisure.

The queer activists are in a lather. I mean a LATHER. See, Warren is a bit of a dope on queer issues. He's a bit of a dope on a lot of issues. He is against a woman having control over her own reproductive process, he is against gay rights and certainly gay marriage, he has espoused some pretty conservative views on women's role in society, Jews, and all the usual hot-button issues. He is on tape comparing gays to pedophiles, and incestuous siblings and all sorts of nonsense. He says homosexuality can be cured - prayed away, if you will. Anyone with any sense knows he's full of shit on these issues.

The list-serve I belong to has been rife with talk and sputter about this guy and Obama's choice of him. How could he betray us, the glbt community, by giving this guy a podium at our party? How could Obama talk about equality for us but then invite this schmoe to give the invocation?

What is interesting is that I have heard nary a peep from the conservatives about Obama's choice for the benediction, one Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowrey. Lowrey is a black preacher and a progressive who supports equality for the glbt community. He gave the eulogy at Coretta Scott King's funeral a while back and was widely acclaimed as a voice for progressives of Christian faith in America. (If you need a wiki reference for Mrs. King, please leave this site now. Get out. You're nowhere near smart enough to be here. )

So back to Rev. Warren. You might remember that he hosted a kind of forum/interview thing with John McCain and Barack Obama this summer. He invited each to his church and interviewed them separately on issues that were of importance to a lot of people in America, but particularly to evangelical Christians. Both men performed pretty well, and while McCain gave answers that I am sure were much more in line with the views of Warren's congregation, Obama held his own, explaining his moral bases for the positions he takes, and he did not alter his philosophies in order to accommodate the tastes of that audience.

Appearing on that program was considered risky by some, brave by others, and a sell-out by others still. Warren was criticised by the left for spending too much time on gays and abortion while in the Obama interview, and by the right for having him on the program at all. For McCain it was win-win. He showed up, was a grumpy old white conservative and probably didn't lose any votes for his effort. Obama had a lot more at stake at the time.

In all of the back-and-forth that has been going on this week, I find myself in an unusual position at the less liberal end of my queer caucus. Everybody, and I mean everybody, is worked up about this thing. The embittered Hillary supporters have been shouting that she never would have done anything as bone-headed as this (bullshit). I have not seen emotions this high amongst my crowd since the caucuses. It's nasty out there. People are protesting in the town square and planning personal viewing boycotts of the inauguration.

And you know what? I don't get it. It's not worth dying for. Our community has been through so much worse, and at the hands of people who claimed to be our allies (think Clinton administration, DOMA, DODT, etc.), that this is really minor. Bill Clinton had Billy Graham give his first inaugural invocation. Irony, anyone? At least this Warren guy preaches against violence against us. He preaches against discrimination. He does not damn us to eternal flames or a watery grave as other evangelicals do. Let's back off a bit, kids.

I live in a very progressive world. I work for myself and much of my work comes by word-of-mouth referrals, so it often involves friends and like-minded people. My community has two world-renowned genetic research laboratories that attract a highly-educated, world-class, generally liberal staff of scientists and support staff. There is also a very hippy college with one major - human ecology. So yeah, I live behind the tofu curtain. I regularly participate in my list-serve, also filled with like-minded souls, many of whom cut their teeth in the women's lib movement of the 60s and 70s and all of the other assorted liberal/progressive things that happened in those years. I am steeped in my liberal world.

Only my liberal world is not universal. The rest of America looks quite different from the world I live in. In fact, just after the 2004 elections, when Bush won so handily, I remember thinking "who are these people who like this guy? Where do they come from?" Honestly, I knew maybe a half-dozen people who voted for Bush in 2004. Everybody I knew was voting for, volunteering for, getting out the vote for John Kerry. On the day after the election, it was as though I woke up in a foreign land.

So what did liberals do? The shrub had a majority in both houses and "political capitol" to spend. We were screwed. The usual circular firing squad was formed and blame was flung in all directions. But after we got done with that, when we were shut out of every part of government, we got pissed and then we got organized. We suddenly got over our petty shit and worked together and came back with a vengeance. We kicked ass this year and wrote down names. We didn't just remove the boot from our throat, we broke the leg it was attached to.

Now we must be careful. If we do not want to lose this all again in eight years, we've got to be careful not to do what Chimpy did and get all arrogant and pushy.

Yes, I live in a liberal world. But I am sure there are many hundreds of thousands of Americans who live in a very conservative world. You could take five members from each camp, set them in a room together and all parties would leave convinced they had just visited space aliens. We are nearly that foreign to one another. I have no concept of the thought processes of a person who is anti-choice, anti-gay rights, pro-death penalty, pro-war, and who thinks the bible should be used as a guide for legislation and policy decisions. I just don't get that mindset. They, on the other hand, probably cannot grasp my world - non-christian, lesbian, working in a male-dominated field, anti-nuke, pro-choice, pro-gay everything who thinks that the bible is best filed under "fiction."

But both of us exist. And probably in similar numbers. American politics is, after all, something like a bell curve, with similar amounts on the edges of each end (that's me on the left) and the majority of folks in the middle somewhere. This year, the bulk of that big bulge in the middle shifted incrementally to the left. We are still much too far to the right as a nation for my tastes, but the pendulum is beginning to swing back my way. I want to make sure it's going to keep swinging our way for many, many years. We have a lot of making up to do since Reagan got elected in 1980.

So anyway, those conservative evangelicals have got to be looking at this Obama thing and wringing their hands in grief and anxiety. The whole administration is going to be filled with those godless heathens who want to take away our guns! Oh woe!

That happened to us eight years ago. What did we do? Got pissed, got organized, remember? Right. So how do we keep them from getting pissed, getting organized, and throwing us out on our ass after eight years?

Include them.

Rick Warren is not darling of the religious right, but he's closer than anything we've got. They don't love him, but he pisses us off - a lot - and that endears him to them, certainly. He would not be their choice, but they trust him to speak their language and to carry their message to that seething liberal pit that has become their government. The conservative religious portion of America sees Warren probably as we see some of our not-as-liberal-as-we'd-like-them-to-be-progressives. No, he's not all aces, but he can go places the more strident of us cannot. He will make progress that we can agree with. If he compromises on a thing, we might complain, but he'll explain it so it doesn't stink so bad.

And that is what Barack Obama is counting on. This guy has the ear of the religious right. He is not their leader nor their emissary, but he can sway some of the masses. In order to affect lasting change, Obama must garner the support of ALL of the people, not just the ones who think like him. That's what the current occupant did. He got to the point where he just passed stuff over our protests. So what? he said. You haven't got what it takes to override it or even filibuster, so go pound sand. It is because of that attitude that progressives were able to take power. Obama is doing everything he can to avoid that kind of bully behavior. He must be a president for ALL Americans, not just the ones I happen to agree with.

Would Warren be my choice? No. Gene Robinson, maybe. Some wiccan crone, perhaps. Whoopi Goldberg, maybe, or Wanda Sykes. Donna Brazille - nah, I'd just get flustered and distracted. But then, it would be a strange day indeed if I were elected president. That's fluff in the clouds.

What is reality is Barack Obama trying to bring together a nation that is more fractured and more divided and more rancorous than it has been in any year since Nixon was impeached. He's not going to march to my drumbeat. Like he has done through his entire campaign, he is going to march to his own drum, play his own game, work his own strategy, and achieve many, if not all, of his goals and objectives. This is not new behavior for him. People who have known him for years say he's running true to his history and true to his pragmatic nature. He will get stuff done, and much of it will please us, however his methods might make us scream.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Einstein she ain't

Quinn is sitting in her window sill seat and barking... at the snow in the yard.


Not ferocious "get out of my yard or I'll rip you to shreds" barks, just little "I'm not sure I like this or really know what it is... there's something different and I'm weirded out by it" barks.

Woof. (long pause) Grrrrrroof. (pause) grrrroof. grrr. mrph.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I guess it's unanimous, then.

I couldn't say it any better than the Iraqi journalist who called McBush a dog and flung his shoes (both of them!) at the Current Occupant.


Of course the boy wonder in the presidential Under-Roos was oblivious to the fact that shoe-throwing is the highest insult one man can offer another in Middle-Eastern culture and likened it to an American free-speech issue and said the guy wanted to bring attention to himself.


January 20, 2009 cannot, I repeat, CANNOT come soon enough.

The scariest part, though? No secret service goons were anywhere to be seen until well after the guy ran out of shoes to throw. If he'd had a weapon, the Evil Dick would be president right now.

Friday, December 12, 2008

the pagan tree

OK, so we don't celebrate Christmas at our house in the traditional sense. We are neither of us Christians. Neither Quinn nor Kitten seems to have expressed a religious preference.

So why do we have a tree covered with lights in the living room? Because I like it. And I like the lights. And for some odd reason I like the beads, too. Maybe it's my internal drag queen.

This last one is a picture of my favorite ball - the hand-painted one from Plum Island. It's on a little spinny motor that plugs into the lights.

I started assembling the tree this afternoon. It has a lot of damned lights. Somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 in all. White lights, pink pride lights, colored lights. None of them blink. I have every outlet in a power strip filled with at least three stacking plugs. Many of the strings of lights on the tree are plugged in end-to-end, so there are more lights than I can tell by looking at the power strip. It actually throws off some warmth. I am sitting next to it and I can feel the heat.

I am headed to bed now. I've been at this whole tree thing for somewhere like 10 hours. I'm pooped. Enjoy the lights.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gold, Common Sense & Fur

OK, so I'm not huge on just forwarding crap without finding out where it came from, who wrote it, how old it is and/or if it came from a neo-nutjob site. But I got this thing from a list-serve this morning and could NOT pass up the opportunity to pass it along. The funny thing is, I first thought to forward it to a bunch of friends, but then realized that they're all probably going to look here anyway, and this saves me that step. Prepare to howl!


My husband and I had been happily married (most of the time) for five years but hadn't been blessed with a baby.

I decided to do some serious praying and promised God that if he would give us a child, I would be a perfect mother, love it with all my heart and raise it with His word as my guide.

God answered my prayers and blessed us with a son. The next year God blessed us with another son. The following year, He blessed us with yet another son. The year after that we were blessed with a daughter.

My husband thought we'd been blessed right into poverty. We now had four children, and the oldest was only four years old.

I learned never to ask God for anything unless I meant it. As a minister once told me, "If you pray for rain, make sure you carry an umbrella."

I began reading a few verses of the Bible to the children each day as they lay in their cribs.

I was off to a good start. God had entrusted me with four children and I didn't want to disappoint Him.

I tried to be patient the day the children smashed two dozen eggs on the kitchen floor searching for baby chicks.

I tried to be understanding when they started a hotel for homeless frogs in the spare bedroom, although it took me nearly two hours to catch all twenty-three frogs.

When my daughter poured ketchup all over herself and rolled up in a blanket to see how it felt to be a hot dog, I tried to see the humor rather than the mess.

In spite of changing over twenty-five thousand diapers, never eating a hot meal and never sleeping for more than thirty minutes at a time, I still thank God daily for my children.

While I couldn't keep my promise to be a perfect mother - I didn't even come close... I did keep my promise to raise them in the Word of God.

I knew I was missing the mark just a little when I told my daughter we were going to church to worship God, and she wanted to bring a bar of soap along to "wash up" Jesus, too.

Something was lost in the translation when I explained that God gave us everlasting life,
and my son thought it was generous of God to give us his "last wife."

My proudest moment came during the children's Christmas pageant.

My daughter was playing Mary, two of my sons were shepherds and my youngest son was a wise man. This was their moment to shine.

My five-year-old shepherd had practiced his line, "We found the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes." But he was nervous and said, "The baby was wrapped in wrinkled clothes."

My four-year-old "Mary" said, "That's not 'wrinkled clothes,' silly. That's dirty, rotten clothes."

A wrestling match broke out between Mary and the shepherd and was stopped by an angel, who bent her halo and lost her left wing.

I slouched a little lower in my seat when Mary dropped the doll representing Baby Jesus, and it bounced down the aisle crying, "Mama-mama."

Mary grabbed the doll, wrapped it back up and held it tightly as the wise men arrived.

My other son stepped forward wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown, knelt at the manger
and announced, "We are the three wise men, and we are bringing gifts of gold, common sense and fur."

The congregation dissolved into laughter, and the pageant got a standing ovation.

"I've never enjoyed a Christmas program as much as this one," laughed the pastor, wiping tears from his eyes. "For the rest of my life, I'll never hear the Christmas story without thinking of gold, common sense and fur."

"My children are my pride and my joy and my greatest blessing," I said as I dug through my purse for an aspirin.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Good news and bad news

I have good news and bad news this evening.

The good news is that I finally finished the shower stall and that I have pictures.

The bad news is that I do not have holiday tree pictures. I got home too late and had to cook dinner, which means I had to do some dishes first to find the stove, etc. And now we seem to be missing a box of ornaments. Very important ornaments. Miami Sound Machine ornaments. At present we have only the weakly blinking Bird of Prey, which I think could really be enough, but my beloved seems to want the shiny balls and little characters on hooks. So the tree goes up tomorrow. For now I am going to show you the pictures of the shower stall. Tomorrow you'll get the tree. Deal.

First, this is how things looked when last we checked in:

Today I boxed in the exposed wood and put sheetrock on the side of the wall that will be next to the toilet:

Here's a better look at the bottom of that wall:

And now the top of that wall:

I added some trim to the top of the inside of the shower as well to finish it. I had to make some persnickety cuts to replace the old molding, but I think it works. It will look fine with a coat of paint.

Here is the shower head rig. Remember the pipe that went straight up through the top of the wall? Well, I put the trim board on, drilled through it, and slid the copper pipe up through the hole. I then put some dope on the threaded fitting and screwed it into the brass shower hot/cold mixing unit and tightened it with a wrench. Then I polished up the top of the upright pipe, smeared on some flux and soldered the elbow and fitting into place. I let it cool while I fiddled with drywall and trim and then put some teflon tape on the plastic fitting and screwed it into place and added the shower head in the same fashion. This is what it looked like when finished:

Because I made the exterior of the shower stall a little bit bigger than the old one, I had to trim the existing window trim. This means I had to notch out the new trim to accommodate the existing trim. Here's what it looks like there:

I'm just thrilled that the window has enough clearance to open. Although leaving it open while you're in the shower might be painful to the getting in and out of the stall part of things.

On the back of the wall with the water pipes inside, I put up sheetrock and trim, but I had to allow access to the pipes for repair and maintenance. I cut the drywall into three pieces, hung the right and left permanently and then used the middle one to make a frame of trim wood that could be removed. There are four galvanized three-inch decking screws holding it in. I put putty over all the other screw holes so there would be no confusion. Here are a couple pictures, one top, one bottom:

And here is a close-up of the top that shows the screws:

Now I'm off to bed. Tomorrow holds promises of freezing rain, sleet, snow and all kinds of nastiness. Luckily, I think I will be spending a good part of the day playing with the tree. Provided I find the box of decorations. TTFN.