hrj: (doll)

Here in the Bay Area, there's a certain feel in the air when fall has come--an assortment of possible feels, truth to tell. The one we all dread is when the wind turns hot and strong, the leaves dry up and turn to dust in the air, blinding the eyes, and every breath is evaluated for the taste of smoke. October is Fire Season, when the particulates in the air turn the sunset into a Maxfield Parrish painting.

But this year fall came with a different feeling. Between one day and the next, the air tasted...colder, damper, darker. And then, with almost no warning, an energetic downpour passed through. Not a large-system storm that wets everything across the eleven counties, but the sort where I could bicycle to Walnut Creek and back and not realize it had rained until I came back to wet pavements in Concord. At least twice since then I've woken up to clear skies and puddles on the patio. The air is thick with thoughts of, "Please, let it be a wet winter."

In the space of a week, I went from sleeping with the window open and the ceiling fan running to swapping out the summer duvet (that mostly lay scrunched at the foot of the bed) for the winter one.

The tomatoes are shutting down their flowers and I'm reviewing recipes for green tomato relish in case we don't get enough hot days for the remaining fruit to ripen. On the days when it's still warm enough to sit out in the garden, birdsong has given way to the rasping of squirrels cracking nuts and the explosive crunch of the black walnet shells from the alley behind my yard as cars pass through.

Dusk has drawn back far enough that we put the running lights on the dragonboats before taking them out, but not yet far enough that the bay has calmed and we can paddle out past the breakwater to practice with the fairy-lights of The City in view. The next month's practices will be marked by watching sunset creep slowly south from the Marin headlands until it's framed between the towers of the Golden Gate. If the fog allows, we time the practice route to include a pause to watch the sun sink into the sea. Some people say they've seen the Green Flash, but I never have.

What signs mark the turning of your season?

hrj: (doll)
Sorry to all of you who are still mired in winter snows, but I have daffodils and crocuses and tulips and roses. I have blooms on my plums, quinces, cherries, and medlars. The strawberries and raspberries and blueberries are flowering. The tomatoes and eggplants are thriving. I'm harvesting fresh herbs. And there is a mourning dove nesting on the gardening shelves under the patio. Yeah, we have a major serious drought. But pthbbth! We have Spring!
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What made me think I could have gotten the room all prepped for painting yesterday evening, even without getting distracted by heraldic commentary? I got all the furniture moved out last night but left the rest for this morning. So far I've:

* removed the carpets and pad
* pulled up the tack strips (boo! hiss!)
* and all the little staples holding the pads in place
* ripped out the baseboard (because the flooring comes with its own matching baseboard)
* removed the blinds
* scraped off the old, brittle contact paper from the window sills (which works better if you heat it up first, like with a blow-dryer)
* temporarily removed the sliding closet doors and their tracks (the bottom track had to be removed to get the carpet out -- and would have had to be removed to put the floor down -- so it made more sense to take out both to make painting easier)
* scrubbed and washed the walls (discovering in the process that there are some patches of unfinished plaster on a couple of the walls ... which must date back to some former tenant)
* spackled (a surprisingly small number of holes)

and am currently letting everything dry completely before masking (basically just the light fixture and the windows) and starting the first coat. So I think the schedule will be: first coat today, second coat tomorrow. I've managed to move all the furniture and instruments and stuff just out into the living room (making the living room essentially unusable for the interim) which may be manageable until the new floor goes in. After that I can move stuff back into the room, even if it doesn't get its final organization until the bed is in place.

While I'm waiting, I've started several flavors of beef jerky drying in the oven. This is for the co-workers -- a reward for getting all their annual training up to day way before deadline. (I'm the official departmental training nag. I bribed them with the promise of beef jerky and cookies. I started off with just cookies, but they remembered the last set of beef jerky experiments and demanded more.) In addition to the traditional teriyaki flavor, I'm doing a couple of medieval-inspired batches (dry rubs based on powder fort and powder douce) and a curry rub. I still owe another guy at work a five-alarm-hot-sauce jerky batch, but I have to work myself up to that since I don't care for the hot spices myself.

I'm currently marinating a chicken in a lemon-herb mixture to throw on the rotisserie, but I think I'll do that tomorrow. I'm too exhausted today.

ETA: Just had an amusing little earthquake. About 3-4 seconds, maybe a 4.0? Depends on how close it was, but it felt like one of our east bay faults.
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Memo to self: You know better than to download a new free computer widget right at bedtime. Especially one with a near-endless potential for time-gobbling. You know better. And yet you did it. So now you have an Apple dashboard widget for calculating beats-per-second of any song playing in iTunes and automatically adding the data to the song file. And now you have close to a hundred song tempos recorded. And now you have a set of playlists organized by tempo-group and a first experimental cardio workout playlist designed to match the song tempo with the desired exercise pace. But you know what? You didn't get to use that playlist in the gym this morning did you? You know why? Because you may not know better than to download software at bedtime, but you do know better than to get up to go to the gym on 5 hours sleep.

The preceding notwithstanding, I did go to the gym after work and gave the new playlist a try. I've been having problems with low energy during my morning workouts and had been blaming it on everything from shorting myself on sleep to exercising on an empty stomach to circadian mismatch. But I think the real answer is too much reliance on talk-podcasts and not enough rousing up-tempo music. New resolution: talk-podcasts are for weight training; cardio requires music.

Deja books: Recall how back last June I wandered into Lacis for some notions and fell upon a book entitled Kölner Patrizier- und Bürgerkleidung des 17. Jahrhunderts: Die Kostumsammlung Hüpsch im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt? Well today I wandered into Lacis for some notions (needed a nice peacock-blue buttonhole silk for the lacing holes on the new Gothic gown) and noticed that the aforementioned book now comes with an accompanying volume supplying an English translation for the main discussion chapters.  When I asked if it were possible to buy the accompanying volume by itself (explaining my previous purchase) it turned out that they'd been supposed to be sold as a set but there had been a miscommunication with the supplier and Lacis didn't know about the second volume back when I bought mine.  So I got volume II for free (or rather, for no additional charge).

Rain, rain, come again:  Thank goodness we're finally getting some serious rainstorms.  I think the paper said that SF was up to 90% of season normal at this point.  (Of course, this isn't as positive as it sounds because there's still a lot of snowpack, aquifer, and reservoir depletion to be made up for, and that requires surplus, not just 100%.)  But still, we're moving closer to target.

Freezer-container surprise:  There are several useful purposes to actually labeling freezer containers with the nature and production date of the contents.  On the other hand, life is an adventure.  And green-garlic soup is just as interesting when made with salmon broth as it would have been made with chicken broth, or lamb broth, or beef broth, or any of several other possibilities for those unlabeled zip-locks.  It would, however, likely not have been as congenial if made with the apple puree.  Fortunately, those are labeled.  I've been on a fanatic purge of the random freezer containers lately.  Given my produce-buying habits, there are only a few things that make sense to buy and store frozen, and most of those are needless convenience (e.g., the bag of pre-sliced bell peppers -- simply picking up one pepper a week would take care of any incidental uses).  I'm down to one more container of salmon broth, two quart bags of apple-puree-for-jelly (which must date to back before the second apple tree was taken out), and one sad slightly used back of frozen oriental veggies.  To be kept are the zip-lock of lemon-juice-and-zest ice cubes from the last harvest of my lemon tree, the assorted bags of frozen berries (used in baking or smoothies), and of course such things as the whole-bean coffee.  No doubt I'll come out of this downswing and fill it back up a bit, but food in the freezer tends to sit there longer than it ought and in general my eating plan centers around cooking only what I plan to eat in one meal, not on making multiple meals up in advance.
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This afternoon I completed the entire slew of annual GMP and Health-and-safety online training (complete with graphic video dramatizations of all manner of horrific and bloody injuries that can happen if you Work In An Unsafe Manner). My department aspires to (again) be the first department to achieve 100% training completion so as our official Training Nag I must set a good example. My brain is completely fried. Maybe its that; maybe it's avoiding dealing with sorting out paperwork on my dining room table; maybe it's too many not-on-time bedtimes, but I've decided to hit the sack as soon as I've finished dinner tonight. We'll see if I succeed.

The surviving garments slideshow and lecture in SF last night was successful, I think. I even managed to finish on schedule despite not paying any attention to the time. But I was once again reminded that allowing an entire hour to get from the eastern end of the Bay Bridge to any given point in SF may be cutting things a bit close.

My first daffodil of the season is blooming. Its even almost light enough when I leave the house in the morning to see it (although not when I get home in the evening). I need to get more sunlight. Maybe that's why I feel all draggy.
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According to wunderground.com, my local temperature high for today was 79.9F. I could have sworn I was living in the northern hemisphere and the month was January. (But I guess the temperatures up at Kirkwood this weekend are a bit more understandable.) This is just Not Right.
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Yes, yes, I am a coastal Californian. When making my travel plans to Maine, I put in an order for sufficient snow to provide atmosphere and get in some good cross-country skiing. Well, here's the weather report:

Today: Blizzard warning
Monday: 40% Chance of snow
Tuesday: Snow likely at night (60% chance)
Wednesday: Snow likely (70% chance)
Thursday (Christmas): Sunny!
Friday: 30% chance of snow
Saturday: 30-40% chance of snow
Sunday: 30% chance of snow

I think I can consider the request to have been well and properly filled. Not only will I get in some good cross-country skiing, that may be the only way to get the grocery shopping done! I'm lying here in bed watching the flurries out the window and listening to the mini-plow-for-hire clearing out my brother's driveway which has accumulated about a foot since we arrived this afternoon. Yes, I can feel sympathy for the folks who have to live with this all winter. But there's nothing wrong with making the tourists happy.
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To make up for last year's travel fiasco (36 hours in transit and two unanticipated hotel nights) I seem to have been one of the maybe 1% of airline travelers this weekend who had no substantial delays or problems. The Oakland-NY leg had only the originally noted 20 minute delay (although in order to check in I had to wade through a lot of annoyed people working on rescheduling other cancelled flights). When I got into NY this morning the Delta status board was showing about two of every three flights cancelled ... but not mine. And although we ended up sitting on the tarmac in line to take off for longer than we were in the air, the tailwind made up for it and I arrived only about half an hour later than scheduled. The drive from Portland to Waterville was a little hairy since the snow had scaled up to pretty much blizzard conditions, but we got through ok. Now I can just sit back and enjoy the snow for the next week and a half before having to worry about getting anywhere at any particular time again.
hrj: (Default)
The original theory was to do the packing (for both Maine and 12th night) last night. But since my plane doesn't leave until this evening I decided to leave it to morning and finished up the sewing project instead, which was probably a better choice. So [livejournal.com profile] xrian, if you're going to be at 12th night, you can take delivery of the undergown that was supposed to go with your Laureling outfit a couple years ago. And now the packing is all completed as well and I have all day to tidy the house and worry about possible blizzards in New York. So far the Delta flight-status website still lists my flight as on-schedule, but the radio keeps saying things about the weather that will keep me on edge until tomorrow morning's leg to Portland actually touches down.

So the remainder of today's to-dos are: wrap a couple of 12th night presents; hang the birdseed bells on the redwood tree out front; drop off some obsolete electronics at the drop-off event over at IKEA; do as much tidying up of the house as I feel like doing; start some random project that will not be completed before I leave and for which there is no urgency whatsoever but that will suddenly seem very important to do.
hrj: (Default)
Ok, ok, so I freely admit that I trend data reflexively, even in my spare time for fun. One of the things I've been doing for the last several years is that when the gas & electric bill gets paid, I note down the individual gas and electric charges for the month in a spreadsheet. (And then graph the trend on a 12-month chart with the years and charge types color-coded.) As it happens, I have one month's bill that corresponds to the month after I started going to my new gym and before I turned on the heater pilot for the winter. The former is relevant because it means that I do my showering at the gym rather than at home. It appears that during a typical non-winter month, fully one third of my gas consumption was going to heating my shower water. Mind you, this isn't as massive a consumption as one might think, given that the bulk of the remainder is running the laundry (with a smaller amount for cooking). But ... amusingly ... it gives me a tangible number to discount against the monthly gym membership. In contrast, during the coldest winter month, gas consumption is 3-4 times that of a typical summer month. Ok, back to writing out bills.

Miscellany

Nov. 9th, 2008 04:26 pm
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Today it's finally been cold enough that I've thought about lighting the pilot in the furnace and adjusting the thermostat. I'll probably leave it for another week or so. I think my general pattern is to turn it on during the week before Thanksgiving (so that the cat doesn't freeze if we get a real cold snap while I'm off at Darkovercon).

Yesterday was the Principality of the Mists Bardic competition, which is always a treat for the various senses. Auditors outnumbered competitors 2:1 in the competition for the next principality bard (although, as [livejournal.com profile] klwilliams noted, "auditor" is an inapt name for a performer, despite the clear motivation for the use of the word for "participant not for official credit"). It's nice having the option of auditing (I'm even thinking of putting together an auditor-set next year) since it fills out the amount of available performance nicely and gives people a chance to "practice" for the competition. But it is a bit odd to have 4 auditors and only 2 actual competitors.

The dinner at the event was delicious and nicely paced, although I'm still quite curious to know more details about the dishes that were served. The menu was advertised as Russian and, although it isn't an area I've done any specific research in, my impression is that our knowledge of period Russian cooking is sketchy and largely extrapolative. I've gotten spoiled by having my SCA feast menus come with footnotes and references!

My body has finally gotten used to the new morning schedule (although the end of daylight savings time helped immensely) and I'm no longer quite as groggy going out the door. Or quite as tempted to stay up evenings at my old schedule. It's a different experience at the new gym -- lots more people, of course, and while I'm on the elliptical I get a birds-eye view of folks on the climbing walls. To the extent that I can see anything with my glasses off. It drives me too crazy to have my glasses bouncing around on my nose on the machine, which is unfortunate because otherwise it would be a great time to get some reading in. Instead I keep searching for new and interesting podcasts. I could wish that there were a better business model for "renting" audio books in a portable form. As a general practice, I'm not interested in buying audio books that I'm only going to listen to once. I've done a little research on the topic, and you can find web sites that will "rent" you a listen, but only while directly streaming it from the site. So I'd have to have an audio device with a wifi connection. Maybe someone will come up with the equivalent of iTunes movie rentals, although I'm aware that there are some significant logistical issues with that model.

I'm still ruminating on political topics. I'd love to have some in-depth philosophical discussions about racial issues around Obama's presidency but I haven't yet found a "safe" forum where I, as a white person, wouldn't feel like a bull in a china shop talking about it. And I'm trying to "move on" with regard to Prop 8 but I have to say I'm getting sick and tired of hearing apologists wring their hands over how the No on 8 side wasn't sufficiently energetic in begging people to please please give us our rights. No minority ever got equal rights by waiting for the majority to hand them over. Our best bet has always been to convince the courts to rule as justice demands and let the bigots catch up in their own time. But enough.
hrj: (Default)
It is now that Other Season -- you know, the one that isn't the Dry Season. Even without the deluge of rain yesterday (which I found extremely refreshing, despite the amount of running around outside I was doing) I would have known this because the Cat has informed me that it's time to pull out the electric heated bed. She informed me of this by taking a nap on top of the down comforter on my bed. This activity has been strictly forbidden ever since she's become rather lacksidaisical about tracking dirty cat litter out of the box. I will put up with a number of things from an elderly cat, but having urine-soaked cat litter tracked across my bed isn't one of them. *sigh* On the other hand, in general she's doing quite well for an elderly cat. Thinking on how my last burglary happened three years ago reminds me that when that one happened she was in the middle of an uneven recovery from a self-inflicted abscess on her neck and I was coming to grips with the possibility of losing her. Since then she's gone through a variety of psychological issues (esp. "The Floor Is EEEEEVVVILLLL!", "whaddaya mean I've been grooming this same spot for two hours straight?", and "cat box? what cat box? oh, I suppose it's somewhere around here"), gotten slower and creakier, and been subject to several restrictions on her allowed activities for the sake of my exasperation level. In return, I have instituted the Electric Cat Bed during the colder months and bought one of those armchair-side-desk-thingies so that she doesn't have to competed with the laptop for my lap in the evenings. We get by.
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Between the various fires, the winds whipping up dust, and the desperate dryness of the air, my sinuses have gone on strike. I haven't quite gotten to the point of dosing myself, since I'd rather be in pain than be sleepwalking all day. And yet, my brain has shifted over into Autumn mode. I find myself staring longingly at bags of lamb soup bones at the farmers' market, dreaming of steaming stockpots. There's something about simmering a pot of bones into soup that just makes me go all gooey inside.

I'm also in the middle of turning this year's quince crop into quince paste (for 12th night presents). For a bit of variety, I'm doing up batches of a dozen little cakes each with various additives. So far it's quince & almond, and quince & hazelnut. There's enough for at least two dozen more, maybe three, so I'll have to come up with more ideas. Hmm, come to think of it, if I want to continue on the nut additives, I've got lots of that pistachio flour still, and the chestnut flour could work, although it's a much finer texture than any of the other nuts I've used. Yes, that should fill out the set nicely, with the remainder being plain. (And no, even though I'm planning these for 12th night presents, I'm not aware of the nut-quince mixtures having a medieval basis, just the plain quince paste.) The results are a bit darker than commercial quince paste -- I'm guessing the commercial varieties may use some sort of anti-oxidizing additive. I think once I managed a quince jelly that was a pale rosy-orange like the commercial stuff. These, of course, have pulp in them, so they're much more opaque. I think I'll have to get some distinctively colored cellophane bags to package them in so I can tell the additives apart.

Seasonings

Oct. 10th, 2008 10:01 pm
hrj: (Default)
Whatever the calendar may say, today was the first day of Fall for me. We had one of those Arctic October winds blowing through, doing its usual thing of whipping up enough dust and whatnot to give me a splitting sinus headache. And to round off my "weather and earthquakes" topic tag, we had a cute little 3.1 movement right at the end of the workday -- just barely enough to make the disco ball in the office sway a little. (Don't ask.)

It looks like I've successfully shifted my gym routine to mornings. It took me a couple of days to get completely with the program, but the issues were things like "must remember to pack comb" and "figure out misleading settings on elliptical equipment" rather than having problems dragging myself out of bed at 6am. The circadian rhythm is still working on getting caught up, but the key thing is making sure I get to bed earlier.

Got my absentee ballot in the mail yesterday. I only have a few of the local races to do some research on before filling it out. Then I can try to ignore all the politicking for a while, except as bad theater. Gah! I hate what US politics have turned into.
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Just an appetizer of a quake around 9pm -- 4.0 over the other side of the hills. It's fascinating how different the experience of mini-quakes can be based on location.
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It rained last night? Weird. At least the folks in the Santa Cruz fire zone will be happy!
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Perhaps summer is finally here? (Or at least another temporary heat wave is passing through.) After gym today I went off to get my hair cut, had my usual post-haircut sushi (the restaurant has changed names -- and possibly management? -- the food is still just as good but the service was much slower than previously), and then wandered down the block to the Dreyer's factory and had an ice cream cone ... at an outside table ... at 8pm ... and it was warm. Yup, something closely summer-like. This week I have definitely got to start a serious round of housecleaning. And that starts with getting all the sewing stuff put away in the living room. Or maybe after cutting out one more project ....
hrj: (Default)
So after the brief heat wave of the weekend, I'm back to wearing gloves for the morning bicycle commute. I want my Spring back and I want it now!

I haven't done a Mystery Produce Review for a couple of weeks. Last week I was trying to use up leftovers from Coronet and clear out older stuff from the produce bin in the fridge, so I didn't buy anything exciting. This week I picked up some green garlic and have plans for a garlic/mushroom/asparagus soup tonight. (Recipe to follow when I've invented it.) But two weeks ago, I did pick up something I plan to review: commercial almond milk. I was originally thinking of trying out a couple brands and using one in the strawberry pudding for Coronet, but then I figured a proper comparison should involve home-made as well, and I ended up using that one in the pudding and was too rushed to do a proper taste-test at the time. So that's on tap for later posting as well. But here's one of my random experiments with the commercial product:

Golden (Almond)-Cream of Potato Soup

Boil about a pound of Russian Fingerling potatoes (a yellow-fleshed variety) until tender. Slice into chunks and put in a blender. (You can peel them if you like after boiling -- I don't bother.) Heat 2 cups of Almond Breeze unflavored almond milk to near boiling with a pinch of saffron. Pour in the blender and blend until smooth. Salt to taste and serve, garnished generously with grated cheddar cheese.

Result: Very yummy. The Russian Fingerlings have a bit more of a ... glutinous? texture than the more common commercial varieties and it gave the soup a very smooth body. Between the yellow flesh of the potatoes and the saffron (which also adds a hint of a summer-hay flavor), the soup is almost an egg-yolk yellow. I'd have to do a specific parallel taste test to tell what components the almond milk adds -- I used it mostly because I'd opened up two quart containers of almond milk to taste and want to use them before they spoil. One observation is that using almond milk as opposed to regular milk, there's a lot less concern about scorching it when heating.
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I managed to get everything into the roll-away, class handouts, wire supplies, medieval clothing and all. (Hey, it's just for a weekend, why should this be difficult?) I hope the security folks have fun x-raying all the spools of wire and the braided demo pieces ... but not too much fun. Didn't get around to preping the class materials, but I have one period off before the class, so worst case I can do it then while hanging out. (Well, worst case is the students have to do their own, but since I'm combining the slide show and the hands-on, I'd rather not lose the time having them cut wire and wind it on spools and whatnot.) Now I just have to flip a coin on whether to take the raincoat (not as warm) or wool coat (not water-resistant). The web says Seattle might even get snow Saturday.

Sproing?

Jan. 29th, 2008 11:17 pm
hrj: (Default)
My first daffodil bloomed today. (But I'm still wearing thermal underwear to work. You'd think that a company that has dozens of Standard Operating Procedures for properly controlling the working environment would be able to maintain an acceptable building temperature. Oh, wait, I'm not a baby hamster kidney cell. It doesn't matter if I'm cold.)

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