Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kate the Bear

There are always people taking collections and running raffles at work, for various charities. Today, one of my colleagues came around with a "guess the bear's name" sheet and a bear. I gave her £1 and plopped my name in the 'Katie' box. And completely forgot about it.

About half an hour later, the receptionist came on the PA and said, "Thank you all for your donations. The bear's name is Katie. Congratulations to Kate - please come get your bear!" At which point I let out a whoop of joy (which was heard throughout the sales department and caused much laughter). Katie the bear has come home and has been introduced to the other soft toys - I think they'll all get along.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Spring soon?

I know it's weeks and weeks until spring, but it's starting to feel like the darkest part of winter is over. We were driving home from the inlaws this evening at about 5, and while it was definitely twilight, there was still some light in the sky at 5:20. I was also given a small pot of bulbs by my friend last week - they turned out to be tiny daffodils that are blooming happily on the windowsill. Spring, I tell you.

Whatever extra light there is has pressed the 'garden' button in my brain. I'm obviously not the only one - the Thompson & Morgan seed catalogue arrived today. (Not sure how - since it's Sunday and it was sent via the postal service, but it was on the mat when we got home.) We planted a few shrubs last year and a whole bunch of bedding plants, as well as lots of herbs. We're definitely going to go with the bedding plants by the house again - they looked so jolly and lasted well into October.

There's a runty piece of lawn between the patio and the fence, about 18 inches deep and 5 feet wide. Last year, it was a pain in the ass to mow. This year, it's going to be a raised bed with tomatoes and marigolds in one end and herbs in the other. We also have a spot at the back of the garden where the parking lot behind goes underneath the grass. It's a perfect spot for a tree, except that there's only about a foot of dirt before you hit concrete. So we're going to use three half-barrels that we found at the garden center as planters and give up on the grass. Gravel will be our friend. The area around the compost bin is another spot that's going to get the gravel treatment - it's the lowest part of the garden and gets kind of boggy. The grass is dead in one spot and 8 inches high in others, fueled by what must be by now some v. ripe compost.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Trouser Mystery/Dilemma

I ordered some trousers from Boden this weekend - they turned up today. Having not ordered from them before (except for James), I wasn't sure of my size. They have really clear sizing charts, so I measured. Lots.

I ordered two pairs: these sailor trousers that look like they were made for me, and these jeans that are a bit too small. And yes, they're both the same size. Grrr. I called and asked if they would shrink, and the girl said that they hadn't had any feedback that they would. So do I keep the jeans and hope they stretch a little or do I get the bigger size? They're a little bit stretchy, and we don't have a dryer... It's a little frustrating - you'd think a mail-order company would rely on consistent sizing. Right?

Jeans are the first picture, sailor trousers the second. Ok, now that I've put them in as thumbnails they kind of look the same. They're different, I promise.

Update: I returned the jeans for a different cut - the same as the sailor pants. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Two completely different movies

John was working yesterday so I had the kind of quiet Saturday that I used to have when I lived in New York. I had a lazy morning, then walked into town (in my new and v. waterproof jacket), where I went to the library, Blockbuster, and then had a very tasty jacket potato for lunch.

We got to Blockbuster quite a bit - one of the employees has very similar taste in movies to John, and so is always recommending things. I got Hairspray, which I hadn't seen - I LOVED it. The music was fantastic and the story was cute. My parents saw it on Broadway ages ago, but somehow I missed it. I may have to watch it again before taking it back to the store.

Then when John got home, we watched Shoot Em Up. This was the one that Blockbuster Girl had recommended - she said that it was a very stylized and funny action movie. I wasn't so sure, and was thisclose to not even watching the movie after the previews on the DVD were all either really stupid action flicks or sophomoric comedies. The basic premise of the movie is that the hero finds a baby and needs to protect it. I usually can't tolerate violence in movies at all, but this was just so completely over-the-top that it was fine. It was filled with lots of in-jokes and Bugs Bunny references, and John and I really liked it. Not one to watch with James around, but a thumbs-up anyway.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ring-y ding-y!

I've been meaning to go learn how to ring the church bells in Stowmarket for about a year, and finally made it down to a rehearsal on Thursday night. However, they'd canceled rehearsal at the last minute so nobody was there. Boo. I'd called someone a few months ago and never gotten a response, so I was feeling a little frustrated. I left a message on the answering machine of one of the ringers, explaining that I'd love to come ring but that I didn't seem to be able to get in touch with anyone. We were at work pretty late last night, and didn't get home until about 6:45. I checked our messages, and Jo (the ringer) had called back. I called her, and she said that they were going to be having a quick practice tonight and did I want to come down? John said he didn't mind, so we bolted some dinner and I drove down to the church.

They were the most welcoming group of people - the ringing captain who's been ringing since about 1850, a married couple who have been ringing for a year, a very enthusiastic 9-year-old boy who's been ringing for 2 weeks, and Jo. I had a lesson on the '4' bell, which is an 8 cwt bell that was cast in 1450. Eek! It was the most incredible experience: relaxing and challenging and a little bit scary. And I'm completely hooked.

There's an entire Bell subculture that I never knew existed - there's lots of jargon and a crazy camaraderie and all kinds of networks of bells and ringers. Check out the Suffolk Bells website. There's also lots of info on Wikipedia about change ringing. I'm not up to the changes or exciting stuff - I'm still trying to get to the point where I can ring the bell without breaking anything or hanging myself. We were up in the church tower (click the picture to go to the church website):

My dad has sent another batch of photos - I thought these were good Jr. Foodie pictures. Mmmmm.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

2 reviews

I finished two books this week. And now I'm going to review them. Lucky you.

First, When Madeline Was Young, by Jane Hamilton. I don't remember where I heard about this - I think I stumbled across it on one of the blogs that I read. It's a 'family saga' tale told over the lifetime of the narrator, who is raised with a somewhat odd family. It didn't really have much of a plot, as far as I could tell. If the same story had been presented as autobiography, I probably would have enjoyed it more - it just seemed a sort of pointless novel. Meh.

Then I picked up one of the books in the pile from Freda (she makes extensive use fof the book swaps when they go on vacation). This time, Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad. It's the second book I've read in the series of myths retold by modern authors, published by Canongate. I've found some of Atwood's other books to be sort of spacey and wandering, but that style fit this story perfectly. It's kind of like The Red Tent in that it casts a minor (female) character from a well-known story in her own tale. It was a quick read and very witty - I loved it. The other one I read in this series was McCall Smith's Dream Angus and that was really good too. The rest of the series are at the bottom of this page. And are going to be in my library queue very shortly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mug Cozy

I've been at loose ends since I finished the blanket - I'm not feeling inspired or energetic enough to start something as big as a sweater, I have a million hats & scarves, and I don't wear mittens. Don't like wool socks, either. So I was trawling the interwebs for project ideas and made a mug cozy. I cannibalized a bunch of patterns around the internet: I cast on 50 stitches and worked a K2P2 rib until I was 'done'. It's a little tall for this mug, but it works on our bigger ones. Guess I'll just have to make another one. Oh, and because I'm so clever, I found this tutorial and made a buttonhole. I'm not sure I did it right, but it's a buttonholey looking thing and it hasn't unraveled. Yet. It's tied together with yarn at the moment, since I'm short a button. There were lots of tutorials where I was supposed to crochet a loop and other nonsense - I need to learn how to crochet but not right this second.

We had the inlaws over yesterday for lunch - we roasted a chicken using this recipe from Good Food. It was, by far, the best chicken I've ever had. Sorry, Mom. And then I made chicken soup for the boys, using the stock and some carrots and peas and pasta. Which was good, because I was home sick today (some kind of cold-y thing), and it was a very restorative lunch.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gloria Steinem on Barak and Hilary

This is a fantastic article, published in Monday's New York Times.

Op-Ed Contributor
Women Are Never Front-Runners

Published: January 8, 2008
Correction Appended

THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

If you answered no to either question, you’re not alone. Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.

That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).

If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.

I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.

I’m supporting Senator Clinton because like Senator Obama she has community organizing experience, but she also has more years in the Senate, an unprecedented eight years of on-the-job training in the White House, no masculinity to prove, the potential to tap a huge reservoir of this country’s talent by her example, and now even the courage to break the no-tears rule. I’m not opposing Mr. Obama; if he’s the nominee, I’ll volunteer. Indeed, if you look at votes during their two-year overlap in the Senate, they were the same more than 90 percent of the time. Besides, to clean up the mess left by President Bush, we may need two terms of President Clinton and two of President Obama.

But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.

What worries me is that she is accused of “playing the gender card” when citing the old boys’ club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations.

What worries me is that male Iowa voters were seen as gender-free when supporting their own, while female voters were seen as biased if they did and disloyal if they didn’t.

What worries me is that reporters ignore Mr. Obama’s dependence on the old — for instance, the frequent campaign comparisons to John F. Kennedy — while not challenging the slander that her progressive policies are part of the Washington status quo.

What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

This country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees. It’s time to take equal pride in breaking all the barriers. We have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


What comes after bagels? Bagel chips! I cannibalized a bunch of recipes from the web and ended up slicing the bagels thinly, spreading them with a mix of crushed garlic, herbes de provence, and olive oil, and baking them at 160C for about 10 minutes. They're a little greasy but v. crispy and tasty.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

J & K Bagels

The hubby made bagels yesterday. He used this recipe for "Authentic New York bagels." For some reason, I thought making bagels would be really hard - it was surprisingly easy. And they were SO good. The one I had straight out of the oven was chewy and crispy on the outside and just the right kind of doughy on the inside. Mmmm. They were way better than the ones from the supermarket (I know, I know), and I think with a little tweaking they could be better than the ones from my bagel shop in New York.

I finished Second Glance this morning - it was a ghost story, which I didn't realize at the beginning. I really liked it - the story romped right along. It's another one set in Burlington, VT...I don't know if I'm drawn to Vermont authors or if all authors just live in Vermont...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blanket's Done!

I finished my blanket last night. I started it in October last year and I feel like I've been knitting squares forever. Granted, I've taken some extended breaks, and have been working on it more since I got the cream yarn, but it's still taken a LOT of time.

The backing and the border are all one piece of brown fine-wale corduory. I tried to make the corners neat but they're not my strong suit. I had originally hand-sewn them with navy thread but I think they look better with the yarn. The whole thing sort of fell into place: the corduroy was a remnant that was on sale, and it ended up being the exact right size for the 48 squares that I made. The middle is hand-tied with more yarn - I had a blanket as a child that someone had hand-tied that I thought looked really silly, but I think it works on this one. There's no batting in it - just the corduroy and the knitted squares. It makes the edges a little less warm than the rest of it. If I find it's too cold, I can always pick part of the edge stitching out and put some batting in. I'd probably want to use some dark-colored fleece - regular quilting batting would show through too much. The original Anthropologie blanket of Emily's that inspired the whole project is un-google-able - neither she nor I have found an image or any mention of it anywhere on the web. She's promised to ask the boy to take a picture of it - we'll see how they compare.

Mine will be extensively tested this weekend while I curl up on the couch with my current Jodi Picoult, Second Glance.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


Went back to work yesterday - I was in for a few days between Christmas and New Year's so it was really nice to not have zillions of work emails to catch up on. Plenty of work to do, but not the usual inbox inundation that I get after a break.

Our 'tea lady' broke her wrist in December, and the usual sub is out this week, so I've been making the teas and coffees with my old boss. It's been kind of fun - I wouldn't want to do it every day but it's an interesting diversion. One more day tomorrow and then back to regular purchasing. At least we have a dishwasher so I don't have to wash all the cups...

I usually listen to the Mike Harding folk show on BBC radio 2 on Wednesday nights, and they've been pushing podcasts quite a bit recently. I subscribed to the podcast and started listening to it tonight. "That's funny," I thought, "the show's usually an hour and the podcast is only 17 minutes." Turns out that's because the podcast is an abridged version of the show where it's edited down and the songs get faded in and out. *^#% that! I'm listening to the 'listen again' stream, which is the full version. Harumph.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

We were going to be really virtuous today and go for a walk, but a really close fog has settled and doesn't look like it's going anywhere fast.

John and I had a really chill night last night - we made this veggie curry for dinner and watched the final 3 episodes of the first season of Heroes. We're completely obsessed. Like having-discussions-about-it-in-the-middle-of-the-night-when-we're-supposed-to-be-sleeping obsessed. The interwebbies have been murmuring about how the second season isn't as good - we'll just have to watch it ourselves and find out. It's supposedly starting on BBC 2 sometime this year...

Just as we were finishing the DVD, our across-the-street neighbors rang the bell and invited us over for some drinks and nibbles. V. nice of them - we had fun and it was all very low-key.

I love this picture that my dad sent of Edward and me at the Bronx Zoo. He's scanning and digitizing all of his slides and photos. It keeps him out of trouble, and he sends the best ones over to me via email. I think he should set up a photoblog with them. He didn't included a date for this one but it looks like it's sometime around 1987. I remember the outfit I'm in - my mom made it for me (I picked out the fabric and the pattern). She used to make all of our PJs and a lot of our clothes. This one had a really cool square neckline and matching shorts. I can't believe how much time she must have spent on our clothes, especially since we always grew out of them so fast!

I made this video last week when we were baking bread with the new Kitchenaid (from Santa). We've made three loaves of bread and a batch of slice'n'bake cookies. YUM! The original soundtrack was...erm...weird. So I decided to be witty with a little Tori Amos.