Sunday, January 31, 2010

Kate, 0; Downstairs Toilet, 1.

I'm having a supremely lazy Sunday morning. Murray/Federer at the Australian Open, the couch, my pjs, the laptop, and a cup of coffee. Tough life.

I seem to be at an impasse with out downstairs toilet - it's leaking. And it's quite clearly leaking through a plug that's in the bottom of the cistern. I've tried replacing the plug, but it still leaks. I don't think there's anything wrong with either the plug or the cistern, it's more the awkward corner that the toilet is in.

The plug is a plastic bolt with a washer on one side, and a nut to tighten the whole thing together on the other side. The problem is that the cistern is fairly neatly boxed into a corner, with just enough room to get your hand in feel that there's a problem. However, there's no way to see what's going on without a mirror, and there's no way to get a wrench or anything else in there to tighten the whole mess.

Maybe a trip to B & Q to see if they have the right tool...although I can't imagine what shape it would have to be to not only fit into the space but also be able to turn. And I REALLY don't want to have to take the whole toilet apart and take it off the wall just to tighten something.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gulp...a real quilt

OK, so I've made quilts before. Gabi has two of them: a big one and this stroller one. But every time I've made a quilt, it's been more of a "make it up as I go along" exercise than an actual quilt. And I've never bound a quilt before.

In a moment of insanity, I've joined Randi's On the Road To Spring quilt-along on her blog,i have to say.

So, yesterday I went to Bury (well, we all went to Bury) and I went to Mill House fabric to buy my 10 1/3-yard pieces. And the batting (which was SO expensive). I like my fabrics, although the selection wasn't great. They weren't busy, either. I definitely got the sense that pulling ALL the fabrics I was interested in off the shelf was NOT the done thing, from the employees and other customers. And that they were doing me a favor by letting me shop there. Sorry, guys - I'm dropping rather a large amount of money in your store - I can move the fabrics around if I want to. I'll put them all back, I promise. The whole thing made me wish that I still lived a subway-ride away from purlpatchwork in Soho (although it wasn't there when I lived there, and I didn't have a sewing machine then).

In any case, I started out with my off-white "background" color and two Liberty fabrics that I've been saving for something. Since I've been saving them for at least 2 years now, it's time to get moving. So they were my jumping-off point for the quilt. They're the florals on the left in both of the little pictures.

I think it's kind of neat that I found similar fabrics to both in the fabric store - I especially like the red/blue florals because the flowers are exactly the same.

Anyway, this is my "favorites" pile:

And then, at the bottom, is the whole enchilada. The creamy one right at the bottom is my "background" color. The light blue and creamy florals (same fabric, different colorway) are the backing and binding fabrics, respectively. I got enough so that I can chicken out on one or two of the other ones and use them on the front as well. I also like them enough that I'll definitely be able to think of other things to make with them. I'm a little nervous after looking at the other fabric choices in the flickr group - mine seems a

It's funny - I keep fretting randomly about each fabric in the pile (except the one on the top right and the two at the very bottom). But all of the other ones pick up colors in those, and they're all pretty much floral or floral-looking (ahem snowflakes and dragonflies - where did you come from?). And that orange-yellow is pretty intense, except then you realise that it's in the dragonflies and the center of all the flowers. See - I've been at it all day.


Saturday, January 16, 2010


We have a new board game. It's called Carcassonne and is extremely entertaining. Basically, you build cities, roads, cloisters and farms, colonising them with little "meeples" along the way.

It seems to have a good mix of luck and skill, and after our initial "how does this work?" round, John and I were pretty psyched to play several more rounds. I think once James gets the hang of it, he'll enjoy it, too.

Look, meeples! (The one in the foreground isn't dead, he's a farmer. He actually turned out to be John's game-winning farmer. BAH.)

While I've been knitting muchly, John has built this little engine thingy. It needs to be painted and have a little more glue-time, but I think it's really cute.

By the way, most of my pictures are now being taken with the new Canon EOS 500D from John's brother. It's an AWESOME camera and is really fun to play with. I've found it a bit more intuitive than our older 20D, and all the pictures seem to be much sharper.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Not a paper cup

The coffee at work is legendary. And not in a good way. Since we have a really nice coffee maker at home, we make enough in the mornings for two travel mugs worth. It's SO nice to sit down at my desk and get started on my day with a cup of coffee. We have two Aladdin (discontinued) "I'm not a paper cup" travel mugs. They keep the coffee warm for about 2 hours, even with the sipping lid open. And they don't leak, which better than all the other travel mugs I've used. If you want to keep coffee hot for hours and hours, get a Thermos. If you just want it to be hot when you get to work (our commute is about 25 minutes), I'd recommend these.

I fully admit that we look rather dorky carrying matching mugs in to the office in the mornings, but it's worth it. Oh, and woe betide you if you forget to bring your mug home at the end of the day. It has knock-on effects through the following morning. Ack.

My other most recent work-atmosphere improvement has been The Wailin Jennys. My dad found them while on his Kate Rusby Pandora channel, and they seem to me to be a cross between KR, the Indigo Girls, and the Sirens (a Colby acapella group). LOVE them.

I finished reading Megan Whalen Turner's first novel, "The Thief," this week. It was very much in the same style as Graceling, and I really liked the descriptions - she conveys the moods of the settings and the characters very well. I think I may have read it too close on the heels of Graceling and Eragon- I found myself overlapping characters a bit. Definitely worth a read if you like YA fantasy novels. I've put it on James' bedside table to see if we can bring him on a little bit from Darren Shan.

I've started my book club book which required some deep breathing after the first few sentences. It's The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
A writer never forgets the fist time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story.
Panic set in. I. Hate. Books. About. Writers.

Write what you know, and all that, but don't write about writing, please. I did manage to regain my composure and I'm now about 20 pages in.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


We made a delish dinner last night - it's from the most recent BBC Good Food, so it's not on their website. It was a Black Bean Chili from a feature on Mexican food by the American food writer Jennifer Joyce. It's funny - Mexican food is essentially its own food group in the US, and it's really not something that's particularly huge over here. When you think about it geographically, it makes sense, but I still miss my quesadillas.

Anyway, this recipe was SO easy and really tasty. My normal veggie chili recipe involves kidney beans (which I always think are a little dry and mealy) and bell peppers (which I'm not a huge fan of). This is MUCH better (and would be really tasty with some leftover chicken or ground beef, too).

The only thing we did differently was to use smoked paprika with a little chili powder instead of sweet pimenton, which made it rather fiery but very tasty. Oh, and I didn't have ground cumin so I used whole cumin and some ground coriander (and dumped some dried coriander leaf in towards the end). We served it with spring onions and sour cream, and I'm still thinking about how yummy it was.

We had a few apples in the fridge that were threatening to go brown, so I made this recipe for apple streusel bars again. Double the apples, halve the icing, leave everything else the same. Tastes somewhere between apple pie, Bakewell tart, and a meltaway. It can be used extremely effectively as a bribe.

Because we had leftover spring onions from last night's chili, John's breakfast consisted of fried eggs with sauteed mushrooms, green chillies, and spring onions. (James and I ate up some stale bread by making french toast). As much as I love french toast, I was jealous. He was nice enough to give me a bite, and it tasted fabulous.

I finished another book last night: Janice Y.K. Lee's The Piano Teacher. I don't remember where my recommendation came from - it might have been on one of my Waterstones Evernote binges. (I go to Waterstones, decide which books in the bestsellers look good, write them down on Evernote, and order them from the library. Before you howl in horror at not supporting bookstores, we buy lots of books for James and John there and I do occasionally cave and BUY a book. We don't have any good independents near us, so I don't feel bad for not supporting them.)

In any event, I should have been more wary. It was not only a "Richard and Judy Summer Read" (Run away! Far, far away!), but it was billed as "This year's Atonement" on the cover. I HATED Atonement. In fairness, I didn't hate The Piano Teacher as much as I hated Atonement. It's set in colonial Hong Kong in the 1950s, with flashbacks to the 1940s. I thought the setting was very interesting, and the interactions between the various colonial powers and the native population were well-described, but I didn't think that the book really went anywhere. Then, at the back, there was an interview with Lee, where she said that she didn't really know where the book was going to go when she was writing it. Really? Couldn't have guessed.

I'll just have to do some more reading, since it's snowing again!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Best Christmas Present Ever

My dad is hard to shop for. My mom is easy: I either ask her what she wants and she tells me, or I go into a store and think "I really LIKE that" and buy one for her. Works every time.

With my dad, though, it's different. If he sees something he wants or needs, generally he buys it for himself. If you ask him what he wants, he says "nothing". His birthday is 2 days after Christmas, and most of his hobbies are summer-related.

This means that every year, I have to think of not one, but two presents for him, to be delivered within 2 days of each other. It cannot be one present (there are laws against that). It cannot be something he already has.

It has to be something he didn't know he always wanted.

This year, I think I struck gold. His birthday present was the exciting but not off-the-charts Gorillapod (able to combine his love of photography, the self-timer on his camera, and riding his bike). However, his Christmas present is what I would consider to be an all-time-greatest-present.

His No. 1 [Note: I've just discovered that my otherwise entirely flawless and lovely MacBook Pro doesn't have a "number sign" or "hash key" button. You know, the little thing that looks like a tic-tac-toe board. WTF, Apple?]. Ahem.

His "number 1" favorite hobby is photography. His current favorite hobby is needlepoint. What to do? Combine the two!

Picture of a RI lighthouse, taken by Dad:

Lovely, you say. It's a lighthouse, you say.

Ahhh, but wait.

Many struggles with a shall-remain-nameless Rhode Island purveyor of needlepoint and things over a 3-week period pre-Christmas, helped along by my ever-heroic mom, followed by a powerpoint presentation to be "opened" on Christmas morning, followed by a few more transatlantic emails.

After all of that, you get this. That's right, a custom, hand-painted needlepoint pattern (including the color-matched yarn) of a picture that my dad took. I am awesome. And he's worth it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Wait, didn't you get that from the library today?

After giving up on New York, I decided to treat myself to an Eva Ibbotson book that I noticed in the YA section of the library when James and I were looking for something for him to read last week. I read Journey To the River Sea after a recommendation from Mrs WJ a while ago, and really liked it. Spunky, adventurous heroines all 'round.

The book turned out to be The Dragonfly Pool, about a British girl during World War II who goes to boarding school. I, um, liked it so much I read it in one sitting. All 397 pages of it. James came downstairs after brushing his teeth, and said, "wait, isn't that the book that you picked up from the library this afternoon?"

Why, yes, it is. And I can take it back to the library in the morning!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Right, that's it. I've officially given up on Edward Rutherfurd's New York. I'm finding it about as forgettable as London, I don't really care what happens to the characters, I've read 450 pages, and I'm not even half way through. Back to the library! I think part of the problem is that it jumps around in time quite a bit - every time I feel like I'm getting to know a character (rather than their grandfather, with whom I've just spent the last 12 chapters), it jumps forward again. I'm also not very good at skimming books - I either have to read every word or just not bother.

We braved the sleet and went to Ipswich for dinner last night, to Kwan Thai. It was pretty tasty Thai food, although not quite as good as Nipa, in Bayswater (London). It was much closer, though!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!

We've started the new year with SNOW!! It's not as epic a snowfall as the one we had two weeks ago, but it'll do.

The sm. boy gave me the latest Hairy Bikers cookbook, from the series that John and I were completely addicted to. I'm definitely going to have to make their Suffolk pork recipe, and at least drool over some of the more complicated ones, if I don't end up making them.

In other book news, according to the New York Times, Scholastic are reviving The Baby-Sitters Club books and Ann M. Martin is writing a prequel. I was OBSESSED with the books as a kid - I started reading them when I was about 7 (at which point 12-year-olds were impossibly mature and fascinating), and read them until well into middle school. It was pretty much where all of my babysitting money went, at least for the first few years.

I always thought I was really cool because my collection included both the English and American editions of the books (not duplicates, but I filled in gaps in my collections with whichever edition I was closest to at the time). I think the books are still with my parents, in a box somewhere, or I may have given them away. They drove my parents a little bit crazy - I'd drop an hour or two's worth of babysitting money on a book, only to then read it in one three-hour sitting. I used to re-read the books constantly, too.

I think I might have to splurge on the new book, although I'm not sure I can bear to expand my BSC collection to include a hardcover book. I DID have The Baby-Sitters Club guide to babysitting, which I used to bring with me on all of my jobs. Just in case.