Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Neverending Quilt, Part III

Ladies and gents: the Neverending Quilt, in its almost-full glory.

It's a whopping 49 squares in size, and covers our queen-size bed with ease. It's a good extra blanket in winter, and will make a solo appearance in summer as a more lightweight covering.

I'm quite pleased to have the worst of it over with, especially since I've been working on it for more than two years now. But alas, there is still more work to do: an edging all the way around. It will be black, but other than that, I have no clue what I'm going to do.

Seeing as the quilt is now functional, I think it will take me a while to get around to that. I'll still aim for having this thing completely finished by the end of summer, but in the meantime, I have something else to worry about.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Letter to Health Insurance

Dear Health Insurance,

You suck.

Certainly, in some ways, you do not. It's wonderful to know I can see my doctor without having to forfeit food for the next month. It's great to have prescriptions that cost $20 or less. And someday, if I ever have severe medical issues (or, you know, spawn), you've mostly got my back.

But you've got issues beyond that. How am I supposed to choose which of you to fall madly in debt with when two of your plans are named the same thing and are almost exactly the same thing? I know there's a catch in there somewhere, but it's the waiting for it to appear (and the bill) that will kill me.

Health Insurance, you are just like Two-Face.

You are excellent to have, and in retrospect, I can't believe I lived so long without you. You're not quite the air that I breathe, but you are just what I need to be a healthy person. On the other cheek, you're malicious, back-stabbing, and vicious, ready to alter my life with a flip of that coin. That taunting coin, which emphasizes the money you're about to take from me.

Health Insurance, you're like a politician, a lawyer, and a super-villain all rolled into one neat little revolting package. Sometimes you're working for me, but more often than not, you're working for yourself.

A lucky member of society who can afford to put up with your BS,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Flying Squirrel

On Saturday, the cats had a big surprise.

Spousal Unit pointed out his favorite part 
of this picture: you can see the actual size 
of the squirrel's tail. 

I was sitting on the couch when this squirrel-out-of-nowhere appeared. (Not related to the alpaca out of nowhere.) Here's the thing: he didn't start off on the main deck - he just appeared on the screen all of a sudden. What makes this even more bizarre is that we live on the second floor, and there are no trees around our little porch.

The next day, he showed up again.

This time, I watched as he scurried around the deck, hopping on the fence posts. When he was ready (in other words, got tired of tormenting the cats), he shuffled down one of the boards head-first, four paws wrapped around the sides.

I have no idea what he did when he reached the bottom of our deck. There were still eight feet of open space below him.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Naked Sheeps

Last weekend, Spousal Unit and I sheared some sheep.

Rather, we helped. We would have been very bad at the actual shearing.

There will be more awesome in the near future.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Recipe for Groundhog?

Last weekend, Spousal Unit and I bought some lovely (albeit slightly battered) chairs for porch-sitting. We set them out on the deck, daydreaming of finding a small table to go with them and sitting out there on an early weekend morning with a pot of tea and good books. In the background of our minds, songbirds and lawnmowers uttered cries of spring.

The next day, the chairs received a liberal coat of snow.

We were less than pleased by this, as have been many Midwesterners and East Coasters. Where are the robins? Where is the brown-but-ready-to-green grass? Yesterday, there was a low of -1F. In shadier circles, I've heard talk of the best way to cook groundhog for a spring feast. (Better stay hidden till next year, Phil ol' boy.)

The only sign of spring this year has been on the horizon, too far to know if it's real or not: the earlier sunset.

At least it makes for some pretty pictures.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A New Holiday is Born - in Ice Cream

Yesterday, a Dairy Queen opened on our route home. For their grand opening, they were having half-price cakes.

Spousal Unit and I were thrilled to see this on their obnoxiously flashing billboard. We immediately decided we needed a holiday to celebrate - and, of course, didn't end up deciding until we were there the next day to pick up the cake.

Our choice of celebration would determine what color we chose and what we had written on the cake. Spousal Unit abhorred the idea of Blue Spirit Day, since we already had Avatar Day. (Shame on him - the Blue Spirit rocks.)

"Maybe we could have Firefly Day," I suggested. "We could get a yellow cake and have 'Shiny' written on it. Or we could get an orange one and have something about a very fine hat put on it."

Spousal Unit wasn't fond of those ideas. "So our options so far are Firefly, Star Wars, and Star Trek."

"Star Wars already has a holiday - May the Fourth," I pointed out. (I forgot at the time that Star Trek also has a holiday or three.)

"Star Trek it is, then," he declared.

And so Captains' Day was born.

Captains' Day is not to be confused with Captain Picard Day, First Contact Day, or Anniversary Day. No, Captains' Day is a day to celebrate all the great Star Trek captains, ideally by watching episodes from each series that feature the captain doing something awesome. (Yes, it may include Generations if you wish, though I don't.)

For your own celebration, here is the first of seven segments from the Captains' Summit. Engage.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Shire Shawl - Free Pattern

Click to view larger 

 I designed this shawl for a friend who's been dealing with health issues lately, and I did so while listening to the audio version of Lord of the Rings, read by Robert Inglis. (He is amazing - reads with great voices and even sings throughout. Listen to it.) When I began the project, I had no idea where it was going - I had just picked the color based on what I thought the friend would like. But as the opening pages of the book rolled by, it became clear that this shawl was the embodiment of the Shire.

It only took me about a week of working on it every evening to finish. Using a double strand of yarn and a size N hook really moved the project along. This shawl is adjustable, too. I'm very fond of how the project turned out. The shawl is six feet long, heavy, and utterly comforting to wrap up in.

Piggy likes it, too.

The Shire Shawl

6 skeins Berroco Comfort in color Maine Woods (9839)
Size N crochet hook

Main Body
Ch 51 sts. 1 DC in third chain from hook, 1 DC in next, (2 DC tog over next 2 ch) twice, 1 DC in next ch, 2 DC in next, *2 DC in next, (2 DC tog over next 2 ch) twice, 1 DC in next, 2 DC in next, repeat from * to end, turn. Work pattern for 11 rows. (This is a chevron pattern.)

End Fans
After 11 rows are completed, turn the work so that the side on which you ended the row becomes the foundation row for the end segment. Ch 35 down the side. (2 DC, 1 CH, 2 DC) in 5th ch from hook, *skip 3 ch, (2 DC, 1 CH, 2 DC) in 1 ch, repeat from * to last 2 ch, skip 1 ch, 1 DC in last ch, turn.

For each pattern row after the first: ch 3, skip first 3 DC, *(2 DC, 1 CH, 2 DC) in 1 ch space, skip next 4 DC, repeat from * until last 3 ch, skip 2 ch, 1 DC in last ch, turn. Work this for 15 rows, so that there are 16 rows of this pattern total. To make the shawl longer, simply add more rows.

I made these flower and leaf pins as embellishments that can be removed when the shawl needs washing. They're pretty simple, but they're for another post.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rising Gael

Last night, Spousal Unit and I saw Rising Gael play at the Stoughton Opera House. The group is originally from Wisconsin (one of the CDs we picked up was recorded in Cottage Grove), and from their witty banter on stage, it sounded like they had many friends in the audience. Spousal Unit first heard them on The Irish and Celtic Music Podcast and has loved them ever since.

Their first song of the night was Nova Scotia Farewell, which is becoming my favorite song the more I think about it. Lead singer and pipe master (a.k.a. flautist) Erin Ellison has such a strong, distinctive voice - I especially love the effects when she hits the high notes in this song.

Despite that, the audience was quiet early on. A little too quiet. (Can you blame them? Stoughton is full of Norwegians - we don't get rowdy unless we're instructed to.) "We're used to playing pubs," guitarist Peter Tissot announced, encouraging the audience to get into it. And that was all it took.

Rising Gael also played William's Ghost in the first set, which they said was That Song for a while - the one they played till they could no longer stand it. But they'd gotten over it enough to enjoy playing it for us (or at least cover up their boredom very well).

This picture is from when Peter and percussionist Jeff Olson played Tam Lin. Peter described it as musical bare-knuckle boxing - and they certainly played the part, weaving around each other and bobbing in and out with the music. These two had the most amazing dynamic when they played together. The energy was high and it was easy to sense the sheer joy they felt.

Jeff played quite excellent bodhrán and really got into it for every song, moving his entire body with the beat. But the most interesting part was probably the surprise beat-box bagpipes. Jeff played the bagpipes and Peter beat-boxed (one of several times he used that skill in concert). It was both delightful and hilarious (in a good way - I was not expecting to hear beat-box at the Stoughton Opera House).

Toward the end of the set, fiddler Katie Dionne, furiously working her magic all evening, stepped it up - literally. She only step-danced for a short time, but it was clear that she was a step above the other musicians we've seen do step dancing. I only have April Verch and Slide to compare her to, but still: those were some impressive moves.

They closed with a high-energy rendition of Donald McGillavry - the most unique version I've ever heard. And if I thought it was unique on stage, I was blown away by the electronic remix of it on their CD These City Walls, which we listened to on the drive home. (You can hear a bit on their website and view their other discography, too.)

It had been far too long since I saw a live concert, and I'm glad Rising Gael brought me back to the audience. As a band with lots of local focus, I hope to see them again.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Baby Food Thief

When I was a senior in high school, I finally obtained the coveted position of supervisor at the grocery store where I worked. It was a position I'd wanted to have for quite a while (in kid-time), but I couldn't legally until I turned 18. Those in charge were also reluctant for me to have the post because I was going to college in short order. But I convinced them, gaining all the privileges and responsibilities of the post.

One night at the beginning of summer, when I was working the late shift, I noticed a woman in her late 30s moving through the aisles with one of our red baskets - the hand-held kind - and filling it with food. As this was a grocery store, that wasn't unusual in the least. What was unusual was how everything in the basket was buried under several plastic bags.

I was the only authority in the store. My heart pounded as I watched her from the end of the aisle. What to do? According to my training, I was supposed to wait until she stepped out the door - the moment when she became a thief - and then call the cops, not interacting with her at all.

I'd been given no loss prevention training, so I didn't know that it was better to walk up to her and ask if she needed help (to make her realize she was being watched). So instead, I waited until she walked briskly out the front door with an incredibly heavy basket.

As I followed her out the door, I shouted. "Ma'am, can I see your receipt?"

I'm sure now that I didn't really think this through. But she was clearly a novice thief.

The woman apologized, saying that she'd "forgotten" to pay for the items. She was nervous as all get-up as I walked her back into the store to pay for them.

She set down the basket for the only other employee in the store to ring up. There were many items in that basket beneath all kinds of empty plastic bags, but the only ones I remember were the jars of baby food. There weren't just a few - about a third of what she tried to steal was baby food.

Items that were rung up had to be removed - she couldn't pay for them. Remove these items - still too expensive. Remove these - okay, she could afford this. She barely looked up the whole time, upset and embarrassed as she was.

She walked out with fewer groceries, but they were all paid for. I'd managed my end of the deal.

If I'd been more aware in that new position, I'd have given her the numbers of some food pantries. At the least, I hope being caught and narrowly avoiding legal trouble made her rethink what she was doing and seek help.

Maybe it was all part of an act, and I fell for it. But I don't think it was, and I'm still glad I didn't call the cops.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Saving Daylight, Losing Sleep

Something ridiculous can be found here.

Daylight savings drives me nuts.

At this time of year, we get back a little of that precious morning darkness. It allows us to sleep more deeply in the morning, but also makes us more lethargic. That hour, originally stolen in ancient times (alright, only the idea is from ancient times) for the benefit of farmers, will eventually provide us with more light in the evenings for baseball games. But that's where its benefit ends.

It used to be fairly important for energy conservation, but with the advent of different lighting systems and HDTV, we use energy at different rates for different reasons. We're breaking with the natural cycle of the day because that's what suits us. (Also because humans are strange creatures.)

So why are we still following this archaic tradition? Just as with the penny, we're still using it because we're stuck in a rut and wouldn't know what to do without it.

The other thing I can't stand about daylight savings (besides losing that precious hour of sleep) is what it does to my cats. Unlike humans, cats do follow the natural cycle of the day. When the sun comes up, it's time to eat. When the sun goes down, it's time to eat. Right now, I'm getting some much-needed respite from them in the mornings, but by the time I get home at night, they already think they've wasted away to skin and bone. They don't care about the time change - they have nowhere to be during the day.

Fortunately, as with everything people feel strongly about, there's a petition for this. That's both reassuring and kind of pathetic.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Start Where You Are

I don't think I've ever blogged about religion, and I'm not about to start. (Despite the Buddhism book you see here.)

Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön

Buddhism is a religion I associate closely with on a spiritual level, because it's about being nice to others and yourself. But I'm not Buddhist. I don't meditate, I don't believe the fables, and I don't pray to Buddha. But that doesn't mean I can't learn something from it.

I've read before about people leaving little reminder notes for themselves around the house. I've seen them on bathroom mirrors - things that say, "Smile! You are beautiful." It seemed kind of cheesy to me, but after I started this book and found so many well-articulated sentiments in it, I decided to give it a try. 

One of the sentiments in the early pages is, "Regard all dharmas as dreams." I always have a hard time grasping exactly what dharma is - no matter how many times I look it up - so I translated the phrase to "This too shall pass." 

It's beneficial for me to remember in every situation. Stuck in traffic? Going to be late for work? This too shall pass - things won't suck forever. Having a great time with good friends? This too shall pass - enjoy the moment while it lasts.

I also translated the idea that we are all connected - the idea that we are made of spirits, not bodies.

"Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." That's a much kinder thing for me to remember when I look in the mirror: beauty doesn't matter. I always knew Star Wars was full of wisdom. Thanks, Yoda.

Maybe this will be my next read: 

The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Fever

Now that the most recent snowstorm is behind us, I've really begun itching for spring. The sun is rising earlier, I've already seen a robin, and daylight savings is this weekend. We still have a couple of weeks until March 20 - the vernal equinox and official start of spring - but I want my spring now.

Things I'm looking forward to:

- Fewer layers (though I always carry a sweater)
- Open windows
- Exploring the neighborhood in full bloom
- The day the cats discover bird-watching
- A shorter commute (no snow!)
- Moisture, for the love of GOD moisture (I've become pampered since leaving the Southwest)
- A garden on the porch, instead of in the bedroom (where the cats can't nom stuff)
- Porch-sitting!

I'm mostly excited for flowers. I never thought I was much of a flower-person (aside from my hippie tendencies), but again, coming back from the Southwest changed me a bit. Now, my prerequisites involve lots of color and a body of water in walking distance.

It helps that I've overcome my fear of killing pretty things. I went a long time without having any flowering plants, but the primroses I got last summer are still going strong, and so is my African violet.

I still prefer those flowers to become food later (tomatoes, squash, etc.), but I enjoy the blossoms more than I used to.

I need me some lilacs.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Art Made of Cats

I'm posting cat pics today. Cat pics are cool.

At least, these are.

... How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes inWith gently smiling jaws!

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Letter to the Media

Dear Media,

Just because you hate yourself doesn't mean everyone else should hate themselves, too.

I'm really getting sick of all these ads I'm seeing lately. It doesn't matter what site I'm on - Facebook, Pandora, the freaking dictionary - they are all full of ads for people with a negative body image.

That or they're designed to give people a negative body image, which is Not Okay.

It's driving me nuts. Imagine how it feels to me. I'm at work, trying to verify a word's definition or spelling, when BOOM: I get whacked in the face with an image of a not-so-large woman shrinking to a size 0 before my very eyes. Even if I'm perfectly happy with my body, I don't want to be confronted with the fact that most people are on diets every time I turn a corner. It's depressing. And since I'm not perfectly happy with my body (as most women and many men are not, thanks to you), all those ads do is make me question my proportions and derail my train of thought, resulting in a less-than-optimal work environment.

Media, you're bringing us all down.

When was the last time anyone saw an ad for a regular, everyday thing and said, "Wow, the world is really improved by that ad"? When was the last time anyone felt better about him or herself because of a commercial?

There are the rare few out there, but the truth is, Media, most of your scheming involves making us all feel bad about ourselves, because that's how you make money. If you manage to make us feel bad about ourselves, we go to buy, buy, buy something, anything, that will make us feel better. We buy diet pills, hair dye, whitening paste, clothes we don't like, and cars we can't afford because you've wormed your way into our brains. You've made some part of us think, "If I can just lose five pounds, if I can just look a little different, if I can just keep others from noticing that I'm aging, then I'll be able to love myself completely." There is nothing wrong with having a different body shape - all we really want is to be healthy, no matter the weight.

But Media, you have skewed the definition of healthy in our minds. You are contributing to childhood eating disorders.

I'm sick of it, I'm sick of you, and I want you out of my life. At the least, I want your presence diminished. And I don't even watch TV.

I don't want to question myself. I want to love myself, and so does everyone else in the world. I want to focus on the things that truly matter in my life and in my world.

Media, you're making that astoundingly difficult, and I think it would be a difficult thing even without your presence.

Media, I don't give a damn what you think of me. Or rather, I don't want to.


Friday, March 1, 2013

The Lamest Excitement Ever

Today, I go back to work as usual. But today is different: I am no longer a temp. Today is my first day as a real employee.

I've been temping for so long at this company (since October) and I've known for so long that I was going to be hired (a month) that in some ways, it feels like there will be no changes - except for the giant stack of papers I had to take home yesterday.

Certain things will change in the way I allot my time; I will get benefits now, too - something I won't actually see change for a month or so. But the thing I'm most excited about right now is having an official email signature. Before, it was just my name. Now, I get to include my title and the company's name, too.

Lamest thing ever. But I can't wait to send my first email this morning, just the same, because I'm thrilled and relieved to finally have a permanent job in the field I love.

With all the perks.

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