Friday, August 30, 2013

Books I Want: The People in the Trees and James Tiptree, Jr.

It's been a while since I blogged about books. Here are a few I've wanted to read recently.

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

A doctor and an anthropologist team up for a trip to a Micronesian island. The doctor discovers the secret of the long-lived inhabitants (turtle meat), and comes back to the US, proving his hypothesis to receive fame and adoration, winning a Nobel Prize. But that comes at a terrible personal price. Written as a memoir, Publishers Weekly gave this book a starred review, saying that the doctor's "extraordinary circumstances allow his smothered weaknesses to blossom horribly."

James Tiptree, Jr. by Julie Phillips

I'm absolutely fascinated by this woman's story. In the 1970s, James Tiptree Jr. burst into the scifi writing scene. Everyone was fascinated by his revolutionary ideas and fascinating way of writing stories about gender. He communicated for years with the likes of Ursela K. LeGuin and Harlan Ellison. Not even Alice Sheldon's husband knew that she was the true mind behind all of Tiptree's work. She struggled for years with her sexuality and eventually committed a murder-suicide in the '80s. The Tiptree Award is now given for a book that is "bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles," something that is absent from many popular books. This biography also received a starred review from PW.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Sword in the Yarn

Lately, I've been reading The Once and Future King by T. H. White.

The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King, #1-4)

Much like knights of olde, I've begun a quest: to finish my in-progress knitting/crochet projects before I begin something new. I tried to start a new project recently and discovered that all the needles I could have used for it were occupied. Needles shall be my jousting spear, the projects my opponent.

I've already finished a scarf and TSTUD.

(Edit: I was in a rush this morning and didn't post scarf details. This is Echarpe Tranches de Melon by Louise Robert, translated by lapawlow. I used M1R/M1L instead of yarn overs. The yarn is Watermelon Patch by Universal Yarn, in their cotton supreme batik line, and I loved working with it. More pictures will be posted here shortly.)

I've also finished a washcloth and a little drawstring bag (it only needed half of the drawstring finished). Those were the easy projects (excluding the sweater, of course). Four down - eight to go.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Good, Wholesome ... Drunkenness

Spousal Unit and I enjoyed a good, wholesome weekend with the family. Sorry, I mean a good, wholesome half hour. We were drunk for the rest of it.

First things first: We went to Drammen Lutheran Church in Mondovi for a family reunion. I was excited to see some people I hadn't seen it a while. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the reunion was over. All that was left to see was the church.

That still worked for me - my great-great-grandpa who came over from Norway built this church. Here I am being silly in front of it. (I doubt he would have approved.)

Then came the less wholesome and more fun part of the weekend. It wasn't spent at the bottom of red Solo cups, but it was close enough.

I saw a cool barn door while drinking. You are all shocked to know there are barn doors in Wisconsin. Amazing camera point: This was taken in pitch dark.

You can almost see a face peeking out of that window, can't you?

But from there on out, the night was pretty serious.

My sister Brooke imitated Lady Wisconsin.

I'm not sure what these people are imitating. A pterodactyl, the leaning tower of Pisa, a drunk, a palm tree, and a Badgers coach are my best guesses.

My brother Sam was either channeling The Most Interesting Man in the World or his stripper persona, Black Raspberry Swirl. (By his, I mean Sam's, not the Interesting Man. Though he probably has a stripper persona too - he's just that interesting.)

Sam also used my shawl to try out for the part of Mary in the upcoming Christmas pageant. I bet I know how that will go.

Spousal Unit at least remotely disturbed Brooke with a tale I'm sure he shouldn't have been telling.

And then we had moonshine liquid apple pie by the fire.

As we drove off into the sunset the next day, I stopped to smell the roses by running away from my moosey fate.

Overall, a success.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bob Ross: Sunset Edition

Today seems like a good day for a sunset, doesn't it? A happy little sunset. We'll put in a few streaks of color here, add the edges of a nice little apartment building.

And we'll give her a friend. Another happy little sunset. We'll make this one a little brighter, give it more cadmium yellow, less pink, but plenty of blue sky. And here we'll put a couple of trees in a little group. Nice and close together, so they can watch the sky together.

And now you'll see happy little trees all the way to work. They line every street.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fiery Color and Cool Completeness*

My tomato plants are doing wonderfully this year. I'm especially impressed because they're fairly large plants in the same relatively small pot, but they keep reaching higher, smelling fresher, and looking more vibrant.

These are supposedly cherry tomatoes, but the one on the right is about an inch and a quarter in diameter already; I suspect I've ended up with regular tomatoes of some sort instead. I'm not complaining, though.

We've had one of these sweet paste tomatoes already, and there are eight more almost ready to be sliced for salad or chomped outright. The plant continues to blossom, preparing for a second litter of fruit before the first is off the vine.

This, at a time when we've just received an incredible scarlet (and verdant) harvest from the CSA.

Sauce season is upon us; autumn draws nigh.

*Title comes from the Pablo Neruda poem Ode to Tomatoes. Like all Neruda, it is worth your time.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

TSTUD: The Finale (Part IV)

Well, I finally did it: I finished knitting The Sweater That the Universe Denied. It has a front, a back, and two far-longer-than-necessary sleeves.

You may notice the look of terror on my face.
I was afraid this was also possibly a pre-mortem shot.

 The next step was to cut the sleeves, by crocheting stays into place. One tutorial suggested sewing by hand - but this yarn is so piece-y that I worried it wouldn't stay in place. I found another tutorial that suggested a crocheted steek, which sounded perfect. I added my steeks, and carefully snipped one stitch at a time.

It went perfectly, and I'd begun to stitch the cuffs when the cat nabbed a loose strand of yarn: the one for the steek.

It was almost entirely ripped out.

"Did you expect finishing TSTUD to go smoothly?" Spousal Unit asked. (He has a point.)

The evil little culprit. 

I pulled out some heavy-duty quilting thread, doubled it over, and did a kind of paranoid back stitch/whip stitch combination down the length of the ruined mess of yarn. You can't tell in this shot, but it really does look better.

After this disaster, I found this tutorial, which suggests that only machine sewing makes a good enough steek for acrylic fibers. Drat my belated discovery.

I sewed up each side, and it went smoothly and beautifully. The irony is that with the steeks poking out like they are, it makes the sleeves feel too short. They aren't - but they feel that way.

Last, I added buttons that I found at The Knitting Tree. Sow's Ear may be my favorite yarn shop, but The Knitting Tree has the best button selection.

With the double front, it's incredibly warm. I still have to block it properly and sew, sew, sew the steeks into place. But I think I've finally triumphed over this ridiculous monstrosity of a sweater.

I am never, ever, ever putting it in the washing machine.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

7 Ways in Which My Cats Are Like Mountain Goats

1. They both like to smack each other around.

2. The highest point in the vicinity makes them king of the mountain - even if it's only two feet higher than everything around it.

3. I might also be allergic to mountain goat noses. I have no reason to suspect this, but hey, it's possible.

4. They will eat (or try to eat) almost anything I leave lying it around. For all I know, a mountain goat might also decide to regurgitate something it has eaten in a mysterious corner of the house, staining the carpet a weird shade of blue.

5. They look legless when they curl up on the ground.

6. Their feet can inflict a great deal of pain.

7. If there is one in my apartment, chances are it won't take long to destroy something of mine - like my sweater (story coming later this week).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lake Weekend

Over the weekend, Spousal Unit and I took a brief trip to his parents' lake house. No one else was there, so it was a nice chance to just hang out and have a brief vacation without paying for a hotel room.

We assembled a couch and didn't get divorced by the end of it. Win. (Also, it was 10 a.m., but that was a beer kind of moment.)

We went for a walk and saw little bee butts. And pretty flowers.

We found an adorable little bridge...

...over an adorable little ingress.

This sign did not seem to be placed appropriately, but it was very new-looking. Strange.

And we found a beached turtle sandbox devoid of sand. It seemed really sad to me. Poor dude.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mmm, Pie

We had a pie contest at work last week. It was hella tasty. I made a gingersnap pumpkin cream pie - I'd only made it once before - in New Mexico - but it turned out about like I remembered. Except this time, the crust was better.

We had a spread of seven pies for the contest. From front to back: mini chocolate coconut pies, vegan pumpkin, my GPCP, coconut cream, Fat Elvis (banana and peanut butter), cashew pie, and a Brandy Alexander pie. So much yum.

The Fat Elvis ended up winning, and I couldn't disagree - especially when my pie looked like this when cut apart.

I think I'll beat the cream longer next time.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Free Stuff, Now Featuring a Village Person

It's the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas - but close. Hippie Christmas!

This year wasn't as wonderful as the previous years; the City of Madison was doing trash collection every day this year, meaning there were slim pickings. I can't say I blame them; it's probably the most obnoxious time of the year for them. But dudes, you're totally harshing my vibe.

It didn't help that I went at dinner time, instead of after, when people packing their cars get really desperate and start tossing the good stuff. On top of that, work is still totally FUBAR, so by the time I found a parking spot after dodging rush-hour traffic on the isthmus, I already wanted to go home and sleep.

But I toughed it out and found this pitcher. I've come to the conclusion that some college students really like having fancy drinkware if they host lots of parties. This isn't much to look at, sure, but the spigot works, and it will go well with the decanter I got last year. It also makes me want sangria.

Next, I found these awesome boxy shelves. They'll go nicely next to the tea shelf, which is of the same style. Perhaps we'll put all of our teacups out. I know; we're radicals

Then came the weird part of curb shopping.

I was walking down the block, surrounded by piles of junk and lots of trash pickers. I had my eye on a mountain of formerly loved goods down the street when a man elbow-deep in someone's former life called out to me.

"Young miss," he said.

I turned to see one of the Village People. Or he could have been, anyway, with his black leather newsboy hat, a neon yellow sleeveless T-shirt, and an enormophone mustache, complete with dangling cigarette.

"Here, young miss," he said, handing out a bundle of clothing. "More you than me. These look to be your size."

I was flattered at this kindness, but a tad perturbed that he'd sized me up in the brief second that I stood before him. Turns out, he was right - they are my size: both this sleeveless hooded dress/shirt/thing covered with skulls and the pair of black windbreaker cargo shorts.

Don't worry, they got a thorough washing by hand (I won't tell you what color the water turned), and I think they're clean enough to go in the washing machine with the rest of the clothes. Four or five times.

And then I still might throw them out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Go Away, Dream Steve Buscemi.

I accidentally turned off my alarm in the morning, resulting in more sleep than I meant to get and a dream about Steve Buscemi in my former college dorm. It was significantly creepy, but the really weird thing is that's the second time I've had a dream with him in it in the last week. (I won't say it was a dream about him; it was more like he picked the lock to my subconscious and hijacked my imagination. Not okay, Steve Buscemi.

So to get my mind off of that before work, here are a couple of random items. First is a leaf from one of my basil plants. It's ginormous.

Second, a sunset. Sunsets are a good balm for bad dreams.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Sweater That the Universe Denied, Part III

Part I
Part II

Dear The Universe

Something somewhat miraculous happened this weekend, and I give you absolutely no credit for it: I started working on The Sweater That the Universe Denied (henceforth referred to as the STUD) again, for the first time in two and a half years. I'll probably be able to finish the knitting within the week.

I am earnestly cringing in anticipation of my smiting.

Each time I've worked on the STUD before, I've been thwarted by you, The Almighty Universe. I have a healthy respect for your mysterious thwarting ways - you've been nothing if not creative in your attempts to needle-block me. Therefore, I am wholly vigilant this time around.

Of course, there is still the problem of the six-foot sleeves. (You remember those, right? The ones I spent countless extra hours of my life knitting because gauge was/is my evil enemy?) But I have a supposedly simple solution: first, finish the knitting at hand. Then, watch a dozen tutorials and read a dozen articles on how to cut a steek (as it's called), practice on two or three dozen swatches, and then ... snip snip.

Dear The Universe, please shut your pie hole and allow me this tiny victory.

You have no idea how much it would boost my knitting confidence to be able to say that I've finished the STUD - even if it does turn out to be completely crap-tastical. Perhaps I can then make a sweater that requires multiple pieces, or find my strength to finish that pair of socks I started a while ago.

I'd love to make myself more wearable items than just shawls. Above all, I'm dreaming of making myself something like this someday ...

Minus the creepy vintage dude in it. Please minus him.

Hoping to avoid a potential smiting,

Friday, August 9, 2013

By These Powers Combined, They Are Captain Random!

Friday has needed to be here since Monday. Here is your reward for making it this far.

1. Bunny.

2. Last night's sunset, from the old hunting grounds.

3. An odd personification of a caterpillar.

Early Stages: "This leaf tastes great! So does this one! And this one!"
Middle Stages: "I'm so hungry. It's like I can't get full enough. Do I eat because I'm fat or am I fat because I eat?"
Later Days: "WTF? Where is this weird stringy stuff coming from?"
Shortly After: "AUGH! I have a compulsive desire to encase my body in it! I don't want to!"
In the Cocoon: "Must ... control ... claustrophobia ..."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stuffed Kale Rolls

One of my favorite things from our CSA this year (besides the snap peas, herb bunches, salad mix, eggplant, cucumbers ... um, and everything else) is kale. Kale is amazingly versatile: if you're rough with it, it can be a great salad addition. Shred it up and it tastes great in stir fry or rice. And it's tough enough to make a great wrap for some kind of delicious stuffing, too.

Inspired by a recipe in From Asparagus to Zucchini, I basically made baked dolmades (stuffed grape leaves, a Greek dish).

They were pretty easy and amazingly filling. I used leftover rice pilaf in my version, straight from the fridge, but I imagine brown rice cooked in veggie stock would be just as delicious.

Stuffed Kale Rolls
1 1/2 c. rice pilaf, cooked 
1/3 c. walnuts, chopped
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella
2 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
Lemon balm (or use a few drops of lemon juice)
7 to 9 large kale leaves (any large, tough leaf can be used, such as collard)
White pepper
Olive oil

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the walnuts, mozzarella, and herbs to taste in a food processor until well-mixed. In a separate bowl, combine walnut mixture with rice; mix in cream cheese so that the mixture is slightly sticky. 

For the kale: remove the thickest part of the stem from the center of the leaf at the bottom (about an inch and a half). This leaves the rest of the leaf intact and gives you extra flexibility for wrapping at the bottom. Place 3 tablespoons to 1/4 c. of filling on each leaf (based on its size) at a right angle to the stem, about two inches from the top of the leaf. Curl the top of the leaf over the filling, then fold each side in. Roll up the rest of the leaf, tucking any extra pieces underneath. 

Place the stuffed rolls on the baking sheet; brush them with a layer of olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes and enjoy.
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