Friday, November 28, 2008

Baby Shower!

Most of you know that my Mom and Sister in Law have been the brains behind our ongoing online baby shower.  Well the fun hasn't all been online.  On Friday, after Thanksgiving, I was kicked out of the house so they could do their thing.  Dad and I wandered through (a relatively empty) Lowes and Stu Leonards to pass the time and when we returned, the family was ready to party.  

The living room was decorated in rubber duckies, balloons, baby clothes and streamers.  

The Niece and Emrys had a lot of fun with the gift opening.  

We were lulled by the womb-sounds teddy bear

And Emrys is still learning what all this stuff is for!

We are thankful to all who have contributed to "equipping" us as we prepare for the arrival of Little Tyler!
Be sure to check out the online baby shower for more pictures including the belly measurements (we had 3 cameras going!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This Thanksgiving I'm Thankful For...

... a clean 3 year check-up from the oncologist.
... a healthy baby on the way in January.
... family and friends.
...and so, so much more...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!  

(Senor Mysterioso incognito)

We've been tagged by JennyMark! Here's h
ow it works:

The Rules:
go to Your Pictures file
go to the 5th folder
open up the 5th picture and post it
then tag 5 people when you are done

Many of "my readers" do not have a blog...but those of you who do...I tag Patty, Mary M., David A., Wes K., and Margery E. No tagbacks!


Friday, November 21, 2008

November Getaway Part II: Richmond

We arrived in Richmond on Saturday evening, checked into our motel and crashed.  On Sunday morning we visited the contemporary service at Third Presbyterian Church, where one of Emrys’ colleagues was preaching and then it was off for Mexican for lunch and it was fabulous.  When in a city, one must take advantage of all dining options!  The rest of Sunday was relatively restful as I was still recovering from over-doing it in DC.

            Monday we checked out of our motel and headed out to take in some of the sights in Richmond.  We started in Carytown – a cool little section of town full of gift shops and kitschy shopping options.  We had lunch at Carytown Burger (see Emrys' post) which had come recommended by our friends Sophie & Jen who spent their undergrad years in Richmond and it was a wonderful meal! 

After that we strolled down Cary St. and visited some of the many shops that specialized in everything from all Christmas stuff to all handmade crafts to books, games, spices, kitchen gadgets.  You get the idea.  In this area of specialty shops, I spotted For the Love of Chocolate.  You got it – all chocolate!  I’m not even blaming the need to stop in there, or my subsequent purchase on The Kid, it was all me!  This little store had candy from around the world including the Cadbury Crunchy Bar that we’d only seen in New Zealand and Australia, Ritter Sport from Germany, Lindt extra dark yumminess and truffles and any other kind of chocolate you could imagine.  It was awesome! 

Sweet tooth sated we headed for Maymont Park.  Since it was off-season and a Monday, there wasn’t a whole lot to see but we did enjoy wandering around the gardens after a brief rest in the visitor’s center.

From there we headed off to Richmond Hill where we spent the rest of our getaway in their community.  Emrys was in meetings and discussion with his Company of Pastor’s group

 and I spent the time mostly relaxing with knitting projects and my mp3 player.  It was wonderful retreat and time of rest.  Thursday I wasn’t quite ready to head home but was glad that I didn’t need another two days to recover from our vacation.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

November Getaway Part I: NY-Washington, DC

I’ve found that two marks of a good vacation are 1) you are ready to go home and 2) you don’t feel you need a vacation to recover from your vacation.  While I can’t honestly say that I’m ready to be home, I do feel refreshed and that I won’t need to “recover” from this time away. 

We ran away on Thursday of last week and spent the evening with Emrys’ mom and family friends for dinner.  It was a wonderful time of delicious food and story-telling.  Friday we meandered down to the Reston, VA area and visited with a couple we knew in passing while we were at Fuller and since have connected with recently over topics of life, family and new babies that are expected within weeks of each other.  It was a wonderfully relaxed drive and we ended up in a shopping mall so I could walk out the kinks in my back and so we could finish up some Christmas shopping. 

After a wonderful evening of visiting and a great night’s sleep we were off to do some sight-seeing in Washington DC.  I hadn’t been to DC in, well, a very long time. I know we went when I was in 5th or 6th grade but I’m not sure if I’ve been back since.  I have a vague recollection of a week there in college but I think most of my time was spent interviewing for post-undergrad jobs, not sightseeing. 

Any-who, we met up with one of Emrys’ friends from McGill for lunch then it was off to wander the town.  I tried to keep up but ended up crying “uncle”.  Carrying around the Kid in the belly took a lot more energy than I planned on.  So I hiked it from the train station, to lunch, to the White House

to the Washington Monument, to the WWII Memorial, 

and to the Vietnam Memorial. 

I didn’t spend much time closely inspecting the sights.  Instead, I’d sit in the middle, soak up the warm fall day and the sights, while Emrys went off to do the close inspection and photos.

The warm fall day gave way to a crazy down-pour that was kind enough to start while I was making one of my many restroom stops.  So we waited for it to pass and wandered through the drizzle to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  The Smithsonian Institute had recently finished a remodel/restoration/update of the museum and the finished product was pretty neat.  After a stop in the snack-bar for a brownie and milk (really, really good brownies!), we explored the exhibits on ocean life (giant jellyfish model)

 and geology (lots of really cool formations).

            By the time we were finished with those exhibits, I was done.  So we headed for the train station (where Emrys took this photo of the Post Office building)

and took the train back to our car and headed south towards Richmond, with only one stop on the way.  Romano’s Macaroni Grill – one of my favorite chain Italian restaurants that doesn't do business in our neck of the woods!


Brie Burger

During my fifth year in university, I lived in a dive apartment with two friends in the Portuguese neighbourhood of Montreal, Quebec. A two-block walk got us to the nearest grocery store. The store was the kind of urban market where you had to check the date on all the liquid dairy products before you put them in your basket (I learned this the hard way) and choose the right day of the week to shop for produce. But like most stores in Quebec, the worst cheese was better than most you can get in the surrounding provinces and states.

When I went shopping for groceries, I often passed by the cheese section on my way to the cash registers to pick up a hunk of brie cheese. It went on the top of my basket, and when I loaded up my grocery bags for the short walk home, the brie remained in my hand. With one hand carrying the sundry foods as I strolled the two blocks to our apartment door, the other hand held that half-unwrapped chunk of deliciously sour and creamy cheese most often reserved for party plates. A quarter-pound slice cost about $5 Canadian ($3-4 US at that time)--and it lasted barely two city blocks.

I really enjoy brie cheese. I know that it's one of the most fattening and cholesterol-laden dairy products on the planet. But that flavour--firm creamy lovin' hiding under that tough sour shell--keeps me coming back any chance I can get. And the opportunity to partake of that marvelous milk product always takes me back, at least for a moment, to Montreal days and the grunge of college city living. Back then, a hunk of brie on the walk home made the whole week worth it.

Imagine my elation when I see "Brie Burger" as an item on the menu at a burger joint. My mind tried to put the flavours together in my head, but got lost in the excitement. My salivary glands quivered in anticipation.

We had taken a friend's recommendation and hunted down a burger joint in Richmond, Virginia called Carytown Burgers and Fries during last week's sojourn in that city. Here's a picture of the facade, nestled into the backside of a block on Cary Street, an historic and ritzy shopping district in centre-city Richmond:

We arrived at 11:00 in the morning, just when the grill was getting fired up. The staff looks like a bunch of college students--unconcerned with the aesthetics and formalities normally found in top-ranking restaurants--who had decided to open a burger joint. The restaurant, two stories of the rear end of what looks to be a reclaimed late-19th-century building, has ramshackle decor so rushed that it's endearing. It's as if the proprietors were so eager to make their burgers available, they cut every corner they could on interior design. The dining room (upstairs from the cramped kitchen and ordering area) had a coat of French's-mustard-yellow paint on walls and ceiling, with long drips dried in place. The windows, one which is pictured here, had accents of ketchup on the yellow sash:

As soon as I saw "brie burger" on the menu, I put it down. Why should I look further? My gut instinct choice did not disappoint me. Or, more accurately, the friendly, highly skilled chefs of Carytown Burger did not disappoint me. My burger, a tasty piece of quality meat in itself, carried a generous load of my favourite cheese. Here you can catch a glimpse, next to our crispety crunchety onion rings and "famous fries":

Note the vinyl picnic tablecloth and the vintage mid-century Coca-Cola poster peeking out behind Sara, both adding to the strange minimalist ambiance. 

I never would have thought to put brie on a burger, so I am thankful to the chefs at this award-winning establishment for introducing me to this heretofore undiscovered melange of flavour. All the best results of a cow put together. Amazing! Sure, I've got to eat vegan for a month to bring my cholesterol down again, but it was worth it. If you ever find yourself in Richmond, go to Carytown Burgers and Fries. You'll discover why it's famous.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

We don't own stuff;

stuff owns us.

In the human life, necessity dictates the accumulation of a certain amount of stuff. We need things to survive: we need clothes, we need food, we need shelter. In order to secure a reliable flow of clothes, food, and shelter, we acquire other things--more stuff--in order to procure the basic necessities. For instance, most of us acquire a car at some point in our lives, for without such transportation, the work which brings home the bacon would become economically infeasible or impossible.

When we acquire stuff, we use the colloquial phrase "I own thus-and-such" to indicate that we have purchased the stuff. So we might say, We own two cars.

There is a certain amount of truth to this. We hold the deed to the car. The car only goes where we direct it to go. And if someone stole it, we could file charges and get it back. So in an important sense, we own our car.

In another important sense, our car owns us.

By simply failing to perform or behave as cars optimally ought, our vehicle can command time, money, and energy to fly from other places in our life. With a single obedient application of the law of entropy, our car can force me to spend hours, dollars, and effort that I thought had already been allocated elsewhere. When it does that, it becomes clear that our stuff owns me.

Let me give an example.

A few weeks ago, I had just pulled out of the church parking lot for a 30-minute drive when both headlights went out. That's right, both of them. Daylight savings had just changed over, so it was dark. I had to become "that guy" who's always on the other side of the road from you who's driving with his high-beams on. And the next day, I had to hunt down the right bulbs to replace the halogens in our 2005 Hyundai. When I took the casing for the headlights out, I discovered that the right front casing  had broken two of its plastic mounts. Now I had to replace the bulbs and glue the mounts back on.

Here's the pirate car, midway through the ocular operation. Aarg!

While I was under the hood, I decided to do some repair work that I've been stalling on since we bought the car. The last owner had modified the car to have a more urban appeal. About a hundred yards of speaker wire run underneath all the seats in the car; on the inside of the visor were "beer pong" stickers; and under the hood was an air intake:

This device is meant to increase power. However, it requires cleaning every week. The standard air filter--which the racing enthusiast took out--only needs changing every six months or so. I wanted the old-school air filter back.

While I was taking the air intake out, I glued on the mounts for the headlamp casing and clamped it with a clamp not designed for the purpose. But it worked--for the time being. Here is it chillin' in our living-room-come-auto-shop:

I got the air intake out with ease, and then set about the task of installing the air cleaner box. This had been procured from a local parts store:

After about twenty minutes of wrestling with the mounting screws to get the air box on, I made the following discovery:

Can you see what's not there? That's right: the elbow that runs from the air cleaner box to the engine block is missing. Funny, when I ordered the box from the parts shop, they didn't tell me that I might need that part, too.

So I called them back and told them what I needed. Alas, they did not have one on hand. So I called up the Hyundai dealership, who told me that ordering one would take three days. Sigh. When I gave them my credit card number and shuffled my calendar, I thought I heard a mechanical giggle from our driveway. Who was in the driver's seat now?

I put the air intake back in, so we could continue driving the car (albeit dirty) until I could get the elbow joint.

Meanwhile, I replaced the headlamp casing, complete with sexy new halogen bulbs. The plastic mounts cracked again as soon as I tightened them down. Sigh. (A new casing costs $150--not worth it. The casing has survived the last 6 months with cracked mounts--why can't it last another 24?) But the car does have functional new headlights. At least I won't inspire crude gestures from oncoming drivers anymore.

Three days and one more 40-mile roundtrip to Binghamton later, I go to pick up the elbow piece. I get the piece out to the car, open up the bag, and discover that it's the wrong piece. I go back into the dealership and ask them what's up.

"Oh, you own that 2005 Hyundai Elantra GT."

Well, yes and no. I have one, but I don't own it. It owns me. And it's The Special Needs model. The one with an asterisk next to the part numbers on the "air filter" page of the manual. Sigh.

Three days later, Hyundai has the right part for me. (I am saved a trip to Binghamton to pick it up by a friend--thanks, Sharen!) So two weeks after I began the project of changing headlights and air filter assemblies, I've finally got the engine I want in our Silver Bullet:

And here's a close-up of my Special Needs air filter assembly:

I still had to jerry-rig the bolts under the air filter box. They gave me the wrong kind of bolts, too. But you know what? I didn't feel like waiting another three days for the right parts. And as long as I don't hear the air cleaner knocking against the underside of the hood, I don't care what's holding it in place.

Someday the Silver Bullet will do something to assert its authority again over my schedule and checkbook. But for now, we own the car again. I'm in charge of this vehicle. At least that's what I'm telling myself.


Vinyl Joy

After several months of neglect, my treehouse has finally received some much-needed attention. For those of you who have (quite rightfully) forgotten about my treehouse-in-progress, Phase I was finished last spring, and I had begun Phase II.

All right, Phase I was almost finished. I debated for quite a while the idea of putting a roof on Phase I; however, the daunting task of putting heavy sheets of wood high up above my head while on a ladder, combined with the disastrous implications of snow falling on those same sheets kept me from committing. However, a friend recently donated some old vinyl siding that, it turns out, works quite well for my purposes. So, with reclaimed vinyl siding/roofing in hand, we mounted the ladder to Phase I yet again to begin putting on a roof.

Here's the view from the house, across the creek, with one-quarter of the roof on:

It's much more visible now through the trees with bright white vinyl showing from the top half. A shout-out of thanks to Larry, who gives generously from his store of vinyl siding!

I try not to do dangerous projects without help. This has two ends in mind. If I fall while doing the more dangerous tasks and get injured, I can send the other to get help. Or, I can offer the opportunity for my assistant to do the more dangerous part of the job and thereby avoid getting hurt myself in the first place. I leave it up to those helping me which I'm doing at any given time.

For Roof Work Day Number 1 (Tuesday, 11 Nov), I had the glad and capable help of Patrick, one of the young men of the congregation. He's getting training in construction and carpentry in the local school system--so this part of my treehouse is actually a community service project. (I can sell it that way, can't I?)

Here's Patrick proving that the work we did wasn't so dangerous:

And here am I, bundled up for the 40 degrees it was that day:

After a few hours doing construction in cold weather, the fitting end is a cup of hot chocolate in the house. Kudos to Sara for making a mean cup of hot chocolate to warm up two treehouse-building souls.


p.s. I want you all to notice how I have learned the hyperlink function of blog entries. You can now get back to Phase I and Phase II Treehouse History by clicking on the links in this entry. Thanks, Sara Jane!

Monday, November 10, 2008

7 Months

We're officially at 7 months along, 29 weeks, almost 3/4 of the way there!  Yeah, the math of pregnancy is a little wierd.  I still haven't figured it out.  Calculus I can understand, math pregnancy - still can't figure it out!  Anyway, all that to get to the fun stuff.  We are well, baby is active.  Names are being negotiated, ins and outs of cloth diapering are being investigated, nursery is coming along and we get to sneak away for some time together next weekend.  All is good.  And for those of you who keep bugging me for Belly Pix - here ya go :)  Make sure you check out the fun at the WebBabyShower too!

Saturday, November 08, 2008


My habit of starting new projects all the time (a consequence of my "P" Myers-Briggs type) has liabilities and benefits. One liability is that any single project often takes more time to complete than if I only did one project at a time. Another is the resultant mess.

Let's not dwell on the liabilities, though. That's so gauche.

A grand benefit of always having many projects is that spare materials from one project-in-progress are always on hand for the next new project. Let me give you an illustration.

I was commissioned to make two large frames for a pair of mirrors, composed of MDF (medium-density fibreboard). This project required that I purchase two 4x8 sheets of MDF, even though I would use less than two-thirds of each for the frames. That left me with several hunks of MDF in my storage loft.

Then Sara discovered she wanted a table in the nursery, composed of a giant Rubbermaid (TM) tub with a hard surface set upon it. But she didn't want the surface to slide around on top of the Rubbermaid (TM). So she came to me.

Five pieces of MDF later, I have whipped together a tabletop that sits on the Rubbermaid (TM) bin, snugly without sliding around. What a great use for leftovers!

To boot, I painted the tabletop in the colours of the nursery which were--you guessed it--left over from the nursery walls.

The frames you see on the floor are for pictures in the baby's room. They, too, benefited from my leftover paint.


Most Valuable Gifts

(From November 8)
The best gifts are, in my estimation, made by the giver. Perhaps the experience of living in a part of the nation in which you can watch your food grow from the earth is changing me. More folks around here make things "from scratch"--including the eggs they'll eat for breakfast--than in the place where I grew up, went to college, and began working. I have begun to enter into the joy of my master, who made humanity from the dust of the earth, and who every season makes new life spring from soil and water.

Sara is the baker in our family. If you want cookies, breads, or cakes, you go to her for masterpieces. I, however, am rolling out my own little area of expertise around our oven: pie-making. I enjoy the rustic, sensual phenomenon of putting hands on dough and patting it down. I find the rhythm of the rolling pin relaxing. And I enjoy trying--time and time again--to get the crust just right: the right flavour, the right texture, and the right ability to keep the filling from bubbling over.

At our monthly elders' meeting, one member of the group brings a mid-meeting treat and devotional materials. November was my month, so I decided to bring a cherry-strawberry pie. We have the fruit in our freezer from the summer; all that remained was to put it together.

Sara took pictures.
Here's a shout out to Nancy, who, on a recent visit to her home, told us that she'd "never use that pastry cutter--do you want it?" Heck, yeah!

A test of the dough is how easily it will transfer in thin strips to the pie.
Sealing the crust is where I still need to learn.

And the lattice work just before trimming:

This Thanksgiving I'm in charge of a couple of pies. But the fam doesn't want anything so mundane as pumpkin pie. No, they want a strawberry rhubarb pie and a peach pie. Of course, making the dough in large batches is easy; so maybe I'll make a couple of pumpkin pies--filling with pumpkin we picked and cooked ourselves--to give away.


A Thankful Wet, Grey Saturday

Very early this morning when Emrys' alarm went off I wasn't motivated to do much more than peek out the sky-light in our bedroom, pull a pillow over my head and wander back to the Land of Nod.    The mostly-grey sky with a pink hue that filtered through the window sent my mind directly to the saying I'd heard as a child - "Red sky in morning, sailors take warning..." - that usually was foreboding of a poor day of weather.  Today was no exception.  Later when my body emerged from Nod, it was steely grey and raining.  

Days like this bring little motivation to get things done but my list of projects not finished this week nags at me that I need to get to work.  The fact that Emrys is working all day and that I
 know I could be done with the list in 3 hours tops if ambition came to visit, provides little urgency to actually get started on the list.

Urgency was provided by a little hunger pang in my tummy.  I switched screens on my computer from the to-do list to the recipes web searches.  I had planned on making a batch of cranberry-orange chex mix today, (hey, it's on the to-do list, and if the recipe interests you, e-mail me for modifications).  I started to get up and the hunger pang hit again - or maybe it was The Kid - either way, I knew I needed to think about breakfast.  My breakfast-of-the-week of eggs and toast just didn't fit with the drab day and cranberry-orange in any form sounded good.  So I decided to make muffins.  I found this recipe .  

As I mixed up the muffins I reminisced of days in Pasadena.  On the occasional Friday to celebrate the end of the work week, and more often as our time in Pasadena came to an end, I would stop at Il Fornaio for one of their cranberry-orange muffins and a mocha latte. Both were wonderful
 and would send me into my day with a little encouragement that I was less than 9 hours from a weekend.  

Now my life looks very different than it did during that time in Pasadena.  Then my Friday projects to finish usually included rent-increase letters, collection calls, filing and phone calls. Now my week end projects to finish are cleaning, labeling a small batch of candles poured earlier this week, making snacks for the coming week, some household accounting, skimming the fridge for leftovers to see what will become dinner tonight and maybe some TV and knitting when the "chores" are done.  I am so thankful for the change of tasks, the change in lifestyle and the more relaxed person that I've become.  

I'm thankful that in January I can bring a child home to a home where I will live and work and
 not have to think about juggling a job and mom-hood.  I'm thankful that my mom taught me  budgeting, meal-planning and home-economics skills that have helped to make this possible.  I'm thankful that we have the space to have had a fruitful garden that has filled our chest freezer for winter.  I'm thankful that my husband has a job that he enjoys (mostly).  I'm thankful.  Right
 now I'm especially thankful that the timer is going off for the muffins :D.  

What are you thankful for today?   

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Cleaning Gutters

The parts of a tree that you typically see--trunk, branches, leaves--only comprise about one third of the tree's total biomass. Two thirds hang out underground, where the massive root systems anchor the plant, take up water, and infuse nutrients into the physiology of the tree. For all these reasons, trees need root systems to survive. And the usual place for trees to put their root systems is below ground, deep into the rich soil that resides underfoot. However, sometimes trees find creative places to start a root system, often attracted by other sources of thick, nutrient-rich material.

Like the gutters of our house.

That's right, when Jay (bless his heart) come over to help me clean the gutters of our house, we had small saplings growing up from our gutters. Their roots reached through the gutter screens--whole heckuva lotta good those did, eh?--and into the thick loamy mass of pine needles and leaves that had, over the years, taken up residence in the channels that were supposed to run water away from our house. I don't think the former owner had the gutters cleaned all that often.

The good news is that the gutters are well-fastened to the fascia. We tested this by ripping the screen off with brute force. Jay tells me that the screws that hold the gutter in place have been placed at minimum distance from each other for maximum hold. Cool. That means I'll be able to clean these gutters for several more years before replacing them.

Now if we can just reverse the slope on the north gutter so that water runs toward the downspout, we'll be all set.