Monday, December 31, 2007

May you all have a wonderful New Year

The western New Year, that is.

Tonight, we head down the street to a New Year's Eve party: the second annual such gala at this home: last year was such a success that I suggested that they make it an annual thing, and for some reason they took me at my word! Which is great -- they have a lovely old house, huge back and front yards, they cook well (for vegetarians!) and most of all are lovely people. So here's a toast to P and A!

We are already making plans for next New Year (the Chinese New Year, that is). In an attempt to make sure that Boo and Skibo don't grow up closed minded, we are trying to make other cultures fun: and so we will cook longevity noodles, hot and sour soup, and steamed pork buns in February. And wear red!

Yours, pre-resolutions,

Spinning his wheels

Boo and Skibo love to ride their bicycles (stabilizer wheels attached, of course) round the sidewalks when LOML and I are walking Monty. And like most stabilizer wheels, they are adjusted so that you can't have both stabilizers on the ground at the same time: the wheel of the bike is in the way.
However, when you ride through puddles, as Skibo is wont to do, if the puddle is small enough, and deep enough, and you are going slowly enough, you can find yourself stuck: the stabilizers on either side of the puddle, and the middle wheel, hundredths of an inch above the ground, spinning helplessly, while poor Skibo's legs pump harder and harder, trying to gain traction.....

Yours, pumping this one for all it's worth,

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Since we are in ridiculously warm weather

we made ice cream yesterday.
Actually, the weather is not that warm, but Boo had asked for an ice-cream maker for Christmas. Santa in his infinite wisdom had realised that Mummy and Daddy already had an ice-cream maker (two, in fact: one an electric model, the other named Breadbox) and so brought her a book of ice-cream recipes instead. Funnily enough, it looked just like the book Mummy and Daddy already had, the one that went missing sometime on Christmas Eve.....
So Boo and Skibo and I made mint chocolate chip ice-cream yesterday: my first foray into a custard based ice-cream, which made for lots of fun, more work, and a nice smooth creamy rich texture. We used a mix of a bit of green creme de menthe and peppermint essence, so that the ice-cream would have a nice green tinge.
Delicious, if we do say so ourselves!

Yours, shivering,

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lady Godiva

I have to introduce Boo to the story of Lady Godiva, I think: one of the presents that Santa brought her was a horse and rider: and she has played with them quite a bit: but one of the first things that she did was to remove all the rider's clothes.

Yours, exposing the truth,

Friday, December 28, 2007

Midnight bread

The bread was good.
The camera was full, so I took no photographs.
I am full, as are LOML, Boo and Skibo, so there will be no photographs.
I am making more bread.

Yours, rising,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Baking at midnight

So today I decided to whip up a slow batch of bread: using some old dough as a starter, and giving it a really slow rise. I made it a nice loose dough so it should develop some nice texture, a nice open structure.

Only problem was that it thus developed really really slowly. And combining that with the fact we went for a good long walk this afternoon, so I shaped it a couple of hours later than I intended, I've ended up just putting it into the oven a few minutes ago!

Oh well, at least it is the holidays, so I don't have to get up early tomorrow morning. And I'd probably have stayed up to watch the political discussions of this morning's new anyway.

Yours, crustily,

Crisis Point

Awful, terrible news from Pakistan.

My impression is that this leaves a rather large vacuum: I wonder whether Sharif and Khan will be able to rally Bhutto's supporters to either of them, and what it all means for the upcoming election there. Of course, the US news shows seem all to be ignoring Imran Khan as a politician, unaware of who he is, and how he has transformed himself from merely a revered cricket player.

Yours, very worried by this crisis.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

In England, or so I was told when I was younger, it used to be the tradition for households to give "Christmas boxes", small token gifts, perhaps monetary, to household staff the day after everyone else had celebrated Christmas, and hence "Boxing Day". Back where-used-to-be-home, this is a big deal, especially now, with sales that used to start on New Year's Day starting now almost a week earlier.
Here in the US, it is an unknown term of art, but the modern traditions of the day are the same: visit people: recover from the orgy of consumption and eating by another orgy of buying and eating: watch sports, and sit watching movies.

We watched "The Sword in the Stone" with Boo and Skibo --- neither LOML nor I had seen it all the way through, and all four of us enjoyed it tremendously. LOML and I especially enjoyed the reaction of Boo and Skibo to some of the comedy-terror scenes, such as the fight with the perch (which I thought looked like a pike), and the magic duel with Mim. Both children came close to falling off their chairs in giggles and gales at the antics:-)

Tomorrow may be Dumbo, and at some point, I hope to get them to watch the Princess Bride past the shrieking eels scene! I may need to do some judicious fast-forwarding:-)

Yours, entranced,

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The gingerbread house is gone

Well, not completely. In fact, it is only missing a significant portion of the roof and one wall, but it looks like a wrecking ball hit it.
This is, of course exactly what happened: except that the wrecking ball was shaped like five children between three and six years old:-)

Yours, still standing, just,

A merry Christmas to all

and to each of you, may the new year be the best yet! Oh, and world peace too!

Yours, wishing,

Monday, December 24, 2007

Changing traditions

Fifty years ago tomorrow, the Queen (of England etc.) changed a tradition. She broadcast the Christmas Day speech on television. This week it was announced that she is changing another tradition: she is putting the Queen's Speech on youtube, essentially live. Of much more interest in the long term, she is also going to make hundreds, thousands perhaps of videos available to the public, including very early film of Queen Alexandra from ninety years or so ago.

In related news, as in the past few years, interested small children can ask their parents to help them track Santa's progress via NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), who have a web site showing exactly where he is at each instant.

Yours, as ever in a changing world,

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

As regular visitors to the Breadbox know, we are not a religious family: we are not militant in atheism, merely unconvinced by any one of the many religions we see people practicing around the world.
LOML and I both grew up in England, however, which means that, going to state-run schools, we were exposed to daily hymns, prayers, etc in the school assemblies, and we sang in school choirs for Christmas concerts, played in orchestras for these events, etc.
I always love this time of the year: and not for the presents, or the endless "Silver Bells" and "White Christmas" (or heaven forfend "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer") on the radio: no, I love it for the traditional aspects: the tree, with handmade decorations (some, not all!), the feast, and most of all, the ceremonial aspects.
Probably my favourite ceremony is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge, which we listened to this morning on the radio as we were baking cookies. Such beautiful, great soaring music! And the readings, redolent with history and tradition, in the language I heard them in as a child: post-Elizabethan (Stuart and Jacobian just don't sound quite right) English.
I can see how seductive this ceremony itself can be. At times like this, I could believe that I could want to believe.

But for now, our family's belief, publicly stated, at least around the sprogs, is that Santa brings the presents to good little girls and boys tonight!

Yours, steeped,

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On putting two and two together

I was struck today by the phrase "putting two and two together": Boo is quite capable of doing this: we work on her counting skills all the time, and she can add one digit numbers quite consistently well.
But she hasn't put two and two together where Santa is concerned. And in contemplating that, I realised that the skills required to deduce something (say the likely non-existence of Santa) are rather more sophisticate than adding two and two together. Perhaps we should consider a rather more sophisticated phrase than "putting two and two together" to describe the process...

Yours, musing,

Poor Skibo

Last night he spent the best (or rather the worst) part of the night coughing and coughing and coughing. From the sound of the cough, it is similar to the one that I have --- which is good, rather than bad --- it is a somewhat ticklish, very annoying, but not particularly painful cough. However, at 3 he's not really able to describe symptoms properly: especially when he's just been woken from a deep sleep by the cough.

Unfortunately, he refuses adamantly to take any medication, even warm raspberry tea with honey, which he actually likes. Add to that the fact that the available cough medicines for three year olds has recently been decimated by the FDA (for younger, its now verboten, for three and up it is strongly disapproved of giving them cough medicine), so we are worried about giving him medicine anyway, and we are in a poor-Skibo-pickle.

We grownups have it easy: we can be persuaded to take medicine, or understand the consequences if we don't. It's much harder on a three year old.

Yours, in sympathy,

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lessons learned

After constructing the gingerbread house, we learned some lessons.

The construction materials:
- make the gingerbread thinner than a 1/4 inch before baking
- use less baking powder in the mixture
- give the royal icing a really good long time in the mixer: it will achieve a better consistency

The design:
- The roof pieces were originally one inch longer than the front and back panels of the house --- they could easily be an inch longer still. They were okay as they are, but they'd be better with a little longer overlap.
- It would be good to cut off a small corner at the bottom of the back panel for a wire to run through, so the string of lights is easier to install.

The fun:
- This was fun! I suspect that as the kids get bigger, the houses will get more and more interesting --- and as LOML and I learn more about making them, we'll get more adventurous!

Yours, in retrospect,

Pictures: decoration

The decorations were glued on with yet more royal icing: we also spread royal icing over the foil covered cutting board, to make a fresh snowfall. The things which look like chocolate drops covered in non-pareil are precisely that (homemade, of course!)

Yours, decorously,

Pictures: the construction

Once we had the pieces constructed, we let them harden for several hours, covered, and then made some royal icing to use as cement. We put the walls up, inserted a string of christmas lights, and let the cement harden. Then we put the roof on, let it all harden, and then started to decorate with sweets.

Yours, under construction,

Pictures: baking

Some pictures of the baking process: a side wall before baking, and an end wall after baking. The window is created by crushing hard candies (boiled sweets) into the hole: as the gingerbread bakes, the sugar melts, creating the window pane.

Yours, in the heat of the moment,

Friday, December 21, 2007


The following are the jpg's that I created from the templates. I can produce pdf versions too I suspect (I haven't yet --- that will probably wait until next year): they are also incredibly easy to draw by hand with a ruler. I've written dimensions on them: the jpgs may or may not be to scale.

The first image is the roof (make two pieces): the second is for the front and back wall --- cut out the windows, and mark the position of the door. The third is the side walls: cut out the windows.

We used the cutouts from the windows, cut in half, and moulded gently with the back of a knife, to make shutters for the windows: we glued these on after baking.

Yours, constructively,

Gingerbread redux

Two days ago we made the dough
Yesterday we baked it
Today we built the house with royal icing
as the mortar.
Pictures have been taken
but not uploaded yet.

Next, we need to decorate it,
Hansel and Gretel style
with candy canes
and chocolate drops
and hundreds and thousands
of non-pareils.

Yours, decorously,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Proceeding gingerly

An update on the gingerbread. Yesterday we made the dough. Today we rolled out the dough, cut the shapes, crushed hard candies (boiled sweets, that is) and placed then in the window holes, baked the pieces, and set them aside to cool.

Tomorrow morning, we will try the royal road to glue: royal icing to stick it all together. And then the decorations: the candy canes, and jelly beans, and chocolates, etc... That is where the sprogs will no doubt come into their own!

And now, a word to all those eagerly awaiting pictures: LOML is not a professional baker, and neither am I (although I am pretty competent with real bread). And while I can guarantee that the gingerbread will taste good, I am not sure how the finished product will look. So please, don't expect perfection, or anything close to it! We are doing this for the enjoyment of the children, and they are enjoying it fine.
Can you guess that last night I saw a show on professionals making gingerbread houses? And found it just a little intimidating?

Still, I have some hope that the house will look like a house, and if it works, I will
happily post the templates that I've made up (I did the one we used by hand, but spent a few minutes doing it on the computer this evening so if it works we can redo it next year!) together with the recipe for the dough itself.

Yours, amateurishly,

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Of the non-bread variety that is... we are making a gingerbread house this year, for the first time ever. We've made lots of gingerbread men, women, trees and other beasts and plants in the past, so this is not such a stretch --- but the sprogs are old enough now to get excited about it, so this morning I sat down and sketched a house, figured out the dimensions, this afternoon LOML made the dough, and tomorrow we bake and build.

Quite exciting, really --- our first ever attempt at architecture from scratch. And I found a nice application of a 3-4-5 triangle too, to boot!

Pictures might or might not be forthcoming.....

Yours, gingerly,

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Holiday concert

We went to see the school holiday concert this evening: unlike last year, both children were participating, which was nice. They both did a fantastic job, especially of paying attention to the teachers. Skibo is particularly enthusiastic in his gestures (and considering that his new khaki slacks --- when did khaki start coming in black??? --- were read to slip off his hips at any moment, this was extremely daring!) leading LOML to suggest that he may have a career in the theatre ahead of him:-)
Boo had a lovely swing to her as she sang: swaying beautifully in time with the music, in a very professional-singer-looking way. She also has superb diction, and a lovely sense of pitch: I do hope she continues to enjoy singing and gets good at it --- not for a career, or anything: just so that she can be a great singer and enjoy it.

This morning, while I was dropping the little ones at school, Skibo's teacher thanked me for the brioche au chocolat, and said that she wished I'd make her bread. I pointed to the bag in my hand, and explained that Boo was taking bread in for her sharing day in class, and when Skibo next shared, he could take some too.
I realised when I got home that I had two loaves rising, and so baked them a little sooner and a little faster than I usually would, and took one back with me for her. I think that it really made her day!

Yours, in the Christmas mood,

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas is a process, not a day....

It lasts for weeks. Today we had Boo and Skibo's Auntie E (not a blood relation, and all the more an auntie as a result) for dinner: she leaves for the west coast on Wednesday, and this was our Christmas dinner with her. At her request, we had hot and sour soup with steamed pork buns --- given that she's going to the land of real oriental cuisine (as far as the US is concerned, anyway) I take this as a tremendous compliment!
I also made brioche au chocolat yesterday/this morning to give to Boo and Skibo's teachers, and then was informed at lunch that tomorrow is Boo's sharing day -- and she would like to share my bread. So right now, I have a couple of somewhat-bigger-than-batards rising, which should finish baking before midnight or so, so she can take them in the morning.
And tomorrow evening, Boo and Skibo get to sing in their school's annual holiday concert. Which we will enjoy beyond belief, but still --- it is all go at the moment.

Yours, wondering when we get to this "holiday" of which you speak,

Sunday, December 16, 2007

From Thanksgiving (C) to Thanksgiving (US)

From Thanksgiving (C) to Thanksgiving (US), to pre-Christmas parade organization, to Christmas parade party: and now on to Christmas. As I noted a couple of days ago, because so many friends are going away for an extended period over Christmas, we are having a celebration lasting almost two weeks: but the day itself will be the climactic event.
So far we are up to a likely 14 people (including us) eating together. This of course rules out our beloved standing rib roast --- a standing rib big enough for one vegetarian is easy: for the remaining 13 it becomes prohibitively expensive. So we will probably put two turkeys or a turkey and a ham into the stove. Or perhaps just one absolutely huge turkey. I've never cooked one of those, so it would be an interesting experiment!

Along the way, I've been making occasional batches of food to take to our friends: he has had a couple of stroke-type seizures, and they need lots of help. As I do this, I am doubly gratified --- that we have good health, and that others are grateful. And I loved their reaction to the turkey soup we took over after Thankgiving(US): they asked LOML "Do you guys eat like this every night????" Admittedly, that soup was quite good. In the English usage, where "quite" is a positive, rather than a negative modifier. Since they have to travel for more treatments this week, we are sending some chicken soup over: it can be frozen tonight, and hence will travel well in a cooler, and can be eaten in a day or two.

Yours, trying always to help at least in a little way,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Please, don't be sad for us

We will be sad enough --- but at the same time, we are happy for the nearly twelve years of joy she brought us: the walks and runs and romps in forests, the barking at strange noises, the fact that she wouldn't bark at all for the first year we had her (until we lived near a train track, and she barked at the trains --- then she never stopped!)

We have a hundred thousand memories to keep us happy. Please, share our brief grief, but share too our joy:-)


On saying "Goodbye"

I never had pets as a child: and so I never learned about saying goodbye. Boo and Skibo have had to learn three times this year.
The first time was in the spring: we were away, and the people who were renting our house and looking after our pets phoned to say that our youngest cat had been run over.
This summer, our old golden retriever (we didn't know how old exactly, but perhaps thirteen or so) reached the end. And then today, our old, old sheltie, probably nearly seventeen years old, who LOML found walking by the side of a very busy, four lane highway almost twelve years ago, was unable to stand: she just lay there on her side, legs straight out, breathing at twice the normal rate. When we tried to help her stand, her legs would keep going out from under her.

We've known for some time now that we would have to say good bye to her, probably this year, and most likely before Christmas. And while our immediate reaction is one of sadness, and pain, and loss, in trying to explain to Boo that she might have to say goodbye today, I realised that we get two great gifts from pets: one is the company and comfort and friendship (and exercise) that they give us: and the other is the opportunity, often, to understand how important it is to say goodbye to a loved one, and more importantly, how important it is to tell your loved ones every day how much you love them

She went gently, and softly, this morning, with LOML there with her.

So, to my two dear old dogs I've said goodbye to this year,
Yours, in love and gratitude,

Friday, December 14, 2007

Crazy behaviour

and I'm not the ones telling them this!

We had friends for dinner this evening: they asked if we would cook so that they could finish packing: they wanted to be able to leave here, walk home, and then start driving across the country. Literally. We are a few hundred miles from the Atlantic, and they are spending Christmas with his family, on the Pacific.
He asked us, halfway through dinner, "Am I crazy, or just stupid?" Driving at night, with a three and a four year old, there was no possible answer except "Both".

Yours, wishing them luck,

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Movie nights

Once or twice a week we try to set aside the evening for a movie night with Boo and Skibo: tonight we decided to try The Polar Express: I had seen the movie several times last year when it came out on television, and had loved it: so we bought a copy of the dvd a few weeks ago.
I had a few concerns, both because it suggests the existence of doubt, and at the moment neither Boo nor Skibo are in any doubt at all; and also because it has some, shall we say exciting, moments. Nothing really scary to an adult, but to small children??

Well, the scary parts were seen as scary by both, especially Boo --- but sitting on Mummy and Daddy's laps at various times helped ease the fears --- and the fact that I had seen it, and could provide reassurance that everything would be alright helped too. As to the doubt, it didn't seem to register the way I had feared it might.

And again, I am left stunned by the imagination and beauty of the animation: it is absolutely amazingly realistic: you can really see that the conductor is Tom Hanks!
The animated characters really seem to act.

Yours, expressing myself,

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Festival of Lights

Yesterday we had friends over to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah: we whipped up potato latkes and pot-roasted brisket, exchanged gifts, drank some extremely nice wine, and enjoyed many laughs.
One of the nicest aspects of the whole thing was the mix of people: a Buddhist, a Baptist and a Jew, gathering in a non-believing home. And the fact that the son of the Buddhist and the Jew is playing one of the wise men in his (Presbyterian) preschool's pageant this weekend:-)

It was especially nice to share a feast day with these people, since they will be out of town in two weeks --- and would otherwise have shared our Christmas meal with us.

Yours, terribly fond of good food and good wine, but much fonder still of good friends,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Linguistic development

The Chinese have an old curse, I am told:
"May you live in interesting times".
It is, in the Chinese-cursive meaning, occasionally interesting being a parent. When Boo was born, she was almost born speaking: at 15 months she had an amazing vocabulary: well over 200 words, which was way past the norm of 10-15 that the paediatrician suggested would be usual.
Skibo, on the other hand, took a more circuitous route to speech. At one point, I worried that perhaps at 200 months he might have a 15 word vocabulary. But then, at about 2 or so, he started to talk a bit more, and by 3 he had pretty much caught on to the joys of speech (as in, "LOML, did we really wish that he would start talking?"). But his diction was still difficult, and while we could understand him, it definitely took practice. Today, he made a huge leap. He developed an "r" sound. He came up to me at lunchtime, and said "Can we make brrrrrrrrrread today, please?"

What a lovely sound:-) For today!

Yours, utterly trilled by this development,

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Cuban missile crisis, decades on

I am the last to defend republicans, in general. And in particular, this time, I will not defend Dana Perino, who didn't know her history when asked to compare the Cuban missile crisis to Bush policy on missile defense: I expect people who are employed by the White House to be the best of their bunch, to have an historical perspective better than mine. Still, she was only seven at the time. And she got away with her response: or at least, I don't recall it being news at the time.

But I have absolutely no sympathy for her today: she did, after all, discuss this in public, on the radio program "Wait wait, don't tell me" this weekend. It's bad enough to have that lack of historical perspective to begin with, let alone to admit it obliquely to reporters. But to admit it to an overtly anti-administration-biased comedy-news-quiz program shows immense stupidity!

Your, incredulous,

A sick, political, joke.... please don't read

With all the news of waterboarding, deleted tapes, etc....

One might say that under a previous head of the CIA, winning a war in Iraq was seen as a "slam dunk", whereas interrogation was seen more as "Islam dunk".

Yours, disgusted by the government here,

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The party's over now....

and I can't remember a better party that we've thrown.
We must have had close to 150 people here at one point or another: and I think that all of them but one had a wonderful time. Much was eaten, the eggnog all went, and the parade was a success, as always (although there were occcasional murmurings of "is that all there is", early on, in response to inordinately long gaps between floats!)

But as with all parties we throw, LOML has muttered --- "that's the last party we throw"... until time heals all wounds, and the effort is forgotten by time:-)

Yours, partied out,

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It'll be seventy six degrees for the big parade

It'll be seventy six degrees for the big parade
And feel like eighty three in the shade
And the heat will melt the cookies and ruin all the stuff
That LOML and I have patiently made

'Cause although Christmas comes in a fortnight's time
And we might dream for snow on the ground
Global warming's here so the snow is nowhere near
And the icicles are nowhere to be found.

Seriously. Seventy six degrees. That's like twenty five in real degrees!
Hot summer's day in the UK, a few years ago. And it is December.

Yours, with apologies to 1950's musicals,

Vol au vents

or in English, "full of wind" --- are little puff pastry shells, filled typically with a savoury filling, and eaten warm as a canape or hors d'oeuvre. Growing up in the sixenventies, I remember them being one of the better party foods, and in the UK they were really easy to make --- buy the shells, and fill them.
Here, it's a little more difficult: Pepperidge farm does sell shells, but they are much larger (six to a pack) than the ones I made --- from about the same amount of puff pastry, I made 20 shells, so they are about one third of the size of the commercial ones. Unfold the pastry, and with an inch and a half scalloped pastry-or-scone-or-cookie cutter (the sharper the edge the better!) cut out 40 rounds. Now, with a one inch cutter, cut out the middles of half the rounds. Brush the uncut rounds with water, place the cut rounds (middles and all) on top, and bake for 15 minutes or so in a preheated 400 F oven, until fully puffed and golden in colour.
After they come out of the oven, let them cool for a few minutes, remove the middle top (the bit that was cut out and replaced earlier). Fill with a creamy chicken or mushroom sauce.

For the filling, I sauted some diced onion, celery and carrots, and some minced garlic until they started to caramelize: I added this to a pot with some chicken breasts and thighs and a lot of water, some thyme, peppercorns and bay, and brought it to a boil, reduced to a simmer, and simmered about an hour: took the meat off the bones, replaced the bones in the liquid and simmered another several hours. I strained the stock and reduced it to a cup or so of liquid. I diced some more carrots, celery and onions, sauted them, and added them to the reduced stock, and simmered for a half an hour. I shredded the chicken, added to the mix, and also added half a cup of heavy cream.

The whole mixture should be very moist, but not as liquid as a stew. Spoon about a tablespoonful of the mix into each shell, replace its hat, and serve. You can do almost everything ahead of time: cut the shells out days ahead and refreeze, bake an hour or two before serving: the filling can be made a day or two ahead: just add the cream at the last minute, and don't fill more than half an hour or so ahead of serving them. They are good hot or warm, but you don't want them to get cold.

Eat with your fingers, but have a napkin ready, to dry the fingers after you lick them clean:-)

Yours, full of it,

Friday, December 7, 2007

Menu for Sunday

A partial list of what we're having ----

Chocolate roulade
Sausage rolls
Vol au vents
Huge list of assorted varieties of (home-made) cookies
Brioche au chocolat

Whatever the co-hosts are bringing/buying from the mega-marts.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

We humbly beg your apologies

Yes, I know what the heading says. Yes, I know what it means.

Seen this morning in my local cafe:

We humbly beg your apologies.
We are out of white chocolate sauce
until Friday afternoon
and are unable to make the following drinks
[list of drinks omitted]

I hesitated. I ummed and erred. Should I say something? Get snarky at them, asking me to apologize? Should I unleash my inner English teacher?

I decided to be gentle. I tried to point out to the manager (who was also the cashier at that moment) that there was a problem with the sign. Unfortunately, she missed the point, failing completely to see that there was a problem of meaning, not of grammar here. Oh well, perhaps a better inner English teacher will come along later and help her see.

Yours, resisting the snark,

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Memories in a box

In a fit of cleaning before our upcoming party, LOML handed me a box, and said "Deal with it". It's a box of memories, and old papers, and stuff. A few memories, a lot of junk, and tons of stuff.
Anyway, I came across a small pile of pieces of paper, Blu Tack still attached, which had adorned my walls as an undergraduate long ago. Sayings, some of which may have been original to me --- others I may have adopted: nearer graffiti than wisdom, some of them still strike a small, quiet chord. My favourite?
Ignorance is bliss. Please ignore me.

(For the uninitiated, Blu Tack is a wonderful, slightly sticky putty-like substance, great for sticking posters to the wall without leaving too much of an oily residue later on when it is removed. It also makes for a great tension reliever for worriers: a friend of mine used to never be seen without a fist-sized wadge of it to worry over....)

Yours, reliving the past,

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Old friends in town

Our friend Dan was in town this week --- he called yesterday to see if we were in, and when Skibo heard that he was coming round, he immediately uttered the immortal words "Uncle Danny doesn't wear shoes!"
Sure enough, ten minutes later, in he walks, sans sabots, to hoots of laughter all around:-)

He came around again this evening for dinner --- a pleasant time, but it is a shame when close friends move away, and somehow the conversations just are a bit more forced and unnatural when they return.

Yours, in friendship,

Monday, December 3, 2007

Trimming, revisited

I intend to prove that I am not one to stand uncorrected. Which is to say, I was wrong. Quite wrong!

Trimming, from the online dictionary of etymology: "neaten by cutting" dates to 1530, whereas "to decorate, to adorn" is from 1547. So much for my assumption that it was a neologism, a vulgar americanism!

Yours, in error, but corrected,

Sunday, December 2, 2007

We've reached the "I want's"

Sitting with children on my lap, discussing what they want for Christmas, leafing through a catalogue (so that grandparents can order online exactly what they want), both children reached a milestone. Simultaneously.

They can both want more than 50% of all the things in the catalogue --- on many pages, point at every thing there, and say "I want this, I want that, I want,...."

We're thinking about getting them just a couple of gifts. Somehow, I think that there may be a little disappointment in their future! I'd better hide the catalogues soon....

Yours in avarice,

Trimming the tree

I wonder, etymologically speaking, why Americans tend to refer to "trimming" a Christmas tree, rather than "decorating" it. And likewise, serving a Christmas dinner of turkey, with all the "trimmings". Yet the "trimmings served with a turkey bear very little resemblance to the bits trimmed off the turkey (nor indeed to the bits trimmed off the tree!)

LOML and I trimmed the tree on Friday night, taking a good inch or so off the end of the trunk, and a few branches as well, so that the tree will sit nicely in the stand. We decorated it this morning and this afternoon. Pictures may follow at some time.

I'm particularly proud of the origami angel (strictly speaking, not really origami, since it is folded from three squares of paper and is assisted in its structural integrity by the judicious placement of some sticky tape!) which is placed at the top of the tree --- it is my own design, from when I was about 10, and I still think that it holds up well. This particular one I made perhaps 15 or so years ago.

Yours, in-creasingly proud,

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today I went to lunch with some people, just out to a local pub-and-grille(sic) near work --- and somewhat surprised to hear the waitress refer to one of the females in the group as "Babe". She did this several times, and it struck me as a very strange thing.
Mind you, it struck me as just as strange when she referred to one of the males present the same way --- "Babe": I am assuming that the only reason she didn't refer to me that way is that I am older than dirt. Well, young dirt, anyway.

Yours, un-babe-like,

Another month...

most likely, all Christmas, all the time..... at least if the TV and radio are anything to go by.

Having promised not to promise to post every day during November, I can see that I kept my promise.

Yours, retrospectively diurnally, at least,

Friday, November 30, 2007

How the times have changed!

Last week or so I heard a story from Riverdale, Georgia (just south of Atlanta, close enough to be a commuter suburb): apparently there was an election there earlier this month for city council, and there has been a fight over one of the results.

The fight is over whether Michelle Bruce committed fraud by running as Michelle rather than as Mike. The amazing thing is that the deep south used to be very intolerant, and a huge story would have been a trans(vestite,gendered) person even running: the fact that now the story is not that she ran, but that she won, running openly as a woman who was once a man, and is now being sued, the gist of the suit being she gained an unfair advantage by running that way, this fact is unbelievable.

Whether or not Michele Bruce wins, there is hope yet for tolerance in the south!

Yours, delighted by this story,

A bad crash, but the results could be worse

On Monday evening, even though LOML and I heard nothing, we noticed a convergence of emergency vehicles at the corner of the lot behind our house --- it turned out that an SUV had run a stop sign, perhaps thinking it to be a 4-way rather than a 2-way stop: it had overturned, and within minutes it was aflame. Blazing. I didn't realise that vehicles could actually do that in reality.
This evening I saw one of the local volunteer firefighters, and asked him about it: I am very relieved to discover that nobody was badly hurt: the driver of the SUV even escaped with a few cuts and bruises.
LOML and I are discussing lobbying to get the intersection changed to a 4-way stop (LOML did the same for the next intersection over a few years ago, and it has made a tremendous difference to driving patterns in front of our house!)

Yours, very relieved, but still fired up,


We went to Lowes, a big home and garden chain, because I remembered that they had had nice trees the past few years --- and sure enough, the trees were much nicer, and much cheaper, than at the other places we'd visited. I feel bad that we are not buying a tree from the charity group we usually go to, but I'd rather write them a cheque for $20 and come out $20 ahead, and have a much nicer, bigger tree.

All in all, LOML and I agree --- it is the nicest tree we've had yet!

Photos will follow, but they need taking and down and up loading first....

Yours, branching out,

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas tree

With the Christmas parade, and hence our party, coming up in just over a week, LOML and I had decided that today was the day that we should go and get a tree: much as we would love to get a real tree and then replant it, we have not got the time, money, energy or land at the moment to do that.
And unfortunately, a real tree is a really big part of Christmas for me: LOML grew up with fake ones, and would be more than happy to go that route, but I really really don't want to do it.

Just as unfortunately, this year trees are in somewhat shorter supply: the growers were hit by the droughts of the past few years, and so quantity of trees seems down, and the price is up. In the end, we found a few trees that we like, or could put up with, but the ones that we liked were more than we want to pay... so we are going to look again tomorrow afternoon.

Yours, needlessly needle-lessly needled,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Installing operating systems

Emboldened by my (heavily assisted) success on Monday, I decided to upgrade the version of Fedora on the desktop machine at home today. It is amazing how much slower a six year old desktop is than a new laptop:-) It took about three times as long just for the installation process (not counting my slowness and uncertainty at setting the process going). But it's done, and it's needed doing for months, years even, so I feel good about that.
And the files that I accidentally wiped out? Well, at least they weren't critical ones.
Not hugely so.

Yours, a mixed blessing,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I love cooking

and most of the time I love food too --- but sometimes.....

This evening we went over to friends to eat: friends who seem to make a concerted effort not to come over here to eat (we live about twenty minutes apart, which makes it just inconvenient enough to be a pain). But they are friends, and their son and Skibo are close in age and friends, and Boo likes him too, so we like going over there, even if they won't come over here.

But the food. If I may call it that. Meatballs from a frozen meatball bag: tomato sauce from a jar, and pasta, cooked to al-soggie. Oh, and garlic bread, from a bag, from the store. Such a shame.

Oh well, we had fun anyway:-) And the food fed my rumbly tumbly, the stomach sounds which help keep the monsters away for the children, so some good may come of it all....

Yours, with a rumbly tumbly,

Monday, November 26, 2007

What I'm listening to right now

is Zoe Lewis' "Snail Road", and then Peggy Seeger's "Darling Annie": but that's not the important thing! The important thing is that I'm listening to it on my laptop! Finally, music is back in my life (if not on the road or when walking... but that will come sometime soon....)

Yours, in time,

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Warning, technical phrases ahead

I finally figured out how to pass the correct boot-time arguments to the kernel when booting the Fedora Live disk, and so now I know that the upcoming upgrade will fix my sound problems. In other words, even though I still have a non-functioning mp3 player, I'll be able to listen to music on my laptop.

Thus inspired, I decided to take the bull by the horns and attempt an upgrade of my system: unfortunately, the upgrade process (even though it is the obvious one that a clueless user like me would like to take, avoiding the process of partioning and formatting drives) is one that is not advised. I tried it a few times, and each time, it hangs: for hours, if I let it. At the same point. Oh well, I thought, on to a clean and fresh install: unfortunately, it was only somewhat clear which partitions needed reformatting, and which have all my important information on (insufficiently backed-up, I might add), and since a reinstall is something that I do only once or so a year, I am never really practiced at what to do.

Never mind. I've cried "Wolf" for my guru at work to help:-) I may have to offer a meal, or two, but I'm happy to do that in exchange for a little hand-holding!

Yours, softly humming "I want to hold your hand" (the PC version).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I do love a parade

We live, as I may have said, stressed, or even over-emphasized, in a small southern town: and there are some really nice benefits to living here: among them, everybody knows everybody, and when we throw big parties, they are still manageably small. Well, the latter isn't true, but....

Anyway, every year we have a Christmas parade, between fifty and a hundred vehicles dressed up in holiday best, carrying local pols, busily waving at the folks who elected them, marching bands from the high, middle and low schools, and lots of folks throwing bad candy to the gathered throngs.

Some of us are fortunate enough to live on the parade route, and for the first year or two we lived here, we watched from our front porch: then we discovered that there were two neighbours who alternated throwing a lovely party, got ourselves invited, and ever since have watched the parade from their respective houses.

This year, one of the hosts has decided that it is too much work for them this year, and we've been asked to come in as once-every-three-years co-hosts (though I suspect that this may end up eventually being every other year!) Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, LOML and I are constitutionally incapable of saying "no" when asked to throw a party, and so this year, it's back to our front porch:-)

Yours, celebrating this, four hundred posts, and all!

Christmas party --- are we invited (to be organizers)?
Christmas parade

Parade party menu

Now we have to think about what to make for our parade party: typically the weather is cool, but not frigid: between freezing and 50 Fahrenheit, say: our co-hosts usually provide an un-spiked cider, plus a liberal quantity of spikes: so on the drinks side, we are considering either mulled wine or eggnog (so we'll probably go for both!). The eggnog recipe is my adaptation of one I've made many times, from the Joy of Cooking: among my secret modifications, I add a liberal amount of espresso --- not enough to taste the flavour, but enough to taste that it is different.
On the food front, since it is a co-hosted party, we have to work hard not to go overboard! Sausage rolls are a must, and perhaps scotch eggs, though they are intimidating to do in the sorts of quantities required. Focaccia, of course: a rosemary, a salt, an onion, and perhaps an olive one: nothing too heavy, since it is a mid-afternoon thing, but at the same time, we want to have people leave feelin good....

Yours, tossing ideas, not salads,

Christmas is coming

the goose is getting fat...

Friday night, our little town came together for the lighting of the Christmas "Tree" --- we used to have a lovely shaped, live tree in the center of the green on the town square, but unfortunately some folks decided that we'd be better off chopping it down, and putting up a bigger, but reusable fake tree. It's pretty enough, and it is huge, but I miss the real thing. And the fact that they cut down a lovely tree in the process really hurts.
The lighting itself was fun, except for the fact that there needed to be a line for the children to sit on Santa, and that line didn't exist until Boo and Skibo got close --- and then it was formed on the other side. Rather than staying, the children decided that they wanted a movie night, so we came home and had popcorn and watched "Olive, the other reindeer" (a lovely movie, if you haven't seen it!)

I'm not completely into the Christmas spirit yet --- but I'm definitely getting there: this weekend I have to sit down with Boo and Skibo, and help her spell her words in her letter to Santa, and take dictation from Skibo, who at 3 isn't yet ready to write, or even trace his letter.

Yours, spiritedly,

Friday, November 23, 2007


I stood on the scales yesterday, and was surprised to discover that, after eating a full thanksgiving dinner, I had lost more than 20 pounds.
Unfortunately, I believe that the scales are broken, and hence I am more likely to lose more than 20 dollars in the near future than 20 pounds.

Yours, lightheartedly,

Thursday, November 22, 2007


A happy thanksgiving to all, especially those in the US who celebrate it, and everyone else, who doesn't! Hope that everyone can find something to be grateful for today....

Yours, gratitudinally unchallenged,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

At the last minute

This morning, one of our friends called --- we had been invited to Thanksgiving at their house, but wanted a quieter time of it this year (last year they had about 25 people for a late-lunch/early-dinner feast) --- to ask if our children had come down with the preschool lurgey yet. Apparently their younger one is throwing up all over the place, and their elder is not doing too much better. Since they are at the same school (and in one case classroom) as Boo and Skibo, it seems likely we will get hit with this too.
But so far we're clear! (And if we are very lucky, being away this week will help stave it off completely).
Anyway, we picked up four new dinner guests from them for thanksgiving tomorrow (people we would have invited in a heartbeat anyway if we hadn't known they were planning on going over there to eat!
So we are happy, our new guests are happy, I get to cook ham again as well as turkey (both are brining happily at the moment), and our friends are all incredibly grateful to us for putting ourselves out at the last minute! What a win win situation:-)

As LOML put it earlier, "I had thought that I was looking forward to a quiet dinner, but now we are going to have lots of guests, I am *much* happier!"

Yours, as host,

A camera I don't intend to buy....

LOML and I went shopping today, sprogs in tow, and for the first 45 minutes or so, the sprogs were very well behaved. After they started to blow up, we decided to do the rest of the shopping later, individually (one shopping, while the other is at home with the little delights).
So it came to pass that I went to the second grocery store to pick up all sorts of extra food (more on that later), and to the "dollar store" to get a couple of tablecloths (ridiculously cheap, $5 a pop, for a fairly high quality linen tablecloth!)
While waiting for the cashier to make her way over from stocking the shelves, I perused the counters near the till: and there, hanging with a $9.99 pricetag, was a keychain digital camera! Now, the quality is almost certainly appalling --- and even at that price I'm not going to risk it, but it did seem to tell a story of the way that generalizations of Moore's law are continuing in non-computer technologies!
Less than an hour later, after visiting the grocery store, I heard an ad on the radio while driving home: DVD players (for television use, not computer) for under ten dollars! Quite amazing drops in prices, especially considering they are all imported and the US dollar is not exactly strong at the moment!

Yours, in miniature,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cameras for children

About a year ago, LOML and I decided that it would be a good idea to get Boo a camera for Christmas --- she was showing way too much interest in our (not particularly high-end) digital camera, wanting to take photographs with it, and we thought that if we gave her her own, it would be a great way to give her ownership of her photos, a sense of achievement.
Unfortunately, we were a year ahead of time. In my shortsightedness, we decided that we shouldn't spend too much on it, and neither of us considered the (really sensible) idea of buying a refurbished model.
We ended up buying a polaroid --- I forget the model number, but it was a really low end camera --- and the results have not been good. Its behaviour in low light is appalling, even with flash, and in good light it is out of focus most of the time. In short, avoid low end polaroids, in our experience!

Nonetheless, Boo has managed to take some remarkably fine shots for a now-five-year-old! I downloaded a hundred or so shots this afternoon (she had found the camera again after a hiatus) and of those, there were perhaps 5 really quite good candid shots of LOML and me. And considering that about 80% of the shots were rubbish because of the camera, I think that's a pretty good ratio!

It's almost tempting to spend much less this year on a much better camera for her:-)

Yours, in a David Bailey's parent moment,

Dragon fruit

In response to Mrs Magpie posting a picture of a dragon fruit, the outside part only, I thought I would post this. Apologies for the photo quality --- I can only blame it on a bad camera. That or my lack of abilities with it. One of the stranger looking fruits I have ever seen.

Yours, feeling like St. George,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Children and coughs

This is the most difficult time of the year for children and coughs. They haven't yet built up immunities, the temperature is bouncing around all over the place, and their parents haven't built up a tolerance to lack of sleep.

But LOML and I are building that tolerance --- last night, Boo and Skibo were both up for hours each, coughing away --- the night before, it was Skibo, the night before that it was Boo. Tonight, so far it is just Skibo, but there are still six or seven hours for Boo to come through too....

But we are about to undo all that good work of building up tolerances; this week is Thanksgiving, so after tomorrow lunchtime or so, LOML and I can alternate taking naps, catching up on sleep, etc.

Yours, running on empty,

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pea and ham soup

Autumnal food can be wonderful, especially when the weather plays nicely, and it is cool and crisp, and leaves are turning, falling, waiting for children to pile them up and jump in them.

Pea and ham soup is one such food; I took the remnants of the baked ham from last night, simmered it in a big pot of water with some sauted onions, celery and carrots. After a couple of hours, I pulled out the bones and meat, and added about a pound and a half of split peas, simmered another couple of hours. I blended the liquid with a stick blender, shredded the meat and added it back to the soup.... a little seasoning, and it's a meal fit for company.
So we had company.
Bread, soup, and then pumpkin pie and peach cobbler with ice cream for dessert.

Hungry yet?

Yours, feeling souper,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Doing thanksgiving early

We have friends who are going to be out of town for thanksgiving --- hardly a surprise: they are visiting his parents in the Washington DC area --- so we had them over for dinner tonight instead. Since we had turkey last week, and we are having turkey next week, we did the second choice at this time of year: ham.

Baked ham is something that I don't remember having very often --- if at all --- growing up in the UK: we would often have sliced ham, cold, on sandwiches or with a salad, but I don't remember my mother ever cooking a ham.
It's a shame: it is a glorious dish: and here in the south they put a special touch on it: brining the ham first in a mixture of coca cola and kosher salt: then scored in a diamond pattern, baked first at high heat to caramelize the outside, and then cooked at a low temperature for two to three hours.

Served with mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables: we did carrots and brussels sprout (boiled until just still crisp, then tossed with toasted walnuts and mandarin orange segments in a warmed vinaigrette): Southern tradition would insist on a side dish of macaroni and cheese too, and probably some sort of sweet potato casserole. But we can't follow tradition toooooo closely, can we?

Yours, hamming it up,

Friday, November 16, 2007

On Sushi

Some years ago (decades, major parts of a century?) I was bullied into trying sushi. Or rather, I was bullied into trying raw fish.
After all, sushi refers to rice, an essential part of nigiri (the individual pieces of fish/etc and rice) and maki (the rolls, typically rice wrapped around a filling, perhaps with a wrapper of nori, Japanese edible seaweed).
Anyway, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the friends who first persuaded me to try (what I thought was going to be) raw fish. Turns out that I tried unagi, cooked eel, first --- though probably if I had known it was eel I'd have felt as bad as I did thinking it was going to be raw. It was delicious.
Subsequently, I was bullied into trying a couple of other pieces: maguro (tuna) and hamachi (yellowtail): also delicious once I got my mind around the fact that these ones really were raw. And, of course, it all gave a good excuse to drink hot sake with it:-)

To think that I might have missed out on this wonderful, incredibly tasty food had I listened to my head instead of my friend all those years ago!

Yours, for the sake of it,

Hawking a book

Years ago, Stephen Hawking surprised the world over a period of a few years: first, by doing some amazing mathematics and physics: second by coming down with an awful, debilitating disease: third, by writing A Brief History of Time, a book which is probably the best-selling theoretical physics book of all time: fourth, he seemed to continue to survive and thrive, guest starring on Star Trek TNG, for example: fifth, he got divorced, and then remarried.
Now he's surprised again: he and (I assume) his second wife have written a book together. Except this time, it is a novel. For kids. About theoretical physics!

I'd write a review, but the way my reading is going, I'd need the relativistic effects of faster than light travel to finish the review it before everyone else has read it. Still, I did buy it, and really do intend to read it:-) Just like everyone who bought BHoT, and left it sitting on the coffee table in full view....

Yours, physically,

Thursday, November 15, 2007


LOML and I finally got to go out for our anniversary dinner, and also to celebrate LOML's freedom from the shackles of employment. We did toy briefly with the idea of going out for steak etc (there's an Outback Steakhouse nearby, and they do a reasonable job: not amazing, but consistently pretty good) but at the last moment decided we'd go back to the usual haunt:-)
And so sushi it was. Delicious. And, I am told, good for me too!

Yours, fishily full,

Writing DVDs

I now appear to be able to write .iso images to DVD. At least, k3b, the linux software I used claims to have done it! Now to try booting the Fedora 8 live disk....
Please work, please work, please work!

Yours, en francais pour Alice C,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Poor Monty

Poor Monty, our spaniel, seems to have injured his foot. I have to say that it is simultaneously very sad, but since he doesn't seem to actually be in much pain, rather funny at the same time. He does a tremendous job of hopping along faster than I can run, left hind leg suspended half an inch above the ground.
The vet has given us Rymadil to give to him, but couldn't find anything which might be causing the problem....

Yours, dog-leggedly,

A pleasant, gentle day

I got to spend some time doing nice things today --- finishing up the batch of bread (which was just short of very very good), picking Skibo up from school, and spending a little time with him: and licking my wounds from fighting computers.

I spent a lot of time downloading the latest version of Fedora, release 8, which came out last week. That all went well, the sha1sums all match, so the download worked. Then came the trying to burn it all to disk. As of now, I have not succeeded. Not to say that I have failed, but as of now, okay, I've failed.
Both on windows and linux. I don't know if it is a bad batch of dvd's, or what, but for the life of me I can't seem to get them to format, let alone burn.

Oh well, my guru will be back in town next week -- I will have to wait till then to get things fixed. On this issue, today just capped a week of fighting technology issues: the other really annoying one is that my pda (which plays mp3s) has a broken headphone jack: of course, this means I have to open it up and try to fix it --- I don't know whether I really want to succeed or fail: I have decided on the dedicated media player I want to buy -- but it is really hard to justify spending a couple of hundred dollars on something like that right now.
Still, given that I bought LOML an mp3 player last year, perhaps I could write down all the details of which sort I want, and hope that Santa gets it in time for Christmas. Of course, that would unfortunately mean no music in the car or outside for weeks and weeks. Definitely time to get out the jewelers screwdrivers and open the old one up.

This post has gone all over the place, hasn't it!

Yours, ameandering down the lane,

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Refining the bread recipe

Trying to repeat the success of Friday's bread, I'm making another batch (I did a batch on Sunday/Monday, which was good, but not as amazingly great as Friday's): I'm taking better notes of what I do:
This evening, late (just now, in fact):
1 cup of warm water
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of yeast
stirred together in a mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, left in a 65 degree (or so) room to ferment.

Tomorrow morning, early, I'll add enough flour to make a soft dough, leave it to rise for several hours: then I'll break the dough into 1 ounce chunks (approximately), soften them in about a cup or so of warm water, add about a teaspoon of yeast, enough flour that it becomes a soft dough, and a bit less than a tablespoon of kosher salt. Knead for several minutes until satiny, leave to rise, shape, rise, slash and bake at 400 or so until done, between 30 and 45 minutes, I expect.

Yours, on a knead to know basis,

And so, the final straw

At last, the final straw. It doesn't matter what it was --- it was enough of a straw that LOML decided that it was time to quit. We'll cope --- though it means a little bit of belt-tightening short term, perhaps.
I think that things are going to get a bit more peaceful around here now, though. Less angst and sturm und drang expressed....

Yours, winning the bread as well as kneading it...

Monday, November 12, 2007

After the freeze is over...

After the freeze is over .... oops... it is over. Last week it reached freezing a couple of times. Tomorrow it is back up to 77 F.
Still, the leaves are turning, and in another month or so it should be Fall. Autumn, that is.

Yours, timelessly,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11/11: 11:11

Remember. And learn from it.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

A late fall

There were a number of reasons my parents came over from the UK at the time they did, and one of the minor ones was certainly that they might get a chance to see some of the fall colors, that is, autumn colours.
Unfortunately, they didn't count on our weather this year. Now, we did have a freeze last week: two or three in fact. And when I say freeze, I do mean that it reached 31 F. Finally the maple tree in our front yard has started to turn. Unfortunately for the tree, it is in for a surprise. We are getting back up into the mid-to-upper 70's next week. Still, for now, some nice beginnings of turnings of leaves.

Yours, as confused as the trees,

A doll's house

This morning, LOML and I had our work cut out for us.
We'd given Boo a doll's house for her birthday, and hadn't put it together first: in the excitement of Friday there was no time, so we had promised first thing Saturday morning.

And first thing Saturday morning we were reminded of this promise. And by first thing, I mean well before 7am. And by reminded, I mean reminded. By Boo, bouncing up and down on our bed reminding us:-)

Fortunately the instructions were short. There were no words, only blown up diagramatics, which in places were completely unclear. But eventually, and actually rather quickly in the end, we had put together a lovely wooden doll's house for her.

And we had one very happy little five year old girl too:-)

Yours, constructively,

Friday, November 9, 2007

Make great (white) bread

I wanted to make a great batch of bread for Boo's party today: I settled on the following method:

Mix a cup or so of warm water, a teaspoon or so of yeast, and a cup and a half or so of flour in a large mixing bowl, to make a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave overnight to rise. Add enough flour plus about 1-2 teaspoons of salt (depending on size of spoon, variety of salt, etc), and knead until smooth. Place dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave to rise.

Now cut the dough into one inch (or so) pieces: add a cup of water, and enough flour (1-2 cups or so) to make everything come together in a stand mixer.
Shape, leave to rise, slash and bake at 425 or so, for 30 minutes or so.

Yours, doing what is kneaded for the party:-)

A successful present

Boo's teacher is working with her on learning to read, write, spell, etc.
And one of the letters she's teaching is "e": and to make the point about the sound it makes, she needs words that start with "e": like egg, elephant.....
And there she got stuck. What easy words start with a different word than egg or elephant, but still have the same vowel sound? "Exact" or "elapse" are too elaborate, as is "elaborate". Finally she fixed on "Elvis": and so I decided to get Boo a CD of Elvis (Presley)'s number 1 hits.

Boo is now a huge fan, especially of "Hounddog" Definitely her favourite Elvis song so far.

Yours, thrilled she was thrilled,

A happy birthday

Boo turned five today. Hard to believe that she's a third of the way to my worrying about her driving.

Actually, I'm already worried about her driving. But now, it's ten years in the future. In ten years, I'll be worrying on a more immediate basis!

We had a lovely time: this morning she opened a couple of presents before going off to school: I brought her and Skibo home at lunchtime, and she opened the rest of her presents from family: then after I taught origami, we threw a birthday party. Lots of food: good food for the grownups too. Chili, vegetarian and non-vegetarian: hummus (with Tahini added: thanks Joyful Abode!): sausage rolls: snack food like pretzels, goldfish, chips, etc: and the best bread I've made in months. I'm not a fan of blowing my own horn: but this bread was superb. I'll describe the recipe in another post.

And everyone left early enough that we could put the kids to bed late, but not too late.

Yours, exhausted, but in a good way...

Oh dear. Here we go again

Oh dear. Another movie is out soon. And it's going to destroy our morals. And it is aimed at our kids. Run for the hills, everyone!

I will admit that I have not read the second book in the trilogy yet: I started it, and found it hard going --- not like the first one, which grabbed me immediately and pulled me in.
But so far, the Philip Pullman trilogy "His Dark Materials" looks good: I just need the time to sit and read a whole book again without being at the beach. (And I have another book, "The Indian Clerk" ahead of the second book too....)

But I just became aware of a buzz on the internet of concerned Christian parents, especially in the US, worried that this is going to be another "Monty Python's Life of Brian" only for young children: or like Harry Potter, it is going to send them to hell.

I'm sorry. I like Rowling's books, most especially because she has got young children, especially boys, excited about reading. This is fantastic. It outweighs almost anything else, especially since the books actually espouse moral codes, good behaviour over bad, the triumph of good over evil.
And the movies have been good: super in parts, very good in bits, and overall very solidly well made, cast, acted. There's a reason they have been blockbuster successes.

I don't know whether Pullman has the same potential for good --- getting kids reading: but his first book of the three is thought provoking, well written, and is certainly presented from the point of view of good versus evil. From the point of view that the good side is the good side, I'd say.
It is true, I suppose, that the characters could be said to be believers in a parody of religion. It could be said. Mind you, the same could even more truly be said of many real life religious people, including, I suspect, more than a few of those objecting to the upcoming movie.

Tell you what: I'd be more than happy to have a label slapped on the front of the theatre posters saying "This movie may offend certain people of some beliefs", so long as the same is done for every other movie that offends others of other beliefs. Unfortunately, that leaves us with just about zero movie posters unmodified.

So, let's agree that if you find this movie offensive, you can email everyone you want, campaign to persuade like minded people not to see it: but remember: if you try to keep it out of the theatres to prevent others from watching it if they choose to, then that is intruding on our rights.

Ugh. Definitely an ughlier post than I intended to write. But I got started, and couldn't focus on finishing the post....

Yours, moved to write.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Well, my plans to have made most of the food for tomorrow by this evening appears to have gone by the wayside. Competition for limited space in the kitchen, together with Boo and Skibo wanting to help make her birthday cake meant that I didn't get to play there until about 10.
So, I've thrown together hummus (chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, a little salt, some seasonings if you taste it and feel that it needs it): in the morning before going to work I'll throw together the dough for some bread:
I'll take off half a day or more, come home and then quickly assemble sausage rolls and a chili con carne, shape the bread, and leave it in the capable hands of
LOML to bake everything which needs baking. Then off to teach origami again, before rushing home to finish preparing for Boo's party!

Update: as Joyful Abode has pointed out below, I left out the tahini. Rats. That's what comes of making it late in the evening and not dragging out a cookbook! I'll have to add it this morning when I get home....

Yours, beaten, like an egg, but not whipped like cream.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Back at the beginning of October, I bragged on the fact that I had done some origami with Boo and Skibo: here is a picture of a couple of the pieces they made (as I said at the time, I precreased the paper, so that they would naturally crease along the appropriate lines).

Yours, increasingly proud:-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The lake

Many years ago, when the earth was young, and the world still cool, I spent some time near a lake. And every weekend, I'd get to go to stay at the lake with friends who had a cottage there. Second family, really.
This spring, I had a chance to visit again, and I have been meaning to post these photos for quite a while now. But given that there was snow on the ground, and the lake was still frozen, I really couldn't post them when it was still hitting 20 Celsius here. Tonight, however, it is supposed to hit freezing here, and I finally feel that I can post them. So, here is where I did a lot of growing up.....

Yours, nostalgically,

Monday, November 5, 2007

Anniversary dinner

For our anniversary we were thinking of going out to dinner: but there was a slight problem. Our anniversary this year was a Monday, and there is no drinking on Sundays round here. "Huh?" I hear you ask? Well, since restaurants can't serve alcohol on Sundays, they usually don't bother to open on Sundays: and since restaurant owners don't like spending money on managers for just one day a week, a lot of owner-run restaurants also shut on Mondays, so that the owners can run the place without help. Hence, in this area we have a tradition of restaurants --- even really good, busy ones --- not bothering to open on Mondays.
Additionally, our regular babysitter finds it really difficult to babysit on Monday evenings. Furthermore, both children go to gymnastics on Mondays at 5:30, making evenings out even more complicated: so the two of us are going to go out to dinner sometime soon -- perhaps tomorrow.
Tonight, I cooked our traditional "special evening" dinner: the one we have on Christmas Eve, for example: not a feast, but still very special:

Smoked Salmon in wine, cream, dill and shallots
Finely dice a couple of shallots: add a couple of cups dry white wine, and simmer until it reduces to a quarter cup or so of liquid. Turn down the heat, add a cup of heavy cream, and several tablespoons of chopped fresh dill.
Bring back to a slow simmer, and turn off the heat.
Serve the sauce over linguini or fettucini, and top with eight ounces of smoked salmon, cut into small strips.

It's good. Experiment with it!

Yours, still married:-)

Guido ffawkes

When LOML and I decided to get married three years ago (we like to say that the children persuaded us:-) we settled on November 5th for the date: that way we know that no matter how mundane our lives our at that point in time there will be great fireworks somewhere!

Yours, going off like a rocket!

Spelling of Siamang

Bernie raises the question of the spelling of "Siamang": this brings up an interesting point: US spelling of words.

Having grown up in the UK, with the correct spelling of many words, it always amuses me to see the US spelling of various words; such as aluminum instead of aluminium, color instead of colour, and dove instead of dived.
And in at least two of these examples, the pronunciation is messed up as a result of the spelling too! Not to mention those cases where pronunciation is messed up in spite of the spelling being the same --- "Z" being zee instead of zed comes to mind.

I believe that much of the american pronunciation/spelling comes from the Dutch: there are lots of words, such as cookie which come from the Dutch, and many that are less well known: for example: in English we say "Mummy", but in the US it is "Mommy" (ugh!)

Back to Bernie: he also insists that the photo is in fact of him: whereas I have it on good authority that he is in fact a much more handsome devil, with a somewhat smaller wattle.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Hide and seek

One of my favourite movies of all time is The Princess Bride: there's a wonderful scene in it when Mandy Patinkin says to Wallace Shaun "I do not think you understand the meaning of that word": this is sort of how I feel about the way that Boo and Skibo play hide and seek (that's hide-and-go-seek to my US readers).
Anyway, Skibo loves to count: "one, two three, fourfivesixseveneight, nine, ten, eleven, thirteen, what comes after thirteen????": and he's beginning to get the hang of the seek part --- but when it's his turn to hide, he does a dreadful job of it! He will get a quarter of the way round the tree, and as if he's a human ostrich, hide his head in his hands and hug the tree. In plain sight.
Boo is almost two years old, but almost as bad: she will hide well, but as soon as she hears someone coming to look for her, she will let out little noises and give away her position. And if Skibo doesn't hear her, she'll poke her head around the tree, and then run towards him.

Yours, in hiding,

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Busy week upcoming

We have three birthdays coming up this week: one of them is Boo's, so we are having a party for her: the other two are little boys a few months younger than Skibo, so we are going to parties for them too --- the first was today --- and also, we have a wedding anniversary as well. All in all, I have no idea where we are going to find the time to not have fun any day!

Yours, in anticipation,

More from the zoo: not a housecat

We are a pet loving family: two dogs, two cats, a whole bunch of stuffed toys, an electronic parrot which answers back.... but this is one animal that I'd not bring in as a pet! You can almost smell the raw power emanating from this beast! And look at the size of the paws!

Yours, totally intimidated by this one!

Friday, November 2, 2007

More from the zoo: the lion's mouth

Probably every zoo has one of these --- but I have not been to many zoos --- and this is the first one of them that I've seen. It's actually a water fountain (which was unfortunately turned off, so we had to go and buy a couple of bottles of bottled water instead). Still, it was a cute shot, and so I took it. LOML promptly claimed to have taken the exact same shot a few months ago on a trip to the zoo without me....

Yours, tritely,

More from the zoo: siamangs

More from the zoo: if you have never heard a siamang (which I believe is a species of gibbon: a moderately large ape: checks Wikipedia: is proved correct) or a in my case, have never even heard of a siamang, then you could be in for a surprise one day. As we approached the area where the ape enclosures were all located, we heard these extremely loud, almost whooping-cough-like barking howls. Various speculations followed on what could be making these noises: as we approached the area we saw them: siamangs from Indonesia. Apparently the calls are territorial: they are like bullfrogs in that their throats expand out as big as a cantaloupe, as you can see in the photograph below: and out comes this bellowing "Get away from here: this is our area" type of message.

Yours, silenced,

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A new month

A new month, in which many people are promising/threatening to blog at least once every day. I'm choosing not to do so, although, looking back over the past few weeks, it appears that I could probably manage it.
But I don't want that promise hanging over my head --- as soon as I made a pledge like that, it would act just like a mental block, to stop my mind from being able to think of anything to say. And it feels like that often enough already without having an extra barrier raised!
So, I am now promising not to promise to blog every day this month:-)

Yours, not doubly negative,

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Turning turtle

Or rather, turning tortoise.



still going


Yours, still not over it,

My problem with zoos

This photograph really captures why I feel bad about zoos. I had the camera on autofocus, of course, and it chose to see the cage and not the animal. And that is why zoos make me uncomfortable. I too see the cage, and I see the animal in the cage: and it makes me feel bad. And yet I go, and I give money to the zoo, and I support the system.

Yours, conflicted.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


So what are you dressing up as? Or are you? We have two little dressup artistes: Boo is going as a dog (she has a lovely costume which she picked out in the store) and Skibo as a knight in armour (a costume that he picked out as a toy as a reward for good behaviour a while back) with fairy wings on. Not sure why. His choice, and we are happy with that.
And then afterwards, we are taking Boo to dance class: the teacher has said that she can do ballet in her (way too hot) dog costume if she wishes....

Yours, pre-scared,

We all went to the zoo on Friday....

Last Friday we all went to the zoo: the local city has a small, but nice, zoo: a couple of elephants, which are always among the more distressing animals to see penned up: some giraffes, just obtained, who are not on show yet: a really nice collection of monkeys and apes, panthers, giant tortoises, birds, etc.
It was a very interesting visit too: the siamang apes were stunning in their vocal displays -- I suspect that they were telling us all "get out of here: this is our turf" or some such message....
The tortoises -- there were three or four of them -- were rather livelier than some that I've seen in the past: especially one rather large male who insisted on climbing on top of another (female?) who objected very loudly. And I suspect that she started rocking or something, because the one on top fell off. And promptly rolled over, and landed on his back. The dozens of people watching this just stood there laughing at his discomfort -- I ran to the snack bar to get them to radio for the zookeeper to help him over again: when I got back about five minutes later everyone was still there just watching and laughing: it appears that LOML and I were the only ones who thought that it was worth trying to summon some help! We were, and are, quite disgusted with that attitude!

Pictures to follow when I sort some out.

Yours, overturning the odds,

Monday, October 29, 2007

More dog pictures

Some pictures: three of Monty, the new dog, and lest you worry that we are neglecting our beloved Sojo, the sheltie, there's a lovely one of her at the end.

Yours, fourleggedly,

Slicing and dicing

One of the online stock-trading companies here has an advertisement tag-line "what can you do with just one finger?" I'd like to point out the two options of "slice or dice it" followed by "put gauze, bandages, etc on it, and hold it in the air until the bleeding stops".
I speak from experience here. I've done it many times.
Unfortunately most recently this evening.

Yours, feeling stupid,

Sunday, October 28, 2007


When I make bread, I always consider basing it on a recipe, and then always, always, always adjust the flour content to get the texture of the kneaded dough right. Recipes can never predict what the moisture content of the flour will be, how much liquid it will require to get the dough soft, say, but not too sticky.
This is one of the most difficult things to learn when making bread: one has to learn to not follow a recipe slavishly, but to adjust to make things right.
LOML and I had noticed last week when making pasta that the recipe seemed way off in terms of the amount of flour needed (or rather, LOML, learning to make pasta, was surprised by how much less was needed than the recipe predicted: or rather, again, how the pasta took an extra egg and a bunch of extra half-teaspoons of water before coming together to the right consistency).
So yesterday I actually measured the flour out with scales, used the lower estimate of the amount of flour needed for the bap dough, and ended up having to add about 25% more liquid in spite of this. Apparently our kitchen is really dry, beyond the aridity of the current drought!

Today, LOML went and bought a humidifier for the kids' room: if it is that dry in the kitchen, perhaps this is making it harder for them to fight those nasty coughs!

Yours, dryly,


It's been an odd few weeks: I went almost three weeks without baking a loaf of bread -- actually, strictly speaking, longer, since I didn't bake a loaf this weekend: rather I made a batch of flour-dusted scottish baps: they are a soft roll almost unknown outside the UK, and, back when I was last in Scotland, ubiquitous there. The dough is made with milk and a bit of butter, and is very tender: the crumb isn't expected to be too open: it should have some heft to it despite its softness.
A recipe may follow: and perhaps a photo. There was only time to take one. The rolls were devoured.
And delicious.

Yours, on a roll,

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Flu shots

LOML and Skibo were lucky enough to be able to get flu shots last week, at the school: however, since Boo was sick, she had to wait: and since I was driving my parents to the airport at the appointed time for the shots, I had to find another means of getting shot too.
Fortunately, the organization which provided the service was willing to give a raincheck on the shot for Boo, but it meant driving for 45 minutes to the big city (which is really only a small city, but it is the big city for us!) We decided to combine this with a trip to the zoo: and though I could have arranged to get a shot (actually yesterday morning!) through work, it seemed better that I go along and show Boo how getting vaccinations doesn't hurt at all.

The best laid plans of mice and breadmakers... we had timed everything perfectly: a quick trip to a fast food (yuck, I know, bad N, etc. etc. etc.) for early lunch, 45 minute trip to the city, appointment there at 12:30, then to the zoo.
First problem: although kids want to eat, they don't want to eat.
Second problem: Skibo has a splinter in his foot -- after eating, we drive back to the house to pick up implements of foot-torture: needle, bandaids, antibiotic cream, etc.
Third problem: Boo needs a potty break: I run her into the house.
Fourth problem: we've left stuff at the restaurant: swing back there, the stuff is still all there (including a little cash.... we got lucky!) We get on the road at last: thanks to starting out early, we are now just a few minutes behind: and LOML is driving, because I "drive too slowly".
Fifth problem: Skibo pipes up "I need to go potty". Pull over to gas station, run into the restaurants carrying him (his foot still has a splinter -- he can't walk fast), whip him in and out, and back on the road.
Thanks to LOML's driving and the complete non-intervention of any speed-checking law enforcers, we actually made it to the facility only a couple of minutes late. No problem.

We fill out forms, I pay for my shot, and go first --- the best nurse ever: I hardly feel a thing. Boo, on the other hand does her "I'm going to squirm and whine my way out of this if I can" act -- and eventually needs to be held firmly and bawls her poor little heart out. Fortunately after a couple of minutes she forgets why she's bawling, and settles down.

Off to the zoo, on which I'll have more to say in a separate post.

Yours, feeling shot,