Monday, February 28, 2011

What's for Dinner - Balsamic Roasted Tomato Pasta

Sometimes, dinner isn't great.

I bought a huge package of grape tomatoes at Costco last week and we weren't getting through them fast enough to use them all up before they went soft, so I scoured the internet for a recipe I could use them in. A couple of people had variations on this pasta with grape tomatoes roasted in balsamic vinegar, and that sounded like it might work.

While I got some water boiling for spaghetti noodles, I halved about 2 cups worth of cherry tomatoes (what I had left), added some balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and olive oil to them, and then stirred them to coat them evenly. Instead of washing one of my mixing bowls, all of which were dirty and in the sink at the time, I took a big Glad-ware container out of the cupboard, figuring it was sufficiently bowl-like to do the job. When I picked the container up to pour the tomatoes into a baking dish, I had a huge mess all over the counter. Balsamic and oil everywhere.

After cleaning up the mess and getting the tomatoes into the oven, I inspected the container and saw that the corner was riddled with little holes!

I guess I must have melted it in the microwave last time I was reheating something. Two thoughts occurred to me. First, ew, I probably ate melted plastic. Second, I need to get some good plastic containers for food storage and stop relying on the little Glad things.

After the tomatoes were soft and slightly browned, I put them in a bowl with two cups of fresh spinach leaves, and then dumped some spaghetti noodles on top. The heat from the tomatoes and pasta wilted the spinach down to almost nothing. I added shredded asiago cheese bit by bit until I had about half a cup mixed in.

We had this as a side dish with a rotisserie chicken, and I was disappointed with it. I like the flavor of balsamic vinegar very much, but it seems weird in a hot pasta dish. It's got too much sweetness. I think this would be highly successful as a cold pasta salad, but I didn't get the chance to try it cold because the next day when I went to have leftovers, I knocked the bowl off the shelf of the fridge and had a floor full of pasta and squished tomatoes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Horton's Room

Horton, my dearest Murder Kitten, is trying to kill me. At first it was obvious aggression, flinging himself at me with fangs bared in hopes of clamping down on my windpipe and taking me down like a gazelle. But he's mellowed with age and he's much more affectionate than ever, even cuddling in my lap to watch TV, so the attacks are much fewer, and mostly only when provoked with poking. His main tactic now is sleep deprivation.

He has been eating special food since his urinary blockage and urethrostomy surgery two years ago, and so far it has kept him from having a recurrence of urinary crystals. Unfortunately, he started throwing up several times a week, and the vet thinks it may be an allergy to the food. We tried two other "urinary health" formulas, neither of which Horton would eat, so we opted to feed him canned food. instead, because it has less grain fillers, and more water, both of which are good for cats with urinary issues. The problem with the canned food is that he only eats a little at a time without throwing up, so we can only feed him about a quarter of a can per feeding. This means he needs to eat several times a day, and his majesty has decided that one of his feedings needs to be at 4am, because he can't get through the night without starving to death.

At first, I tried pulling the blankets over my head and ignoring his plaintive meows at the bedroom door, but he's a clever cat and stuffs his paws under the door, rattling it, which is a much harder sound to sleep through. I used felt pads on the door frame and the handle like this to try and muffle the rattle:

but it doesn't do enough - the sound still wakes me up and then keeps me awake. If I don't respond, he's happy to continue for half an hour or more, sometimes throwing himself at the door handle in an attempt to break in. We can never switch to the lever-style door handles - he would learn to open them within a week, despite the lack of opposable thumbs. If I cave and let him in, he stays for a while, then whines to get back out. If I go feed him, he'll eat, then come back to the door to harass me again. After two full weeks of insufficient and interrupted sleep, I was a wreck.

So now I put him in his room at night.

We set up the mudroom with a pet bed and a food station, and when he wakes me up at night I bring him and his canned food in there, dump him unceremoniously onto the floor, and lock him in. He keeps meowing, but this way I can't hear him from the bedroom. It breaks my heart because I love him and don't want to keep him cooped up alone all night, but I was losing my ability to function. I should put him there when we go to bed, but I'm still too much of a softie to handle that. I let him sleep with me till he wants out, then we go to his room and I say goodnight and walk away. I still get woken up every night, but I can fall asleep again quickly.

He's mad about the situation, though. And he's taking it out on the carpet in a big way.

Sigh. We were going to rip up that carpet eventually anyway.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jen's Library - A Canticle For Leibowitz

A Canticle For Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr.

As you can perhaps deduce from the lack of wordy subtitles, I took a brief stroll into fiction-land this week with a science-fiction classic I'd never gotten around to reading.

I used to eat up science fiction like it was cheese doodles. That is to say, voraciously. I'm a bit of a nerd, what can I say. I blame my father for getting me into Star Trek (first TOS, then TNG - oh, that's right, I'm abbreviating them because I'm so awesomely nerdy) at a young and impressionable age. I used to spend a lot of time at the sci-fi tables of book fairs, looking for novels with big-name authors or compilations of short stories. Some of my favorite stuff comes from books like "Best Sci-Fi Short Stories of 1972", no kidding. But I've strayed from that genre recently, without a good excuse.

So when this book, A Canticle For Leibowitz, came up in a discussion on my favorite message board, I went to look up the general plot, and then asked my library to hold a copy for me. It came as a worn old paperback, which, in my opinion is the absolute best way to absorb sci-fi.

It's a post-apocalyptic novel, and it follows civilization over the course of a thousand years or so after a nuclear holocaust wipes out most of the world's population. The main characters are monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz, who is an engineer from before the darkness whose scribbled notes are preserved as relics. The book is split into three parts, or three points in time. As we go through the three parts, we see civilization rebuild from its new Dark Age, reach a new Enlightenment, and then inevitably bring itself to collapse again. The three parts all fit together perfectly and have a sameness to them, so you can see where each is going to end, and you are sad knowing that the second will end as the first did, and then the third will follow. It's discouraging, and it's meant to be.

It's about religion, and war, and human nature and stupidity and arrogance and faith. It's a very good novel and there's probably a whole lot more to it on levels that I'm not even seeing. If I were in an English class, I'm sure I could have a field day with the imagery, but that's for someone else to tackle now.

Jen's Library: Radical Homemakers - Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture

Radical Homemakers - Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture
by Shannon Hayes

This might be a long post, because it was a long book that got me doing a whole lot of thinking. I may revisit some of the big ideas in later posts. It's a great book with utopian ideas and clear guidance towards getting to that ideal world, but it's advocating a very different lifestyle than most of us are used to, and it's a little unsettling.

Slowly, over the decades, the household has gone from being a unit of production to a unit of consumption, and that's why we're all unhappy. We need to become more self-sufficient, aiming for interdependence instead of independence, make and create instead of purchase, and give back to our communities while keeping good guardianship of the natural environment through our actions and choices. In a very tiny nutshell, that's what this book is about.

In Radical Homemakers, we get a look back through history at how families and households gradually changed from being contributing members of a local community, to consumers in a global economy. First, as the world shifted from farming and small towns to manufacturing and cities, things became available to the housewives of the day, to make their lives easier. You could buy shirts instead of make them, and send them out to be washed or mended instead of doing it yourself. You had grocery stores bringing in produce from all over, so you could use tomatoes any season you wanted, and get fresh eggs without raising your own chickens or getting to know your neighbors and helping them on their farm. Then it was a move to the suburban, two-car garage, soccer mom lifestyle, where the creative spark all but died and people were left unfulfilled and needing Prozac and Chardonnay.

The author defines these "radical homemakers" as "men and women who have chosen to make family, community, social justice, and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives." So, in a sense, she seems to be advocating the hippie commune lifestyle, which is definitely a little extreme. But she does go on to discuss the ways that various people (women and men) have dedicated themselves to this radical lifestyle, and not everyone does it the same way. All have a lot in common - they recycle, compost, garden, cook, buy local and organic, buy used, and volunteer and share as much as possible. Some homeschool, some bike to work, some live on farms, some in cities, and some live completely off the grid.

She describes some skills that are essential to the lifestyle, and while I can understand why these are all good things, I can't see myself realistically implementing all of them in my own life.

Nurturing relationships
Building stronger bonds with family, friends, and community. Spending time with them, getting to know the neighbors, finding friends with skills you need and who can use the skills you have, and striving for interdependence. Work part-time or stay home, so you can be with your kids. Teach your neighbor to bake and she'll teach you to knit. Give-and-take.

Working with the life-serving economy
Minimizing waste, bartering, making the best of available resources, becoming a net producer instead of net consumer, and knowing when to say "enough". Repair things instead of throwing them out, buy used, grow your own food, trade with other producers, and only buy what you need. She's very much against the conventional consumer lifestyle and a huge advocate for buying local and organic, and not supporting companies that aren't eco- and worker-friendly.

Learning new things, finding teachers, and not being afraid to mess up. Homeschooling seems to be a big part of the radical homemaker lifestyle, in part because many of them don't think the current school system, with its structure and memorization, is really helping prepare kids for life, and it also doesn't teach them enough critical and independent thinking. To a certain extent, I agree with this, but homeschooling is a huge step to take, and I think that some school programs are better than others, and you can supplement your kids' education at home. but I don't have kids yet, so I could be way off.

Setting realistic expectations and limits
This is a big one. To survive as a radical homemaker, you need to accept imperfection. You can't want the granite counters and the new car and spotless produce. The home is a living organism, according to the author, and it's going to be inherently messy and a constant work-in-progress. I'm guessing that I'd have a very hard time with this, since I find myself easily frustrated by clutter, even though I'm the worst offender here.

Anyway, after all that, I can say that it's an interesting lifestyle, and while it's probably not for me, I can consider putting some of it into practice and make the world a slightly better place as a result. I won't be putting in a chicken coop in the yard and switching to hemp clothing, but I'm thinking of growing some veggies, and I want to learn to sew, and cook from scratch (I'm talking bread, here), and I may even put up a rain barrel for gardening. There's some green living for you! Baby steps, I guess. I have friends who are much, much closer to this lifestyle than I am, and I find that I admire them for what they're doing. Knitting, sewing, canning, aiming for a local and organic diet, car-sharing and shopping at Goodwill. I also look at all that and think there's no way I can do all that. But maybe just doing some of it is good enough.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's for Dinner - Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers for dinner tonight! Vegetables are so much easier to eat when they're stuffed with meat and rice and garlic.

Stuffed Peppers

6 large green (or red) bell peppers
1 lb lean ground beef
2 cups cooked rice
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup lowfat mozzarella or italian cheese blend, plus a handful for the tops
1 large 28oz can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1tbsp Oregano
Salt & pepper

Brown the ground beef, drain off excess fat, and put it in a big mixing bowl. Slice the tops off of the peppers and then chop up the usable parts of the tops, tossing them in with the meat. Remove as much of the peppers' ribs as possible (using a knife or just picking at them with your fingers) and stand the peppers up in a big casserole dish - pick one with high sides if you can, to make sure the peppers don't fall over. If they won't stand up well, cut a little off the bottoms to make them flat, but don't cut the bottoms off or you'll end up with a leaky mess later! I personally cram them so tightly in my casserole dish that they couldn't fall over if they tried, although it does make it harder for me to get them out when they're done! Add everything else to the mixing bowl, except for about 1/4 cup tomato sauce and the reserved handful of cheese, and then stir it up. Here's your filling:

This is good enough to eat without a pepper around it, honestly. Just a bowl and a spoon, and you're good! But if you want stuffed peppers, I suppose you'll need to be filling those peppers over there in your casserole dish. Fill them to almost-overflowing, and then spoon some tomato sauce over the top of each pepper, with a little sprinkling of cheese over that. Cook them for about 30 min at 350 - the peppers will still be crunchy, and the filling will be warm.

I used red peppers for the first time tonight because I got them on sale at Costco on the weekend. Usually I use the green ones because they're so much cheaper. I think I actually prefer the flavor of the green ones for this recipe, but my man disagrees, so I think we'll alternate. I could also only fit 5 peppers into my casserole dish, so I've got leftover filling, which I stuck in the freezer for another day. Frankly, this recipe makes too much filling - it's probably enough for 8 decent-sized peppers. But I like leftovers so I always make a huge amount!

If you make the filling ahead, reheat it in the microwave before stuffing the peppers or you'll have to wait forever for your dinner to warm up in the oven. I speak from experience - once when I made this and waited till the next day to cook it, after 45 minutes I gave up and nuked the peppers.

This works well with turkey instead of beef, and you can use brown rice and reduce the amount of meat, adding more spinach for volume. You can also pre-cook the peppers if you like them to be mushy, but I'm not a fan of mushy stuffed peppers, so I advise against it!

What's for Dinner - Mini Italian Meatloaves

I first found this recipe in a Rachael Ray magazine and I tweaked it a little bit to suit me.

1 1/3 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup grated parmesan or italian cheese blend
2/3 cup "italian-seasoned" breadcrumbs (or season them yourself, see below)
1 large egg, beaten
5 cloves of garlic, squished through a press or chopped fine
3 tbsp tomato paste, plus 1 tbsp set aside
2 tbsp olive oil

To make the normal breadcrumbs into "italian" breadcrumbs, mix in 1 tbsp oregano, 1 tsp basil, and a bit of black pepper.

Mix everything but the olive oil and 1tbsp of tomato paste in a big bowl. Use your hands and get real squishy in there, kneading until the breadcrumbs are well incorporated into the meat, and the diced vegetables are mixed in evenly. Take out small portions of the mixture and make little football shaped lumps out of them with your hands, and put them onto a baking sheet. You don't need to grease the sheet because the fat from the meat will come out as it cooks. For that reason, and for your health, I recommend getting the leanest meat possible! I also strongly suggest you use a rimmed baking sheet for this or you'll be cleaning your oven forever. I usually get 5 "footballs" out of the recipe.

Whisk together the reserved tomato paste and olive oil, and brush it over the tops of the meatloaves. Bake them at 400F for about 20 minutes. Cooking time will depend on how fat you make the loaves. Use a meat thermometer to make sure they're done (160F is recommended), because the tomato paste makes them stay pinkish and you can't trust color as a sign of doneness.

I forgot the olive oil step, so mine got much crispier than usual and didn't have a nice sweet tomatoey coating. Still tasty, but if you're trying these, definitely don't skip the oil and tomato paste step!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chicken Soup 2 - the Resoupening

It was time to try making chicken soup again. I like to buy the $5 rotisserie chickens on Fridays at Giant, because they make a fast and healthy meal that I don't need to put much effort into. Of course, every time I buy one, after we eat the tasty meaty bits, I'm left with a chicken carcass wasting away in its plastic box in the fridge. I feel guilty throwing it out knowing I can make something out of it, so I tried soup again this weekend. And this time I took pictures!

First I cut off the leafy end of three celery stalks and chopped them up. I also coarsely chopped half an onion and one big carrot. I tossed in two bay leaves and a huge teaspoon of thyme, and my pot looked like this:

Then I picked over the chicken, getting as much of the meat off as I could. I threw out some of the skin because it adds so much fat to the soup, but I kept a little bit for flavor. Let me tell you, ripping apart a chicken with your bare hands is slimy and sort of gross, and very difficult to do when you're being circled by three cats who think it's their dinner. Anyway, next I added 8-ish cups of water (to almost fill the pot) and my chicken bones. I added a tablespoon of powdered chicken bouillon and a tablespoon of liquid chicken bouillon (Bovril, the good stuff), and some black pepper. Things got a little ugly.

That boiled for an hour or so, and I used that time to dice two stalks of celery, two carrots, and a quarter onion so I could add them to the soup after it was done. I strained the whole mess into a huge mixing bowl, threw out the bones and stuff, and put the soup back into the pot, nearly swooning from the delicious chickeny aroma. I put it back on to boil, adding the veggies and some alphabet noodles. Here's the final result:

It ended up cloudier than last time, but I don't care. It was delicious, and I think I've got it down now and won't need to call Mom next time to remind me what I'm supposed to be doing. My man even loved it, despite the presence of "mushy vegetables", and I've gotten the green light to make it anytime.

And let's call this Thing 19, shall we? I still feel funny using dinner for Thing-a-Day but I did make it. I'll try to be a little more forgiving of myself and accept cooking as creativity.

Falling behind, but here are some Things

Apologies to my readers - this week has been kicking my ass. I've been overwhelmingly tired and it's hard to get myself motivated to do anything beyond dragging myself to work and remembering to eat. I fell a couple of days behind with my "things" but I'm trying to catch up. I cheated again and made food as a thing, and that will get its own entry since I want to talk about the cooking.

Thing 17 is not an egg. Because it's a sphere. So there. I found a round blank cardboard ornament and painted and decoupaged it as though it were one of my eggs. It's much harder to paint something that doesn't have a flat surface to rest on, so I ended up with very painted fingers. Luckily that stuff washes off easily as long as you get to it quickly. I hung it from a hook to dry, did two coats, and then stuck some butterflies on. I wish I had more little butterflies, because it seems a little empty. I'll hold off on varnishing this one just in case I find more.

Thing 18 is an oval wooden box I found at Goodwill. I thought it would make a good box to carry around my garden stuff in the spring and summer when I start planting and weeding. I painted it a ridiculous red to make it cheerful and easy to spot in the grass when I put it down. I'll be adding a handle once I figure out the best way to do that.
I worked on another thing this weekend, but it's going to stay a secret for a while. For quite a while, unfortunately - a couple of months. But I'll write up the post and keep it in storage so I can share it with you once I'm allowed to.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Things 15 and 16

I made some little markers for my herb garden. Just painted popsicle sticks that I can put in my plant pots to tell who's who.

I just realized that I arranged them to spell "stop". I wonder what that means?

Then I made another egg. I used regular glue this time instead of the watery decoupage glue, and the cutouts stayed on much better. I had to hold them in place for a little while for them to stay put, and the end result is ok but they stick out from the surface a lot. The idea of decoupage is that the cutouts are supposed to look painted on, so the thick scrapbook paper really isn't good for this sort of thing, unfortunately. A coat or two of varnish will help smooth it out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jen's Library: The War On Moms - On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation

The War On Moms - On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation
by Sharon Lerner

Several of my friends have recently become, or are about to become, mommies. I have been listening to stories about finding daycare and going back to work, arguments about stay-at-homers vs working moms, and complaints about maternity leave being too short. Since I'm planning on heading down the Mommy path myself sooner or later and I'm petrified about how it will go in this foreign country, when I saw "The War on Moms" in my library's new books section, I scooped it up immediately.

And it made me angry. Angry and scared.

Most women only get a couple of months of maternity leave, and because there are no rules about how much employers have to give them, or how much they have to pay them during that leave, many women end up going back to work very quickly. FMLA allows for 12 weeks, but you're not getting paid unless your employer feels like it, and lower-paying jobs are much less likely to give you paid leave. The statistic quoted in the book is that only 42% of working mothers spend the first 12 weeks at home with their newborns. And then they go back to work and leave their kids in daycares which cost more than the rent.

Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to go back to work after having a baby. I know I want to work at least some, because I think I'd go crazy otherwise. What makes me almost sick to my stomach is the fact that going back to work is less of a choice than a necessity for the vast majority of women here. Maybe for myself it's not a big deal because we're financially stable and I can depend on my husband's income, but what about all the women who need to work so they can keep their health insurance? And that's what's so fucked up about this country, in my opinion. People are slaves to their jobs because if they quit or try to go to part-time, they lose their health insurance. That's not a choice anyone should have to make. What if your kid has special needs and you need to be home with him, but you'll lose your health coverage for him if you do? It's insane!

And yes, that's just the way it is here and I need to adapt and get over it, but it's hard when I know that just across the border in my other home, I could get a year off work, partially paid, and then work part time if it was financially feasible, without having to worry about going bankrupt if my baby needs surgery. Why do women here put up with this when pretty much every other country on the planet gives women a better deal?

This ended up being more of a rant than a book review, which wasn't my intent, but I'll leave it anyway. The book goes into a lot of statistics about motherhood in the United States and elsewhere, and is an interesting, if infuriating, read. I think more women need to read it, get pissed off, and try to change things.

Thing 13

I'm having a hard time getting my Things-a-Day posted in a timely manner, mostly because I'm working on them late at night and don't feel like posting at 2am. Still getting random things made, though, and the month is halfway through. I bought some pretty scrapbook paper and some more of those eggs on the weekend, and so I'm going to make a few more of those. I can fill up an Easter basket with them, or something. They're just an easy way for me to practice with the techniques.

The decoupage glue doesn't work as well with thicker paper, so I'll try a different glue with my next one. These cutouts stayed stuck but I had to soak them for a while first, which ruined the integrity of the paper in some places.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What's for Dinner - Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Last night I took two pork tenderloins and cut off all the fat and the silver skin, and put them in a freezer-sized ziplock bag with half a bottle of Ken's Honey Teriyaki marinade. Since this is me talking, I couldn't leave well enough alone and I added two sliced garlic cloves to it. I think I made the right decision.

Tonight I got home and put them in the roasting pan, dumping all the marinade in the bag on top of them, and adding a bit of water to the bottom of the pan. I gave them about a half hour at 375, turning them once. When they were done, I took them out, put the roasting pan on the stove, and added about half a cup of water and whisked up all the good bits to make a sort of "au jus" concoction.

I made Pioneer Woman's "Crash Hot Potatoes" as a side and they were fantastic. They've quickly become one of our favorite starchy side dishes. They're whole potatoes, boiled to tenderness and then crushed on a cookie sheet, brushed with oil and herbs, and baked in the oven until they're crispy on top. Incredible.

That was our fancy Valentine's Day dinner - no time to make dessert because I got home from work later than usual, but I got Cadbury mini-eggs as a present tonight so I'm eating those and all is well with the world.

Note: this is also my "thing" for February 14th, because who has time for crafts when love is in the air?


As we pulled into the parking lot near Home Depot, I pointed out a passing pickup truck with a horrible homemade camouflage paint job.

Me: "Wow, buddy, good job painting your truck."
Dave: "What truck?"

And I almost answered him, dammit. He almost got me. Only his oh-so-proud-of-himself grin and snicker tipped me off.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thing 12

I worked on a little embroidery while watching TV tonight. We finally got the fireplace working, so I sat there all toasty warm with my little embroidery hoop and just doodled with my thread. I think I've more or less figured out flowers, and I'm working on getting a length of stitches to look uniform. Later in the week I'll try one of the iron-on patterns that came with the kit, instead of playing around freehand.

I find myself enjoying this embroidery stuff more than I expected!

Things 10 and 11

It has been an extremely long week, so I haven't been very good about keeping up with my Thing-a-Day projects. Work has been hell and Horton won't let me sleep through the night to recover, so I was a wreck by the end of the week! I played a little catch-up today, and I've decided to cut myself some slack and not consider myself a failure just because I was exhausted and missed a couple of days.

Thing 10 was an Easter card, probably to be sent to Grandmaman because she loves getting cards. I used layers of white cardstock (and a pink pencil, and a sharpie) to make the bunny, because I wanted him to have some texture to him instead of just being flat. Not sure if that's really showing up in the picture.

Thing 11, another egg. I only bought three of those, so unless I go back to Michael's for more eggs, that's going to be the end of it. I bought some lacquer and I painted my already-done eggs - it makes them nice and shiny. I'll do the same to this egg once everything dries properly.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's for Dinner - Tomato alphabet soup

I was so incredibly exhausted last night because of a long week at work, so my dinner will have to count as my "Thing 9". I did make the soup without a real recipe, so it's sort of creative. I also made grilled ham & cheese sandwiches to go with it. I hadn't made those in years!

Here's more or less how I made it:

I diced three skinny carrots and half an onion and then cooked them in a generous dollop of olive oil until the onions were soft. Then I dumped in a box of chicken stock and a big can of tomato sauce, and some black pepper, oregano, basil, and a bay leaf. I let that boil for a few minutes to let the carrots soften up, then used my immersion blender to puree everything (take out the bay leaf first). I added a tablespoon or so of butter to make it creamier, and then I put in half a box of teeny alphabet noodles and kept it simmering until they were cooked.

It's delicious.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Bizarro cats

I was minding my own business a few nights ago, washing some dishes in the kitchen, when I saw Mojo sitting outside on the patio, looking through the sliding glass door. I was startled and confused.

OMG how did he get out??
Wait, it's his reflection, stupid.
But he's not in front of the window, he's on the couch.

And then my brain melted.

Turns out we have a stray who likes to visit the backyard. After getting a better look at him, he most definitely isn't Mojo - he's scruffy and not in fantastic shape, making me think he's a definite stray, not a wandering pet. But his markings were sufficiently Mojo-like that I was completely terrified, for about 5 seconds, that Mojo had gotten outside somehow.

I have decided his name is Jomo, because he's bizarro Mojo. The man said it should be Ojom if we're doing it properly, but I poked him and said mine's better, so I win. I hope I get a chance to get a picture of him, so I can post it with a picture of Mojo for comparison.

Thing 8

Another egg - this one, I painted first. I need to get better paintbrushes, because no matter what I did it ended up very streaky. But I like the end result anyway.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Thing 7

Months ago, I bought myself a beginner's embroidery kit, thinking it would be fun to learn how to make pretty things. Of course, it just sat there in its little box all this time, because I never got around to it. So, thank you, Thing-a-Day, for forcing me to open it up and give it a try.

The kit comes with a hoop, two squares of fabric, some embroidery floss, and a needle. All I did today was practice stitches from the how-to book, because I am the beginniest of beginners. The book is cute and funny and aimed at maybe a teenage crowd, and it has illustrations of some of the basic stitches, which I tried to follow, with mixed success.

Those dots on top are "french knots", and to their left is a "scalloped stitch". I also tried a split stitch, a stem stitch, and a back stitch. My sad chain stitch attempt is the thing that looks like a murdered stickman on the bottom. I also tried a flower and a shape before I got tired of undoing all the knots I was creating. I'll be looking for some instructional videos online, because I think seeing the stitch will be better than reading instructions and trying to follow a diagram.

This has potential, though, so I'll continue trying until I get it.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Thing 6

Almost a week into Thing-a-Day and I'm not out of steam yet! I'm glad to have made it this far without choking and giving up. I have a few more "things" actually planned for the rest of the month, but I don't have enough of them to cover every day, so I'll end up winging it. Who knows where that'll take me!

Today's thing is a collage. I have been flipping through my magazines to cut out good recipes and toss the piles of ads that remain, and as I was doing that I started cutting out anything that produced a happy thought. This was the result:

Oddly, I found this to be a deeper introspective exercise than I thought I would get from sticking a collection of magazine cutouts to a cardboard rectangle. For almost two years now, I've been dedicated (to varying degrees, depending on the day) with a fantastic weight loss and healthy lifestyle website,, which I cannot recommend highly enough. One of the many goal-setting tasks they ask you to do is set up a "vision collage". Put up motivators for yourself, like photos of the beaches you want to lie on in your bikini, etc. Well, I never did that, because the visualization stuff always seemed very fake to me, and I had a hard time taking it seriously. But in the interest of creativity and open-mindedness, this collage is a picture of who I am and want to be. I think it says a lot about me, and it's also giving me a lot to think about.

Thing 5

Back to the decoupage for Day 5. I saw some blank white Easter eggs for sale when I was picking up crafty items for Thing-a-Day, and I picked up two of them, thinking maybe I could do something neat with them. And I did!

Here's one side:

Here's the other:

I am so happy with it! I cut out the flowers from some wrapping paper - the cutting is the longest part. I need to pick up some varnish or something to coat the whole thing so the flowers don't ever peel off. I think I'll head back and get more blank egg-canvases to play with!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Thing 4

As with the last "Thing", I used my sister-in-law's birthday as a starting point for a project. It's also why I delayed posting these, since I didn't want any surprises to be spoiled. Anyway, during a recent chat, she mentioned that a birthday cake was always a good thing, and that if one were to happen for her birthday, Funfetti and vanilla frosting would be the best ever. She wasn't asking me for a cake... I was just looking for an excuse to make one!

So, Thing 4 is a birthday cake.

Because it's my husband's birthday tomorrow, it was a shared cake (luckily he was OK with the Funfetti choice), and to prevent any awkwardness about two people trying to blow out candles on the same cake, I also made two cupcakes so each could have a candle to blow out and make a wish on. I just poured batter into two spots in the muffin pan, and baked those before I baked the cake.

It was a yummy Thing.

Thing 3

My sister-in-law's birthday was last week, and we all got together tonight to celebrate with dinner out and cake at our place. For her birthday present, we got her gift cards to her two favorite stores (Target and Michael's), because with the massive house renovations they're working on, and the baby on the way, more "stuff" isn't what she needs.

Since I had Thing-a-Day to inspire me to creative endeavors, I made a gift box for the cards, instead of buying one or sticking them inside a birthday card. I think it turned out pretty cute! This was my first attempt at decoupage and it wasn't too difficult, and I think I'll be trying more projects like this during the rest of the month.

I used a foam wedge paintbrush to spread the glue, then I wet the butterfly in a bowl of water and placed it where I wanted it, smoothing it out gently with the foam brush and using more glue to paste it down completely. Then once it dried, I glued on a bit of ribbon around the edge of the box top, using plain old school glue.

Wii have made progress!

We bought ourselves a Wii Fit Plus around the holidays and we've been enjoying it quite a bit. It's got some yoga moves, some cardio (go, hula hoop!) and some balance games (at which I consistently fail miserably). We've both been having fun and playing a little when we find some free time, but we're mostly using it as a convenient weight tracker. Since we started this, I have been putting up with the stupid on-screen animated balance board and its irritating electronic voice saying sadly "that's overweight" with every damn weigh-in. Judgemental bitch.

Today, for the first time, the voice said... "that's normal"! It's probably a fluke, but I am trending downwards, which is wonderful. I'm trying really hard to make better choices, and ending up really hungry a lot of the time, but at least it's working. For now I'm just doing the occasional yoga move or fake Wii bike ride, and watching TV while sitting on my giant exercise ball instead of the couch. Once the spring gets here I'll be outdoors more often and start exercising for real. Maybe. I hope. I have a goal to reach, dammit.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Thing 2

I feel almost like I'm cheating because this is just a photo, but photos can be art, and since I am completely in love with the picture I took of Horton sleeping on my chair today, I submitted it as today's "thing".

OMG kitty paws!!

Jen's Library: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know
by Heather Sellers

I picked up this book because I read in a review that it was about prosopagnosia, which is one of my favorite quirky cognitive disorders. It's a condition also called "face blindness", where affected individuals can see perfectly well, but because the face recognition area of their brains is impaired, they can't distinguish one face from another. The hardware's working fine but there's a bug in the software. They find other ways to tell people apart, like hairstyle, clothing, voice, and gait. It's got to be a frustrating disorder to live with, when everything about our social interactions depends on us being able to recognize friends.

This is a memoir of the author's experience with this disorder, but it's got much deeper layers, as she grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother and alcoholic father in one of the most dysfunctional families I've ever read about. Because she's afraid that her inability to recognize people must be a mental illness, she is afraid to find out what's really going on, reluctant to discuss it, until much later in her life when she comes across prosopagnosia and realizes she might not be crazy after all. Except that then the poor woman goes to doctor after doctor, gets referred to neurologists, and all of them tell her she can't have that, it's too rare; she's too stressed out and needs to relax. It takes forever for her to be diagnosed, and then even after she is, she has a hard time telling her friends family and coworkers, because they don't understand and think she's kidding.

This was a great insider's view of mental illness and cognitive disorders, and a lesson on how fine the line can be between being "crazy" and having a "condition" - it really depends on who's doing the labeling.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Thing 1

I took some time this morning while drinking my coffee and watching the weather channel (depressing today) to make my first "thing" for Thing-A-Day.

A Valentine for my Grandmaman. I'm safe posting it here because she doesn't use the computer at all, so the surprise won't be ruined, as long as my Mom and my aunts don't say anything!

I used a pre-made card from Michael's, and some scrapbook stuff and stickers I picked up here and there. I think I need to get a hot glue gun for future projects, because I'm not convinced my glue stick is going to keep things stuck. Inside the card I stamped "love you" in purple ink - it's how we sign off all our phone conversations. Never I love you, just "love you". Not sure she'll get it, but I think it's cute.

So, nothing earth-shatteringly fabulous emerging from my creative side, but it's pretty and I made it happen, which is the whole point of this exercise.