Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jen's Library - Dewey's Nine Lives

Dewey's Nine Lives : the legacy of the small-town library cat who inspired millions
By Vicki Myron

This book is a sequel of sorts, so I'll have to fill you in on the original story. Dewey Readmore Books was a cat who became an Iowa library's mascot after he was rescued from the book return chute that he'd been stuffed in one freezing winter night when he was a few weeks old. The library director, Vicki Myron, adopted him, and he lived out the rest of his 19 years at the Spencer Public Library, making it a warmer and friendlier place for its patrons. He was an adorable goof with a lot of love, like most cats.

The original book about Dewey (Dewey, The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World) was published in 2008 and was a big hit, inspiring thousands of people to write to the author about their own cats. Dewey's Nine Lives is a collection of 9 stories, all very different, about some special cats and the people whose lives they've touched. It's a great book for a cat lover, because while all cats are different, they are all so very much the same, and I love knowing that so many people love their cats as much as I love mine.

The hard part was reading about the goodbyes: most of these stories end with the death of the beloved pet, and it's heartbreaking to read. I dread the day we have to make the toughest decision about our furry boys, and it was difficult to get through some of these stories without a few tears.

If you're going to read this, please consider picking up the 2008 Dewey book first, because otherwise you won't be getting the whole picture. You'll enjoy it, but you'll enjoy it more if you know who Dewey was and how he touched so many people.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rescuing Veggies

I buy veggies. That's not the problem. The problem is that we don't always manage to eat them quickly enough and they get soft or moldy or otherwise inedible.

For example: do onions make good houseplants? This one has great aspirations!

I'm trying really hard to get better at this because I hate wasting food. So far, I'm roasting peppers that are too soft for decent salads, and using floppy broccoli, carrots, and celery in soups (broccoli gets its own soup, and the others assist in chicken soup). If I can't do it right away, I try to freeze them before they're past the point of inedibility. When my mushrooms start looking a little sad, I fry them up in butter and eat them that way. But what about onions that are starting to sprout? Or potatoes that are mostly eyes and brown spots? Bagged spinach that's started to wilt? Tomatoes that are too squishy to slice even with the most incredible of infomercial knives? Does anyone have any ideas for using up almost-unusable veggies?

I don't usually have this problem with fruit, except for strawberries, which refuse to last more than a day or two in the fridge, but I'll gladly take pointers on rescuing fruit from the brink, as well!

Jen's Library - The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment
by A.J. Jacobs

I've read a few of this guy's books, and he's usually pretty entertaining. He always has a gimmick, like trying to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, or trying to live by all of the rules in the Bible in The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Both of those books are very funny reading, and surprisingly educational as they're filled with a lot of random facts he learns along the way. In this book, he shares some of his other, shorter-lived experiments, that weren't big enough to become books on their own. He does this stuff because he's a writer for a magazine, and doing weird things like this makes for good stories. I think he's nuts, but it sure is fun to read.

Over the course of this guy's life, he's tried on a whole lot of roles and written about the experiences. Like when he outsourced as much of his life as possible to India, having his assistants overseas deal with birthday cards and presents, emails to his boss, and reading stories to his kids over the phone. Or when he tried "radical honesty" for a while, which is where you not only refuse to tell lies, but you also remove your mental filter and just say what's on your mind. Like telling the waitress you can't help but look at her lovely cleavage, or telling the man beside you on the bus that he smells funny. Oh, and the time he went to the Oscars impersonating an actor whom he resembled, and mostly got away with it. Most of the stuff he does will make you glad he's not your neighbor, but also glad that someone tried all this insanity and lived to tell about it.

It's broken up into chapters, one per experiment, so it's an easy book to put down and pick back up again. I liked The Year of Living Biblically best out of everything of his I've read so far, so if you're looking to try this writer out, I'd tell you to start there.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More stuff growing in the yard!

We have progressed to the "daffodil" stage of spring!

The ones by the house started to flower last week, and I was happy to see that a few bulbs also survived under the pines on the side of the yard. I planted a bunch there before we had the landscaping guys come in to clear the poison ivy and overgrown mess, and they dug up the whole area - I wasn't expecting to see any yellow flowers at all, but half a dozen made it through the ordeal. That's a shady and useless area of the yard, so I'm going to add more daffodils for next spring, and possibly some lily-of-the-valley... but that gets pretty invasive, so I'm hesitating. Grass won't grow there because of the pine needles, and I don't want it to be just brown dirt and dead needles all year, so I'm hoping to find some good ground cover plants to make it look more pleasant. Any ideas from the peanut gallery? This is what the side of the yard looks like:
As the guys were clearing stuff out in the fall, I noticed that there were big rhododendrons between the trees, and I marked them off with tape so they wouldn't get overzealous with their purge and rip them out. They seem to have buds on them, so I'm hoping they pop into flower this spring. We've never really seen the house in early spring, so I don't know what colors to expect from the various flowering shrubs. I wonder how long the poor things were choked off by the ivy and low pine branches? I'll give them a good shot of Miracle-Gro once it gets a little warmer - they deserve it. The azaleas will get some too, because they're in pretty bad shape.

Tulips are coming along nicely:

I threw out the bag the bulbs came in, and I already forget what color tulips I planted. I think they were a purple and white mix, but I can't be sure. Maybe Mom remembers. Either way it looks like there will be a whole mess of tulips in the backyard in a few weeks! Hooray!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Roasted Green Beans

Without a doubt, my favorite way to eat green beans is to roast them in the oven with some olive oil.

It's so easy, just chop off the ends, cut them in half if they're really long, and then toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put them on a baking sheet in a single layer, into a 375 oven for 5 or 6 minutes, and then take them out and stir them around, because their bottom sides will be getting brown and you don't want them to burn. Back into the oven for another 5 or 6 minutes, and they're ready to eat.

This makes them a little sweet and gives them a nutty roasted flavor that makes it hard for me to wait until they've cooled off to eat them.

Why would anyone ever eat canned green beans again, when they could do this instead?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vicious Pals

Horton has befriended my Monty Python "Rabbit with Big Pointy Teeth" bunny slippers. I fear they are plotting against me. I always took comfort in the fact that Horton only has small pointy teeth to kill me with... but apparently he's recruiting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's for Dinner - Steak, roasted veggies, and garlic mashed taters

This was my second-ever attempt to cook a real steak by any other method than "George Foreman Grill", and I was nervous that I would ruin it completely. I bought nice steaks, ribeyes, at about $7 each on sale, and I shuddered to think of the wasted money if I overcooked them. I mean, we'd have eaten them anyway but it would have been a sad waste of a tasty hunk of meat.

I took them out of their packages, rubbed them with salt and pepper, and allowed them to come to room temperature (per cookbook and Food Network instructions) while defending them from feline attack. Meanwhile, I cut up a green pepper, a red pepper, and half a red onion, tossed them with olive oil and a dash of Mrs Dash Original Blend, and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 375. I checked them and tossed them every 5 minutes until they looked properly roasty and weren't raw-crunchy anymore. It took about 20 minutes for me, but the size of the chunks will affect the cooking time. Smaller is faster.

I peeled and chopped 6 small potatoes and boiled them until they were soft. At the same time, I warmed up a cup of milk in a pot, after adding two big garlic cloves, peeled and smashed flat. I also added some pepper, mostly because it looked too white. I moved the drained potatoes (and some thick slivers of butter) to a plastic mixing bowl and used my hand mixer to whip them, slowly adding the garlic milk (take the garlic cloves out!) until it was the right consistency. I didn't end up needing the whole cup of milk, but it's always safer to have more than you need. Next time I'll just put the butter in with the milk and let it melt, because I had little butter chunks left in the potatoes. The garlic level of these potatoes was exactly right for me, but I think maybe the addition of smashed roasted garlic would enhance them.

For my steaks, I just plopped them into a very hot, buttery frying pan and left them for about 5 minutes before flipping them and leaving them there for another little while. I'm not sure exactly how long I cooked them, because I kept thinking I needed one more minute. It's very hard for me to tell when they're done enough and not overdone. These ended up on the medium-to-medium-well side, and I would have preferred them not quite as done, but they were still very tasty. Next time I'll just use the cooking times suggested in my cookbooks for various levels of doneness and stop doubting them. They just never seem long enough to me, and the steaks don't seem to be cooked enough when my time is up. Maybe it will be good for me to just follow instructions completely for once!

I'm learning. Slowly. I will master steaks eventually.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Jen's Library - The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project - Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.
By Gretchen Rubin

This one wins the "longest subtitle" award for sure.

This is a look at one woman's year-long attempt to become happier in all areas of her life. It doesn't pretend to be a self-help book with all the answers to make you happier; in fact, she comes out at the start and says you shouldn't expect the things that worked for her to work for you. It's her story and she's telling it for herself, and maybe it'll help a few people along the way.

It's really hard to give a good overview of the book because it's got a lot of information in it. I'd almost end up rewriting the whole book here in order to cover all of it, so this review is going to end up being more about my response to the book, than the book itself, but I honestly recommend picking it up, because it's interesting and well-written and you may have a light bulb go off while you're reading.

To start the project, the author did a lot of reading on the subject of happiness and found certain ideas or principles she wanted to try and apply to her life, and in this memoir she attacks one aspect of happiness every month. Things like "energy" and "money" and "relationships" and "mindfulness". Not everything works well; in fact, some strategies or ideas piss her off and she drops them pretty quickly - you have no idea how relieved I was to discover someone else who just doesn't get why yoga is so awesome! It all boils down to figuring out what will make you happy and making sure you find ways get to it and fit it into your life.

That's something that resonates with me - feeling like you're supposed to like something. I feel like I'm supposed to want to throw fancy parties, and I feel guilty about preferring a night on the couch with my husband or some friends, enjoying pizza and Wii bowling. I find myself wishing I had more occasions to wear a dress and fancy heels, but in reality, fancy-schmancy restaurants make me feel out of place. I wish I loved a fancy life, I wish I was into opera and classical music and expensive champagne. But I prefer watching Mythbusters, listening to the Barenaked Ladies, and drinking Dr Pepper. Coming to terms with what I actually like, as opposed to what I wish I liked, isn't easy.

Happiness is hard. It takes effort, at least for me. The author agrees, and suggests that those people for whom happiness seems to come so easily are actually working very hard to achieve it. It's unfair that it has to be that way, but like exercise is essential to getting fit, hard mental work is necessary for staying happy. It's easy to complain, harder to let go and enjoy. The author ends up reducing her own happiness to a simple rule: Thinking about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Do things that make you feel good, stop doing things that make you feel bad, and do things that feel right to you. And strive for growth, whether that's making new friends, trying new experiences, or challenging yourself. Again, that's her solution. But it's not insane.

She has a website,, where you can learn more about her project and start your own. I'm not sure I'll be going that far quite yet, but the book was very much worth my time and I plan on trying some of the ideas that spoke to me.

Project: Red Room is now Yellow Room

We finally settled on a new color for the ex-red room. It's called Provence Creme from Behr and it's a gorgeous creamy yellow, exactly what I had in mind when I said I wanted that room to be yellow. My dear man is finishing up the painting because he's better with a roller than I am, and I'm getting a headache from the fumes, but here's a picture of a finished area.

We still need a second coat, and we'll need to buy another gallon because the walls are drinking up the paint more than we expected, but this color is making me very happy. We'll do the trim in an almost-white color called Vermont Cream (I know, this room is totally creamy), but that will happen in a few weeks when we find some more time.

I'm concerned about the curtains now, because they're beige and will probably look funny against the yellow, but I really don't feel like spending more money on curtains. Does anyone care about how the curtains contrast with the paint? Honestly? Ok, I sort of do, but I'm hoping I'm being picky and most people wouldn't even notice.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

They're Alive - In The Yard!

We have flowers! I planted crocuses here and there in the front yard last fall, because I love having the bright little dots of color in the lawn in the spring. They flower so early that they're done by the time we need to start mowing the lawn, and they sure cheer March up a lot! I'm still not used to how early spring arrives in Maryland. It's about two months sooner than back home in Montreal. They still have over a foot of snow on the ground, according to my extremely jealous mother.

The daffodils are set to bloom within a week or so, and the tulips are poking up and growing fast. The grape hyacinths seem to be nothing but leaves so far, with no sign of flowers at all - either I got duds or they flower a lot later then I thought.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

They're alive!

I have sprouts! So far I have green things popping up in the oregano, basil, and cherry tomato areas of my "greenhouse". I'm amazed that the cats have been ignoring the greenhouse and not trying to sleep on it or toss it from the windowsill, especially considering it's prime sunny-nap-spot territory.

These are the oregano sprouts - several per square because the seeds were like sand and I couldn't control how many went into each spot.

And these are the cherry tomatoes! I'm so glad those are growing, because they're the ones I want most. No green happening yet in the big tomato area, or the chives.

Now I need to figure out how big I'm supposed to let them get before I transplant them to a bigger pot.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


No, nobody peed on our walls. We finally finished priming the red room - it only took two coats with that high-hiding primer stuff - and we've moved on to choosing a paint color. We know we want yellow, but there is a lot of variation in the "yellow" category, and things can go banana or Big Bird pretty quickly.

The one on the left is Canary, which turned out retina-searingly bright. So that one's a no. And the one on the right is Natural Straw, which ended up a lot more brown on the wall than on the sample card. I want a pale, not-bright yellow for those walls, something sunny and happy. I'm planning on setting up my new (as yet unused) sewing machine in there and making it into a crafts and stuff room. It has a door I can close to keep the cats out, which is a huge plus!

Going through the pile of sample cards we brought home and taking into account the fact that one we liked was too bright and one was too brown, we think we've found a new contender. So, back to Home Depot (or was it Lowes? Who has Behr paint?) for another tiny sample jar so we can see how it looks before we commit to it. Hopefully, updates and a yellow room by the end of the weekend!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Bird Feeder

Wanting both to see pretty birds in the garden, and to torment the kitties by having pretty birds congregating just out of their reach, I bought a bird feeder. I stayed cheap because I didn't want to make a huge investment - I got a small suet feeder and a block of suet/nuts/berries to put inside it. "Songbird mix", I believe it said. I also bought a small shepherd's hook to plant in the ground, because there's nothing suitable in that area from which to hang a bird feeder.

It looked cute, but no birds were attracted to it the first day. I suppose it takes an adventurous bird to investigate a new food source and bring back news to his friends, and the explorers were otherwise occupied that day. And then it poured the next day, keeping every living critter huddled in its shelter. Including me. This morning, I woke up to find my feeder had been vandalized. Not surprising, really, but disappointing.

At least my total investment was under $20. Those squirrels will do some serious acrobatics to get at bird feeders, but I can't afford those neat motorized ones that spin the squirrel off into space. Maybe I'll look for a plastic feeder I can stick to the window with suction cups, instead, and hope that the local squirrels don't have rocket packs.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Some interesting and important facts about blood

March is Red Cross month, and the hospital is hosting a blood drive (as we do every two months). As the blood bank's donor recruiter, I have to try and raise awareness and interest and get people to sign up to donate blood. This time, the hospital management is getting more involved because it coincides with a new charity campaign they're running, so I was asked to write up some "interesting facts about blood" that could be used in our weekly newsletter and on our intranet page. I want to share them with you, and also encourage you to try donating blood - it only hurts a little bit and you're helping save lives. I see the other side of it all the time, with patients desperately needing blood and platelet transfusions, so I can tell you, it's important. Blood can't be manufactured (yet - research is making strides) and needs to come from donors. Plus, you get cookies!

Blood Facts

The very first blood transfusions were back in the 1600s and involved transfusing small volumes of sheep's or calf's blood to sick patients. Because the blood was from a different species, the patients often had fatal reactions to the transfusions. By the 1800s human blood was being transfused to patients, but because the blood would clot quickly outside of the body, the blood could not be stored, and had to be transferred directly from donor to recipient. Many of these transfusions still resulted in the death of the patient, until blood groups were discovered by the Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner in 1901. After that point, blood types could be matched for transfusions, greatly reducing the risks.

In the 1930s, The Soviet Union was the first country to establish a system of blood banks, after discoveries showing that adding anticoagulant to blood allowed it to be stored outside the body, in refrigerators. The first American hospital blood bank was established at Cook County Hospital in Chicago in 1936. Blood was stored in glass bottles until plastic blood storage bags were developed in the 1950s.

There are four main blood types, defined by what type of antigen (carbohydrate and protein structure) is present on the red blood cells. There are two antigens: A and B. Those with the A antigen are type A, and those with the B antigen are type B. If your red cells have both, you will be type AB, and if you have neither, you are type O. The blood types are genetically determined and their distribution varies in different populations, but in the United States, approximately 44% of people are type O, 42% are type A, 10% are type B, and the rarest blood type is type AB, in only 4% of the population. Whether you are, say, O-positive or O-negative, will depend on whether you have the Rh factor, another important antigen on red blood cells. If it is present, then your type is "positive", and if it is absent, your type is "negative". Only 15% of individuals are Rh-negative.

The immune system of an Rh-negative mother who is carrying an Rh-positive fetus can become sensitized to the Rh factor, which can create problems with subsequent pregnancies. The result is babies being born with hemolytic disease of the newborn (HDN), where the baby's red cells are being destroyed by the mother's antibodies, leading to dangerously high bilirubin levels and anemia. In 1968, the first dose of "RhoGAM" was given to an Rh-negative pregnant woman - this product can prevent the mother's immune system from being sensitized, greatly reducing the risk of HDN. Blood and Rh typing is now part of normal prenatal care, so that all Rh-negative pregnant women can receive a protective dose of RhoGAM or an equivalent product.

Before blood can be transfused, the recipient will have a "type and screen" done. This test takes approximately 45 minutes and will determine the patient's blood type and check the patient's plasma for any antibodies to other blood groups. This ensures that the patient is receiving compatible blood. The "crossmatch" is when a drop of donor cells is mixed with the recipient's plasma to check for compatibility. If it is compatible, the donor unit is labeled for the patient and can be transfused.

In emergency situations, a blood bank can issue uncrossmatched blood. This happens when the patient's history and blood type are unknown and there is no time for testing before the blood is needed. In these cases, O-negative blood is always given, because it is compatible in recipients of any blood type. Once the patient's sample is available for testing, the blood bank will complete the work and make sure that no unexpected antibodies are present, and then prepare more units for transfusion that are of the same blood type as the patient.

Most blood collected in donor centers today is split into its components, rather than being transfused as whole blood. This is more efficient, because patients receive only the components they need, and one donation can save more than one life. Blood is spun in a centrifuge and separated into red cells and plasma. Red cells are used to treat anemia and blood loss, and help improve oxygen delivery to the tissues. Plasma contains clotting factors and is often used to treat hemorrhage and to quickly reverse the effect of anticoagulant medications. Other elements that can be separated from a blood donation are platelets, which are necessary for clotting, and cryoprecipitate, which is a concentrate of clotting factors.

Platelets are small fragments in the blood whose role is to form clots and stop bleeding. The average lifespan of platelets is only a few days before they lose their potency, which means that they are unable to be stored for an extended period. This is why platelets are often in short supply - donations must be steady to ensure their availability.

The American Association of Blood Banks estimates that 9.5 million volunteers donate blood each year, 20 percent of whom are first time donors. According to the 2007 National Blood Collection and Utilization Report about 16 million units of whole blood and red blood cells were donated in the United States in 2006. Every day in the U.S., approximately 40,000 units of blood are required in hospitals and emergency treatment facilities for patients with cancer and other diseases, for organ transplant recipients, and to help save the lives of accident/trauma victims.

Hopefully I've taught you something today... As usual, I welcome questions about the lab and the blood bank! For questions relating specifically to blood donation, like eligibility criteria or what to expect when you arrive, I'll refer you to the Red Cross website for first-time donors. Please consider donation, or at the very least spreading the word and asking someone else to donate. It does make a difference.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

What's for Dinner - Rice with Onions

Sick of mashed potatoes, and bored with plain rice, I decided to ask Mr. Bittman for advice. The purple rice (not its official cookbook name) from How To Cook Everything was a delicious hit, so it was worth going back to his rice section and looking at my options.

I selected the clearly and austerely named "Rice with onions". No mistaking what you're getting in a recipe like that! I halved it because it makes a ton of rice, but I'm giving you the full recipe here in case you're feeding a horde.

Rice With Onions

3 to 4 cups thinly-sliced onions
4 tablespoons butter (or olive oil - but I used butter)
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 cups warm chicken, beef, or vegetable stock

You put the onions in the pot you'll be making the rice in, and cook them, covered (don't add butter or oil yet) until they're dried out a little but not brown. It takes about 10 minutes. Add the butter and thyme, toss the onions to coat in the melted butter, then add the rice and toss to coat it with the butter too. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the broth and let cook for 30-45 minutes, covered, stirring every now and then, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is soft.

This was so good that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to make boring white rice again. Incredibly creamy, with a little sweetness from the onions, and a lot of flavor from the thyme. I think I forgot to half the thyme, actually, so you could increase the amount and it won't hurt you.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Project: Seedlings

Growing stuff from seeds is not something I've ever tried, aside from sticking toothpicks in an avocado pit and suspending it in a cup of water so it'll sprout, but I don't think that counts. My thumbs aren't the greenest, but I'm willing to learn.

I want tomatoes this year. I really want to have a vegetable and herb garden set up in the backyard, but until we get the fence fixed and the yard cleaned up, it's going to remain a "someday" dream. Until then, I will try container gardening on the deck or in the sunroom. I bought tomato seeds as a first step - one packet of cherry tomatoes, and one of big guys for slicing into sandwiches or caprese. I needed to start the seeds in something, and my reading online suggested that egg cartons would work well for that part, except that honestly, I wasn't going to eat 3 dozen eggs in a month to have enough cartons handy. So I bought this neat little cardboard-and-plastic greenhouse thingy at the garden center of the hardware store, because it looked perfect and was under $5. I didn't realize until I got it home that it came with packets of herb seeds, which is great because I'm pretty sure my herb plants from last summer didn't survive the winter on my family room shelf! So I split up the real estate between the herbs and tomatoes, and we'll see what survives.

I got set up on the back deck with my supplies. I didn't buy special seed-starting mix, so I used my Miracle-Gro potting soil instead. If the mutant lavender plants from our old house were anything to go by, my cherry tomatoes will be beefsteaks and my big tomatoes will be watermelons.

The seeds were tiny. Very tiny. These are the sage seeds, and they were the biggest of the bunch.

(Anyone want to do some amateur palmistry here?)

The instructions had me water the soil first, make dimples in the soil with a pencil, and put one or two seeds in each dimple, then cover them with a quarter-inch of soil. This worked well for the sage, basil, and chive seeds, but the oregano seeds were like grains of sand, so I sprinkled a little into each dimple and we'll see how many I get. The wind blew some of them out of my hand, so I may find oregano growing between the bricks by the deck.

I ran out of spaces in my "greenhouse" so I ended up using an egg carton for the big tomatoes after all. I punched holes in the bottom of each cup for drainage, and then planted the seeds exactly like the others. Note my beautiful labeling.

Once everyone was all planted and comfy, I brought them inside to the sun room. I'm not sure I can leave them there because it may get too cold for them at night, but for now it was the sunniest and warmest place in the house. I wrapped foil around the bottom of the egg carton to keep the water in, and covered it with plastic wrap to keep moisture in. Ghetto greenhouse!

Now grow, little guys! I have bruschetta to make!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What's for Dinner - Breaded Sage Pork Chops

I'm sure there are a million wonderful ways to cook pork chops, but they're still sort of a mystery to me, which is why we don't eat them often. Besides the cranberry orange pork chop recipe, I've got nothing to work with. But this week, pork chops were on sale, and they looked pretty good, so I picked up a big family-size package, and then I had to figure something out.

I got a bowl of breadcrumbs ready, and mixed in some salt, pepper, and powdered sage. About half a teaspoon powdered sage in 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs. I salted and peppered the pork chops, both sides. I scrambled an egg in another bowl, then I dunked the pork chops in the egg and pressed them into the breadcrumbs, making sure they were really well coated. I put a mix of oil and butter in a pan and got it really hot, then put the chops in for about 5 minutes a side. They were pretty thick. I used a meat thermometer to check for doneness, because I don't trust timing and I don't like to cut them open. When I took them out of the pan, I added another tablespoon of butter and a couple of shakes of the powdered sage, and then a tablespoon of light cream. I whisked that around until it was frothy and brown and then I topped the chops with it. It didn't give much "gravy" but I didn't want it to - I just wanted a little drizzle, and this was enough.

They were really tasty!

Lessons learned: Sage tastes really good with pork chops. Egg makes breadcrumbs stay on really well. Oil + butter gives a better result than either one by itself.

Time to think about the garden

My mother has always had gorgeous gardens, no matter how big or tiny a space she's had to work in. I'm not entirely sure that trait is a genetic one, but I am going to try to set up a garden this year - one that I won't be embarrassed to look at.

There's some space in the front yard, near the walkway and front door, that was overgrown with mutant peonies, a blue hydrangea, and an ancient azalea when we moved in. I should have taken a good "before" picture, but I forgot. This is how it looks right now.

When Mom visited in October, she helped me tear up the peonies, trim and restrain the hydrangea, and clear out all the weeds so we could see what sort of space we had, and it looks like I've got a nice canvas to work with. There is a perennial border in place that I decided to leave there for now, but I'm not sure what the plant is called. Thin grassy variegated leaves with a small spike of a purple flower popping up in the mid-to-late summer. They're low, small, and seem healthy, so they get to stay. Mom and I planted some bulbs - tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and grape hyacinths - so there will be something pretty to look at in the spring. Provided that the deer, squirrels, and bunnies don't eat them for lunch, that is. I went out today and found some little shoots sticking up, uneaten! Hooray! Some crocuses:

And some daffodils:

There's also an area in the backyard, near the pool, that I will make into a garden. It's beside where we used to have three giant juniper trees growing, until we paid some guys to take them down for us before they decided to come down on their own terms, into the pool or bedroom window. The area was sectioned off like it used to be a garden, but it was completely overgrown with ivy and weeds and we couldn't even tell how big it was until we tore all the stuff up. It's an odd shape, but I like a challenge. Right now all I have in place are tulip bulbs, but I'll change that this spring.

We also picked up a couple of garden ornaments on a recent trip to Home Goods. I chose a turtle, and Dave picked a duck (no surprises there). The duck is neat, it's got a plastic insert that is supposed to be phosphorescent - after being in the light for a while, it glows in the dark. We're not sure it works yet, because we're never home right after dark. We should go test it tonight with a flashlight.

As a reward for putting up with a Home Goods trip, I told Dave he could name the garden critters. So now the duck is Solar Duck, and the turtle is Superfly. He is not permitted to name our children.