Sunday, May 31, 2015

Winding Down

It's hard to believe that I spent the entire week thinking, "Okay, let me just do this one thing, and then I'll have a chance to sit down and read and blog..." and then the hours would fly by and the one thing became about 12 things, and there was no reading or blogging to be had.

The good news is, it's raining, and it's supposed to rain for the next couple of days, which means I may finally get to do the sitting and reading and writing that I've been meaning to do for days now.

I wish I could say that I was up to all kinds of fascinating things, but that would be terribly untrue.

I painted a birdhouse and put it in my yard.  I think the holes in it are actually too small to allow any birds access to it, now that I have it fixed to a post and move-in ready.  But I'm telling myself that a hummingbird could make it quite cosy, and I love hummingbirds so... that's that.

I had repairs done to the front porch, which meant that I had to stain and paint it.  Glad that job is done.  If I never seen another stupid unpainted railing spindle, I'll be a happy woman.  Those things are a pain to paint, I'll just say that.

But, they're painted, and it all looks fine. 

Then, I bought another 8-foot long planter, so that had to be assembled and stained and then it had to be filled with soil and planted. 

In the meantime, there was the bike.  I hit a real low on Friday, when I tried to pump air in the tires and ended up deflating the rear tire and then breaking off the screw on the valve.  Meanwhile, the seat was still causing me problems.

So, I went back to the store for advice and assistance.  I was really pretty embarrassed and upset with myself, actually, but I was pleasantly surprised at how kind and helpful they were.

Turns out, the pump-problem wasn't my fault.  The pump was defective: there was no way anyone would have ever gotten a seal with that thing.  So, as the guy said, "NO WONDER you had a problem!"  That was music to my ears. 

He then helped me come up with a game plan to deal with the seat issue.  In the meantime, I also went out and read a couple of articles that tapped into my Pilates training, so I figured out a way to adjust to the road bike seat. 

It's still a transition period, but let's just say I'm finally taking normal-length rides on it daily.  (Or I was, until it started raining.)  And not suffering for it mightily afterward. 

So this was all good.  Add to this the fact that various plants are growing and doing well--tomatoes, beets, basil, eggplant, a variety of flowers, etc. and you have a formula for a decent week.

Today was spent cooking.  I started to read, but I'm ashamed to say, I began to doze off, so I went back to cooking.  I think I'm still in the process of winding down from what was a busier week than I had anticipated seven days ago.

But its spring, and it's warm, and the house is in good repair and the gardens are poised for productivity, so... whew.  It's been a week well done. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pollyanna

Another Memorial Day Weekend to kick off another summer and, I hate to say it, but I've had such a nice week that I'm going to be a big ole Pollyanna about it all.

What a beautiful day it is!  What a nice week it's been!

I took a 12-mile bike ride yesterday and lived to tell the tale.  Despite the fact that it was rather chilly (once you got going) and there was a serious headwind, I weathered the seat and seem to have mastered the toe clips.  Only one very small toe clip incident, but that elicited nothing more than a "Dag-nabbit!" and then I was back in the saddle again.  

Yes, I actually say "Dagnabbit" when mildly frustrated.  If it's good enough for Yosemite Sam, it's good enough for me.  (Sometimes.)

Perhaps this spirit of good cheer was boosted by the fact that I made my own calzones this week.  During exam week, I confess, I got a hankering for a calzone, so I ordered this truly ENORMOUS one--it was two meals for me, and boy, was it good.

But of course, my nature is such that I can't simply buy a calzone if I take a good look at one and realize that I could make my own.

And I can, so I did.

 These beauties have ricotta, mozarella, garlic, onion and kale inside.  Next week, the kale will be swapped for spinach.  I make them a bit smaller and then have half of one for lunch--it's plenty for me, and I truly see no point to making a single, enormous calzone that I'll have to slice up anyway.

Then, I made leek and potato soup, which was delightful.  (I don't have a picture of it, though.)

The Pollyanna-part about the soup is that it has fresh sage, chives and oregano from my herb garden in it.  Plus, the broth is the chicken bone-broth that I made last winter, when I was slowly freezing to death like everyone else on the East Coast.

In the same vein, I made my first batch of lemon-mint water of the season, with fresh mint from the garden.  I can't take credit for that--my longtime friend over at Totally By Design turned me on to it.  (Check out her blog: she has great taste in pretty much everything--and I'm not just saying that because she's my longtime friend.)

And when I got back from my bike ride yesterday, I decided that  since the quart of milk I had in the fridge wasn't getting any younger, and the leftover rice I kept forgetting to make into fried rice was going to keep being forgotten, I might just as well make a batch of rice pudding.








So that's what I did.

I must say, there are very few things in this work about which one can say, "They taste great hot OR cold," but homemade rice pudding is one of those things.

I had it again for breakfast this morning.  And before you go and get all judgey (that's a word), I would simply like to point out that rice pudding is rice, milk, raisins, and eggs.

What did YOU have for breakfast?  Lucky Charms?  Yeah, I thought so.  Okay.  

In any case, I advocate more rice pudding in the world, on a daily basis.  Vanilla, cinnamon, honey: it's got it all.

Speaking of which, I am seriously 2/3rds of the way through War and Peace, and I swear to you that I WILL blog about the second half of it in the near future.

I'm also working on Amitav Ghosh's Ibis trilogy: I read Sea of Poppies a couple of weeks ago, and I'm working on River of Smoke right now, so when I finish that, I'll blog about both.  The third novel in the series is due out in August...

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.  I hope you also have a beautiful week and weekend to brag about.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kicking It Up A Notch

I'm breaking in a new bike.

I wasn't going to blog about this, because my initial thought was, "Hey, so what?  New bike?  No biggie...".  After 7 years riding around on the hybrid, I decided to--in the words of Emeril Lagasse--"kick it up a notch" and get a road bike.

I liked my hybrid, but I thought if I had a road bike, I could go a bit faster and take longer rides.

Right now, that seems like a bit of a foolish dream, because I have two obstacles to contend with: the toe clips and the seat.

I'll start with the latter.  In my opinion, bike seats are one of two things.  Either they are 1) a way for the biking apparel industry to make scads of money on padded shorts, or 2) an undeclared torture device that would make a Spanish Inquisitor proud.

As one of my friends once said, "I think bike seats were designed by a guy who hates women."  To which I responded, "I don't think he likes men a whole lot either, really..." and she had to agree.

We therefore concluded, "Bike seats are designed by people who hate people." 

As I rode along yesterday, I was reminded of the time when a guy I know rather patronizingly told me, "I don't think you've ever known love."  (Sidebar: At the time, I thought he said it to me because I'm single, but I've since learned that he just says it to whoever, so it's actually not about me--or anyone, really.  Except maybe him.  Because FYI, dude: I have cats.)

All I could think as I rode along yesterday was, "If a girl's never known love and she rides on a seat like this for too long, chances are, she never will."

At one point, I hit a pothole and somehow managed to resist the impulse to shriek "Holy Christ!"  (I'm kinda proud of myself for that.)

When I got home, I went out and bought a gel seat cover and dropped the height of the seat.  I don't give a damn how uncool it is.  In my opinion, a lady should always to take proper care of her lady-parts, and she shouldn't have to spend a fortune on padded shorts to do it.

They would never have gotten away with a bike seat like that in the Victorian era.  That's all I'm going to say.

And then, there are the toe clips--or toe straps, really.  When I got the bike, the guy explained that you can "leave them loose," but that if you do, you "lose performance."

I explained to him that I'm kinda more into "survival" than "performance."  (He thought I was joking.)

Because the idea that I will deliberately attach myself to a bike just doesn't sit well with me.  The analogy everyone always uses is, "Well, but it's like ski boots.  They attach your leg to the ski."

But no, it isn't like ski boots.  Because several decades ago, the good people of the ski equipment industry realized that they needed to come up with something such that, if a person begins to fall, the skis are released, so that you aren't still attached to them when you hit the ground.

That way, you don't hurt yourself quite as badly, because you're not skidding and hurtling along the ground attached to a waxed strip of fibreglass.  You know, so it doesn't look like the guy on the ski jump in the Wide World of Sports intro. trailer from the '70's.

I really don't know why the bike industry doesn't want to address this major difference between skis and bikes--or at least stop making comparisons between the two-- but in my opinion, it's a major difference.

So anyway, I now have toe clips.  I've taken spin classes, so I know how they work, but I must say, it is unlikely you're ever going to get me to reach down and tighten a toe clip when I'm pedaling along on a moving bike.

Because that takes a level of balance and coordination that I'm 99% certain I just don't have.  Even with all of the Pilates training.  If memory serves, there were early mornings when I nearly tipped myself off of the stationary bike in spin class, trying to adjust the clips.

Yes, I'm clutzy.

So, to take that kind of risk in order to do something that I'm rather opposed to doing  (i.e., attaching myself to a moving bike in a way that can't be undone quickly)... well, I just don't see it happening.

I thought I had gotten the knack of the toe clips yesterday, because I got in and out of them quickly and relatively easily.  But then today, no go.  I was near tears and dropping F-bombs and sobbing phrases like "platform pedals" and hoping that my neighbors weren't watching.  Or that if they were, they just assumed whatever I was doing was somehow what I was supposed to be doing and that it was all very "professional."

Finally, I got my feet in them, and off we went.  (Yes, I think of the toe clips and the bike seat as living entities at this point.)

Thing is, I then decided that it would be foolhardy to stop.   Because I might never be able to get my feet back in the clips, given that the day seemed to be completely jinxed as far as such things went.

Who needs a drink of water while exercising on an 80-degree day, really?  We'll be fine.

Thing is, as I was biking through the park, a guy stopped me to ask for directions.  Yes, I suppose I could have screamed, "End of the road, turn left!" as I blasted by him, but I felt that would be rude.

I must have looked at him and at my toe clips with a noticeable expression of despair though, because he said, "Thank you--I'm sorry I made you stop."

But I think the heavens were kind to me because I stopped to do a good deed, because after that, I was able to get into the toe clips again with minimal effort.  So that gave me hope that, with practice, I'll get it.

Maybe.

Let's put it this way: when I left the house, I was tired of reading and knitting.  But when I got home, all I could think was, "Thank god--a book and some knitting.  That's all I want from life.  Ever."

Except for maybe a drink of water.   And an ice-pack.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Whew, Part II

Almost there.

It's been a non-stop week.  But the good news is, the grading is 2/3rds done and the last third should be finished up sometime tomorrow.  And then, there's that article on Zola that is so close to being done and ready to resubmit, I can almost taste it.

And the yard is shaping up.  And the fridge is stuffed--literally stuffed, not "stocked"--with food.  And I'm on the foot of a second sock, so that will be finished any day now.

Quite frankly, I think that if Abigail Adams were sitting here right now, even she would be saying, "Girrlll... you rock."

It's been that kind of week.

Only down side has been, the credit card company has resumed their springtime escapade of "HEY!  Let's randomly block her credit card when she tries to make a purchase, and make her scream."

Yes, they're doing it again.  And they're still calling it "Early Warning Fraud Protection."  (I'm still calling it, "Assholes Blocking My Credit Card.")

A particularly low moment occurred when the customer service rep. (yes, I hung up on another one this week) said, "Ma'am, if protecting you is wrong, then I don't know what 'right' is anymore."

I, in turn, told him to "cut the Crap."  It kind of unraveled from there.

But then, a day or two later, I came up with a work-around.  So, suck it, credit card company, I'll be just fine from now on, thank you.

And it is now my life's mission to be a thorn in your side.  Anytime I have a few spare minutes, guess how I'll be spending it?  Aggravating you

A few fun facts about the credit card industry: did you know that, in industry parlance, people who pay off their balance every month--i.e., people who maintain good credit-- are called "deadbeats."

They're also occasionally called "freeloaders," too,  actually.

The credit industry has tried and tried to figure out ways to penalize these people, because they aren't generating any profits for the industry. 

Yes, you read that right:  CREDIT card companies want to penalize people for having GOOD CREDIT.  At one point, they tossed around the idea of making people who pay their bills on time pay a penalty for doing so. 

The theory was, if you went to a bank and took out a loan for $1000, you'd pay interest and fees.  But if you charge a $1000 item, unless they begin charging interest at the point of sale (yes, they've considered doing that), you get a 30-day loan, interest free.  With no fees.  (Hence, some credit card companies have tried to reinstate the old annual fee of years ago.)

They tried to argue that "deadbeats" and "freeloaders" have been "getting a free ride" at the "expense" of the credit card industry, that by "gaming the system," these people would eventually "cripple" the industry.

Yeah, okay.  You guys make billions.  How much more do you want?  (And why?)

Tell me you're "protecting" me.    I think not.

I also had a bunch of errands to run this week and once again, I marveled at the variety of human nature out there.  (My mom used to say, "It takes all kinds to make a world.") 

I went to one place where everyone--and I mean everyone--was super-fit.  Lean, trim, toned... it's always rather astounding to see such a thing in one place (no, it wasn't at a gym).

This was a stark contrast to the convenience store cashier with a mouth full of food who nodded and said, "Mnhum" when I said, "$20 on Pump 9, please."

At the Petco, the cashier there had a suggestion involving catnip.  (That sounds risque, but it really wasn't.)  She said I should get all of my cats' favorite toys, put them in a ziploc bag with catnip, put it in the freezer for a day until it's frozen, then put it in the fridge, and then, whenever "anyone" (i.e., me) goes to the refrigerator, have them (i.e. me), "shake it."

She laughed and said, "Oh, it's great fun--it gets everyone involved.  Everyone will have a blast!  After a month, you hide the toys and do the whole thing again a few weeks later."

My best friend said, "I don't get it... Did she miss a step?"

This made me feel better, because I really didn't understand it either. 

I decided not to ask or pursue it any further with the cashier because the fact of the matter is, I know myself well enough to know that I won't really enjoy shaking a bag of toys and catnip every time I open the fridge. 

And if I had a house full of people, unless they really, really seemed to be deriving a lot of joy from doing it (and I mean, a lot), I would probably say, "Stop that" sometime along about Day 2. 

Plus I suspect my cats would think I'd lost my marbles.  And Juno would probably respond by deciding, "From now on, I'll wake her up at 5:00 a.m, instead of 5:30... she clearly needs the extra awake-time."

The only other event was, I was the victim of a serious tailgater on the drive home.  You know how you look in the rear view mirror and all you can see is someone's entire windshield and their angry, agitated little face staring at you?  Like, there's no sign of the hood of the car because they're following that close behind you?  And if they hit you, they'll end up in the backseat, calling you filthy names and claiming it's your fault they hit you?

Sigh.  All I could think was, "It's a beautiful, sunny day, dude.  Chill."  

Friday, May 8, 2015

Home Stretch

Well, this was the last week of classes.  I'm sitting at home right now, marveling at how quickly the time has flown.  Seems like only last week I was sitting here, blogging away, as we dug out of a major snowstorm and the plumber fixed my bathroom.

I confess, I always find the end-of-semester grading far easier at the end of the spring semester than I do when it falls at the end of the fall semester, in December.

In the spring, I have options.  I can grade for a bit and then, when I start to feel a little too tied to the computer and potentially stir-crazy, I can go outside and do some yard work or garden.  And after I do, I feel ready for another bout of grading.

Not to mention there's something about knowing that, in a few short weeks, your time will be your own--to read and write and watch the world go by...

Speaking of which, I started a really good book about Abigail Adams, Dear Abigail: The Intimate LIves and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and her Two Remarkable Sisters (2014) by Diane Jacobs.

I must say, there is something about reading about early American colonists that makes me feel like I'm such the slacker: I always feel like I should be knitting 12 pairs of socks while churning butter, forging a new form of government and firing a musket.

I had an odd experience with this book, actually: for some reason (probably because of the title), I had convinced myself that it was a collection of the letters of Abigail Adams and her sisters.  So I started reading and reading and kept waiting for it to just be the letters, not a narrative.

Finally, I thumbed through, wondering when "the letters would start," only to realize that no, it isn't a collection of letters.  Imagine my surprise.  I had totally convinced myself, and it took a minute or two for me to un-convince myself.

Luckily, I'm enjoying it anyway, so it isn't as if it matters that it's totally not in the format that I thought it would be.  I actually find Abigail Adams' life more interesting than reading about John Adams or Samuel Adams, but I think that's kind of because I've been annoyed about Samuel Adams ever since I found out that he advocated executing the "traitors" who took part in Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786-1787.

When a group of farmers in Western Massachusetts became fed up with--get this--the exorbitant taxes being levied as a means of resolving the post-Revolutionary War debt, they stormed the courthouses in Great Barrington, Northampton, and Worcester.  They also tried to do the same in Springfield.

Once captured, Sam Adams argued that the participants in Shay's Rebellion should be executed.  I mean, how DARE anyone defy the government over something like, you know, taxes.  Really.  The nerve.

It kind of surprises me that no one at the time said, "Hey, um, Sam... here's the thing... there's probably still some tea leaves floating in Boston Harbor and all, so don't you think that maybe you should cut them a bit of slack?"

But of course, he tended to run in social circles that favored taxing the bejesus out of farmers and other plebeians, because the alternative would be to, you know, tax people like Samuel Adams.

And we can't have that, now can we?

So anyway, I'm enjoying reading about Abigail Adams (again).  It's particularly refreshing if I start to feel grouchy about grading or tired of gardening or whatever.

I read about all of the things she endured--war, smallpox, childbirth, bad winters, bad roads, bad food--and everything around me seems just fine.