Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This is the other, slightly less depressing thing I did with my weekend...

Ugly little bugger, ain't he?

He's a Nac Mac Feegle. I think he's Big Yan.

I made him out of polymer clay, a hanger, a marshmallow toaster, some cowrie shells, some leather thong, a safety pin and a small plaid shirt that neither of my kids seemed interested in wearing.

Buddy applied the shells.

We're very, very proud.

Monday, January 28, 2008


It was nearly 1 a.m. when I came home from poker night and went into the bedroom to put myself to bed. I heard a low Wroaowwwww and looked to my open closet door, where Sam, our oldest cat, was creeping out. His knees and elbows were splayed, and, even as he inched forward at a glacial pace, he still managed to stagger. Every few seconds, he’d moan again. He made it across the room, to the bathroom door, then hunkered, and wroaolled. I filled up a container with water, which he ignored, got a fuzzy sweater I never planned on wearing again, and wrapped it around him, then lay down on the floor and pet him. He stopped moaning, and started to purr. Finally, convinced he was as comfortable as he was going to be, and that he wasn’t going to die immediately, I told him he was a great kitty, that it was okay if he needed to go, and I went to bed, troubled.

When I first met Sam, nearly ten years ago, he was already an elder statesman in a house improbably full of cats. Between my future husband and his twin brother, their shabby townhouse had five cats, two lizards, a parakeet and, ultimately, a husky. Sam and Little Boy were the oldest, Clyde was the Cat in Charge, and the two females, Jiggy and Void, kept out of the way.

You couldn’t help but like Sam, a sturdy fellow with shiny grey fur and a white nose and socks. He appreciated a companionable pat, without Little Boy’s pushy lap-insinuation. His meow was a manly thing, atonal and loud. And he had a very odd habit, despite having been fixed, of stealing sweaters and having intense relationships with them. Generally in front of the TV when guests were over.

When HWLHiJ and I moved in together, Sam, Jiggy, and Kita the husky came along and failed to team up with Grace, my grey tiger stray. Sam and Jiggy claimed the upstairs of our tiny house, and Grace and Kita took the downstairs. HWLHiJ installed a fleecy kitty window-seat in our bedroom, where Sam would while away sunny afternoons, curled up in a rumbly grey ball.

If HWLHiJ said “Blblblbblbrrrtt!” Sam would often come and head-butt a hand for a scratch. He was a chin-and-ears man. Good cats usually are.

After Buddy was born, we moved to a real house. The move killed Jiggy, riddled with tumors. That was the first time HWLHiJ had lost a pet of his own, and he took it hard. By this time, Jiggy’s littermates, Clyde and Void were already gone, and their father Little Boy went soon after. What those cats had in personality, they lacked in good genes.

Sam and Grace never had much to say to each other, but Sam was a mellow chap, and he never bothered his feather-brained housemate. When Opal, the great Dane, came to live with us a few years later, Sam and Grace both assessed the situation briefly, said “Fuck this,” and moved outside.

HWLHiJ had found Sam as an adolescent kitty, abandoned in an apartment in Chicago during his early days at Loyola. We’ve never been entirely sure how old he was, as a result, but he was definitely retirement age, well into his teens, when he moved outside. He did well, though. Brighter than Grace by a country mile, he avoided scraps with the local strays, and stayed close enough to home to never be bothered by the coyotes that live in the greenbelt. If you needed him, you could generally find him under the enormous hosta that hid our electric meter on the side of the house.

He got a little leaner, his knees were clearly getting arthritic. Periodically he’d get an infection in one eye – easily cleared up with a brief session of half-hearted struggle and the application of eye-drops. He made friends with our Russian neighbors, and was always up for a pat on the head and a bit of conversation. We got Maui, an immense indoor cat with a personality like a football field, and then the Bear came along, and all was well for awhile.

We made Sam and Grace come in this winter, when it started getting bitter cold. We’ve been worrying about Sam for awhile – he hid in our bedroom, peed in the bathtub, and started drinking water way too much.

He was alive Saturday morning, having forsaken the sweater for a space under the edge of the bed. I had to take Kita in to the vet to get her stitches out, so I showed Sam to HWLHiJ. Sam was alive, but not interested in opening his eyes or purring.

We had a conversation and made a decision. HWLHiJ speculated that he might die from the stress of the car ride. I, tasked with the terrible errand, kind of hoped he would. He didn’t, and a gaggle of kids in the waiting room crowded around to pet Kita, our canine fashion model. They asked about Sam, and I told them gently that he was old and sick, and that he’d appreciate being left alone, and they were very nice about it. I was glad they left before we did.

The vet checked him out, probably because she’s supposed to anyway. She told me he weighed seven pounds (a third of his normal weight) and was barely breathing, and that we had definitely made the right decision. She took him away for way too long to put in a catheter for administering the medicine, then came back with him wrapped in a towel. She had a white box with beveled edges. She turned out the exam room lights and flicked on the X-ray lamp, which I thought was corny, but she was trying so hard to make things okay for me that I didn’t say a word.

Kita, already relieved of her tummy staples, lay patiently by the door. I imagine she understood. She was very good.

I held Sam in my lap, he was already limp with a sad sort of exhaustion. The vet pushed the plunger slowly on a hypodermic full of clear pink liquid. As the last of the anesthetic went in, Sam’s nose came down gently on my hand.

We buried him under the electric meter, and I think HWLHiJ is going to be okay. When he told his twin brother about it, the response was, in our minds, exactly the right thing to say:

“So, how are your sweaters taking the news?”

In our house, animals are people, and they add much more than fur, excreta and dander to the fun of our lives. Sam was a fine cat, and he is missed.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

But I didn't have to go racing out to the store to buy bread...

It... er... slushed on Thursday. Big Urban School District (where I work, see) chickened out and canceled school. However, the Catholic schools did not, so I woke Buddy up ("I got good news and bad news, Bud. The good news is, it snowed! Now, as for the bad news..." -- I know, I know, Mother of the Year is in the bag, I can just smell it!) and drove us both into town.

So, things about that which suck: a) Buddy and I didn't get a day off and b) the make-up day for the slush day is the one (1) workday available for the rest of the year where we can do teacher training.

Now, I can understand the notion that less teacher workdays = more days with kids in their seats getting educated, but come on! Secondary teachers are truculent at best when it comes to showing up to workshops on a day when they've got nothing else to do. Now I have to figure out how to get them to come after school (at 2:30! That's practically suppertime, people!) to learn what they need to learn and get the rest of their professional development credits. Not to mention to get a good 'nother couple of hundred books distributed to them. Oy, Eddie Vedder.

The great bread experiment continues. I made up sourdough starter on Friday night for pancakes on Saturday morning. The pancakes were unbelievable (I honestly don't understand why you'd attempt to ingest any other kind). I had plenty of starter left, and there are sourdough bread recipes in The Tassajara Bread Book that call for the exact same starter. So I used it and kneaded it and left it in a nice little ball in a towel-covered bowl, and came back an hour later to a lump. Dunno what happened, but the little yeastie-beasties were not playing. Not so much as a burp.

Not one to waste a good sodden lump of goo, I made flatbread. Which is fine, except... well... it's flat. And I have no idea what to do with it. So I bagged it up and tossed it in the freezer with the idea that, should the Apocalypse come, or possibly Passover, that's one meal taken care of.

Today I attempted focaccia. Now that's the dream: fresh, slightly greasy, pungent focaccia made by my own two hands. And I had sworn to make this weekend's baking theme "More Yeast!" which went well with the focaccia recipe calling for three whole packets of the stuff.

Siiigggghhhh. It's good. It has rosemary in and a little salt on the crust (and the crust is delightfully crispy), but I cut the loaf open, bracing myself for clouds of steam to puff from dime-sized sponge-holes.

Yeah. No holes. No puffs. It doesn't even slice very well, just sort of... crumbles. I'm truly, truly at a loss. Maybe I don't love my yeast enough after all.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

And excuse to write "gobbed with gobbets of gluey ecru crud"...

It's Sunday again. My hair should be washed, my floors should be vacuumed, my laundry should be fluffy, folded, and put away.

Instead, my kitchen is coated with a light dusting of flour (as is myself) except for the parts that are gobbed with gobbets of gluey ecru crud.

I'm learning how to bake bread.

Item the first re: baking bread: it takes a really long time. Hence the horrible abuse of Sundays. Still, a girl's got to get good at something, right? I'm going to get good at bread.

I blame France completely. In France I learned to like all sorts of offensive things, like stinky, squishy cheeses that were probably still alive, fresh fish that came out of the oven looking utterly like a fish, and Jeunet and Claro movies, but the real lesson was in the bread.

So inculcated was I upon arrival with the view that bread should be rectangular and pre-sliced, that I hunted the aisles of Monoprix and came home more than once with what looked like proper bread, but turned out to be cunningly packaged Melba toast.

Eventually I got the hang of things, and learned the special joy that comes of hitting the boulangerie just after the loaves come out of the oven, and being obliged to purchase two because you're walking back to your apartment with this warm weight in your palm and this delicious scent wafting into your nostrils, and you'll find yourself in your kitchen with a small piece of crust and some flaky crumbs on your lower lip. So: one loaf is for dinner, and the other is for the walk home.

My boyfriend at the time and I would make a meal out of a good-sized loaf: bread and Boursin for the hors-d'oeuvres, bread and hard salami and swiss for the entree, and bread and Nutella for dessert.

I love good bread.

Good bread can be found easily enough, even in this cultural desert of a city -- I give full props especially to Nova Bakery, and not just because the lovely Serbian family that owns it employed HWLHiJ as a tutor last year. We used to live practically around the corner from them, but have since decided that some things, even good bread, are not worth so many rats in the walls, and have moved on to more post-Diluvian housing. Sadly, housing is far away from bakery. And it's possible to get a decent loaf at the local Harris Teeter, but sometimes one needs that arm and that leg. Anyway, I decided to learn how to bake bread. It's a craft. One should know a craft.

I'll tell you what: villanelles are easier. Spelling "Diluvian" is easier. Moving back into that rat-infested house on Eastway is easier than baking a good loaf of bread.

HWLHiJ helped matters greatly by purchasing self a very, very, very nice mixer. Alton Brown has this mixer, is all I'm saying. Mom helped further by buying self The Kata... Kala... fuck, I have to go get something... oh my, I was way off... The Tassajara Bread Book. It is considered the Bible for serious bread-makers. Granted, it's written by the granoliest hippie-assed motherfucker I've ever encountered, and he gets a little uncomfortably intimate on the degree to which one should cosset and love one's yeast, but it too has furthered my progress along the path to bread enlightenment.

Because enlightenment, so to speak, is actually the issue. I followed Alton Brown's sourdough bread recipe on my first attempt and got a doorstop. I figured I'd done the kneading all wrong and took a scientific approach on the following two Sundays: the first kneading significantly less, the next kneading significantly more. Two more damn doorstops. Then came the mixer and the book, and last Sunday was my first outing with both.

You know you have an awesome mixer when you turn the dial to "pulse," dough flies all over the kitchen, and all you can think is Wheeeee! Let's do that AGAIN! HWLHiJ actually had to make me go settle down. I still haven't taken that baby past 4 on the dial. I wanna get some egg whites in there and see what that bitch can really do.

Anyway, the attempt turned out a lot better than the previous efforts in the taste department (I still have some in the fridge actually, and it's still soft and muy delicioso) and it wasn't quite doorstop material, but it was still lacking the lovely holes of yeasty steam that I so yearn for. This week was even better (got better flour) but still not the pinnacle of perfection. Next week: more yeast! It's a million-to-one chance, but it just might work!

Honestly, I don't care. Half my brain has grown tired of the extra poundage I'm carting around and has sworn off glutens and all beverages except water. Of course the other, shall we say weightier, half of my brain is sucking down an egg-nog latte and saying, bugger that for a game of soldiers, we haven't even mastered ciabatta yet.

In other words, it's the journey, not the destination. Now I have to go get the chisel and start cleaning up the kitchen. And get started on the friggin' laundry.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fiddly bits [not necessarily in order of importance]...

Bought and watched "Stardust." I did not love it to anywhere near the degree that I loved "Beowulf." He Who Looks Hot in Jeans wandered in and watched most of it and didn't hate it anywhere near to the degree that he hated Beowulf.

Stardust, while not my favorite of the Gaiman oeuvre, is a novel that works (and may be a graphic novel that works as well, I'm waiting for an order of "fer funzies" books I did at work to come in and I included the original version in said order, as well as Coraline and The Wee Free Men and Dave Barry Slept Here and a "Get Fuzzy" anthology and 65 similar items because I am JUST THAT AWESOME) but the changes made to the script made no sense to me. It wasn't that complicated of a story line, and I think the changes were made in the interest of Cinematic Simplification -- not, in and of itself, a Bad Thing -- but I didn't see how they simplified.

The actors were excellent choices (well, actually, I'd say DeNiro was a strategically wise choice, and leave that one there) and the imagery was good -- where the story line coincided with the actual novel I was completely satisfied -- but it was a mere confection to Beowulf's meal.


My Grandfather, who just turned, I think, 99, is on the downswing. He went into the hospital right before Christmas with congestive heart failure and, dammit, his heart was the one part of his body (other than his mind) that was still working. Not so much anymore, and this has exacerbated other problems that were once merely intolerable but now are turning deadly. He's always been a robust, active man, and for him to linger in an invalid state much longer is not the best solution. So...


Our Main Dog, a Siberian Husky of somewhat advanced years (she is a Lady, so I will not specify), was having a very odd heat cycle, not at all how it normally goes. I called the vet and described the issues, and was pretty much allowed an appointment on suffrance, despite my being very, very silly. Of course, when the doctor looked at her, he sent her off immediately for emergency surgery. Turns out she could have dropped dead at any time while we stood around with our head on one side wondering if we should be worried about these symptoms.

We are now $1200 poorer (and this on top of breast cancer surgery for her a little over a month ago, which wasn't cheap either) but very glad that our dog is not dead. Mom was kind enough to point out that this kind of expenditure "... is a sad example of why having five animals (and two kids) is not such a good idea. " Her dad is dying, so I will give her a pass. This time. I love how the grandchildren are added as an afterthought.


Today Buddy did every mom's favorite trick of stopping in the middle of the Bi-Lo parking lot and crouching down over a puddle in the middle of the traffic lane.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?!!!" I screeched, a' la June Cleaver.

"I was baptizing my coins," he replied.


I got Legends II in hardback for $4.95 from the local used book store. Like finding a diamond ring in the dollar bin, if you ask me. I'm not even halfway through, but George R. R. Martin's "The Sworn Sword" was already worth every penny. Terry Pratchett's contribution to the original Legends, "The Sea and Little Fishes" is the entire reason that I now own (but two) every Discworld book ever written, and is also one of my Favorite Short Stories EVER in its own right.

Speaking of Martin, if you are a fan and haven't dropped by his site lately, he has updated his "Ice and Fire Update" (think: next year's Christmas present) and added a new chapter to the "Ice and Fire Sample."