Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mmm, Sweet Summer

Took a little walk down the bike trail after work last night, and came home with this bounty! That's about four cups, which isn't bad considering.

They were hard won, though. By the pricking of my thumbs...

I ended up making a sort of cobbler with them, and ate some warm with cream drizzled on top. Oh, luxurious summer!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Around Town: Finders Keepers

Vacation week continues! After several seaside adventures, yesterday I stayed closer to home. I went to one of my favorite coffee places (Mud Bay Coffee Roasters) to do some catching up on my journal, met a friend for a chocolate malt at Grandpa's Soda Fountain, and also wandered through one of my favorite Olympia businesses: Finders Keepers, a really interesting antique and collectibles store, with all sorts of nooks and crannies. It's made up of a whole bunch of different vendors, all with different focuses. Makes for a fascinating stroll, even if I don't end up buying much.

Quite a few typewriters this time, though pricey ones and nothing that totally grabbed me.

Remington Monarch

Classic 12
Classic 12

Corona in a dark back room--hard to photograph

Buried Treasure
This poor beauty was practically buried!

JC Penney Typewriter
This one appeals to me. Yes, it's just a Classic 12 (?) in a different suit, but a pretty snazzy suit. It's like an old car...

One vendor apparently has a thing for Siamese cats (as do I...)

There are always some quirky novelty items.I should have put something with this eraser for scale. It's HUGE--maybe eight inches long? Just plain goofy, but it made me smile.
Giant Eraser

This, I don't even...
Vibra Pillow

Old Speed Ball sets, plus Eagle pencil leads...
Nibs and Leads

They also had stacks of variations on the old Chief tablets (and copycats).
Big Chief Tablet

This made me think of a certain Tacoma area typecaster...
Slide Rule How-To

Fun trip, overall! And I didn't come away empty handed. I bought this plain little Lane cedar box. My Mom had one just like it (they must have made many thousands of them, I'd guess), and it's nothing fancy...but I love the smell of a cedar box!


Also, as it turns out, it's a perfect fit for pencils!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Other Ports of View

Monday at Ocean Shores was such a good day, I decided to explore another Washington State beach yesterday. It turns out the state has an awful lot of coast line. Who knew? After a bit of dithering over where to go, I drove out to the Long Beach peninsula and did a little sightseeing and wandering. I grabbed a lemon pastry at the bakery in downtown Long Beach and then went down to the beach.

It wasn't the gorgeous weather we had Monday. The sky was silver and lead, and the water more dark green and black than blue. Not truly stormy, but definitely heavier than earlier in the week, and the wind was, as the poem goes, like a whetted knife. It was interesting to see how the colors and shapes of the sky and water changed with the weather. And again, I mostly had the farther reaches to myself.

I wanted to take pictures, of course, but as soon as I turned on my little Canon, it displayed three of the saddest words in the English tongue: "No memory card." And (this is funny in a twisted sort of way) when, as a compromise, I figured I could at least take a few cell phone pictures, I couldn't see the screen in the bright outdoor lighting, so I kinda just fumbled with it until it made the appropriate clicking noises. Turns out in my fumbling, I'd switched it to the forward facing camera, so all of my photos are some variation on Self Portrait With Hat. Guess I'll just have to be satisfied with memories!

The rain kicked in and the wind increased after I'd been out there awhile, and so I headed back in. I stopped for a late lunch of fish and chips and iced tea at Lost Roo on the way out of town. (Thank you, Kindle, for making dining alone a bit less awkward. It's a skill I have not yet mastered.)

Now that I know how to get there and what's what, I will definitely have to visit Long Beach again, preferably with a functioning camera! I didn't see the lighthouses there, for one!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Day at the Beach


Took this week off to do some wandering and relaxing, as I did about this time last year. Started off the week yesterday with a trip out to Ocean Shores, WA. The last time I went there, my younger brother and sister were visiting, and the GPS led us to the middle of parking lot at the local high school, and I got one of the worst migraines I've ever had and couldn't think well enough to get us to the beach (approximately twenty feet away)(OK, slight exaggeration, but only slight) and I did a lot of getting mad at my brother and sister for expecting me to take the big sister role and be In Charge and it just wasn't my most shining moment or the best day ever.

A few driftwood logs made a nice place to stop for a picnic lunch.

Yesterday...was solitary, but relaxing. I did learn that apparently Android GPS cannot be relied upon to get to Ocean Shores. The freebie Google Maps lady dumped me repeatedly, and though I did stop once to sweet-talk her into continuing to provide guidance, she turned her back on me again a few miles down the road. Fine, be that way, see if I care. She also pronounces "Rainier" as "Rain-yay" and Port Angeles as "Port Angles," which disturbs me, especially considering she knows how to say "Puyallup." Makes me wonder if she's mispronouncing just to annoy me.

I love all the different patterns the water leaves behind on the sand!

It being a weekday and not a particularly hot day, the beach was mostly empty. Once I got a few dozen yards beyond the access point, I pretty much had the sand to myself, except for about a bazillion seagulls. I believe they must nest here--there were *scads* of them, many of which didn't look entirely mature. Made me realize I've not really seen baby seagulls. There are quite a lot of gulls in Olympia: they wander the parking lot at work sometimes in unruly mobs, or fight the unruly mobs of crows in a bizarre bird gang warfare, but they all seem to be more or less adults.

Ripples and Gulls

I walked quite a long way, until I was tired and highly relaxed, and then walked back. Oh, I wish I could bring that *sound* back with me! That's what gets me the most about the ocean: the sound of the surf.


When I got back to my parking spot, I stopped long enough to buy an ice cream cone at a shop by the parking area, and then headed home. I did take a quick break in Aberdeen on the way back. They have a Staples *right next* to a Goodwill there. That's just unfair. Got a nice EMI recording of Mendelssohn's "Italian" symphony. I was good and didn't spend money at Staples, though I did wander the aisles a bit.

Today is my second day off, and I've accomplished considerably less. Mostly have been reading and scribbling and getting locked in pointless overanalyzing. For example, made a cup of Earl Grey tea, which I remember someone (Dad?) referring to as "perfumey," and started thinking about that word and how it really could mean just about anything considering how many types of perfume there are, and this bugged me, so I sat down to write a rant on the subject just to get it out of my system, and then I started looking up "perfumey" in various dictionaries, which were all very vague, which seems like a cop-out on the part of dictionary makers, but on the other hand, if they weren't vague, then they'd be defining "perfumey" based on their own life experience and that would be wrong.

So...yeah, it's after lunch time, and I'm just sittin' here sipping lukewarm Earl Grey. And thinking back on yesterday.

Sky and Water
I like the way the water, land and sky all blend together here...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Snake in the...Huh?

Garter Snake

Not that I'm setting out to do a series on pesky critters...but here's another tale. Some of you have heard it before, but I was recently reminded of the circumstances, so I'm agonna tell it again.

My last job before I hitched up the wagon (read: mini-van full of books, instruments, and cats) to head out west (read: Fort Collins, Colorado) was as a computer support tech for a small state college nestled in the Vermont hills. We maintained the computer labs, set up PCs for faculty and staff, and provided helpdesk support for students and employees alike. It was a fun job, for the most part. We certainly kept busy, and...well, let's just say academia's reputation for eccentricity isn't entirely unearned, or at least it wasn't there. Quite a few interesting characters and situations.

The campus itself is a hodgepodge of some pretty distinct "characters" as well, architecturally speaking. The core of the main building was originally the estate of the first president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and is classic brick (and as I recall, was rumored to be haunted, at least in parts, by a certain past college president). Other buildings were spliced to it over the years: for example, a theater, a student center, and a concrete and glass monstrosity (my opinion only) of a "modern" library, built in the 70s. It includes an outdoor staircase made up of steps too short (in height) and too deep for anyone to maneuver without looking like a drunken gimp.

The campus also encompasses a few old farmhouses. The alumni relations department was--at least when I was there--situated in one such house: desk and printers and file cabinets packed in willy nilly through what had once been foyer, dining room, etc. Not exactly ideal modern office space, but it had its cozy charms. They did have to get a little creative when it came to stringing network and power cables around, especially since for the most part the furniture wasn't made for computers either, but they made it work.

One day I was on helpdesk duty, and a call came in from one of the alumni relations gals. They were trying to hook up speakers to one of their computers in order to watch a training video, but couldn't get any sound to come out. I ran through your usual basic troubleshooting, but to no avail. So I opened a ticket and headed up for a first-hand look. (Ah, the luxury of doing on-site support!)

When I got up to the house, I first did what any self-respecting tech would do: went to check if the speakers were actually plugged in correctly. I traced the cable down into a messy wad beneath the desk and was giving it some gentle tugs to help figure out where it was going when...one of the other cables moved. And not because I'd pulled it. And then it put out a bright-eyed little head and flicked a forked tongue at me.

Now...I realize garter snakes are helpful critters and all that. I realize they aren't exactly major threats. When I was a kid, we'd actually go off and search for garter snakes on purpose, turning over logs and seeking out the places they liked to sun themselves. We were pretty good at catching them, holding them right behind the head so they couldn't flick around and bite. Thus safely restrained, it was fascinating to feel the softness of their back scales, their armored underbellies. (I'm sure this was much more enjoyable for us than for the snakes.) I did get bitten a few times, but the bites were rarely worse than a needle stick--albeit a needle stick that Completely Freaked Mom Out.

Point is, they didn't really alarm me as a kid. However, somewhere along the line a sort of latent instinct (irrational but uncontrollable) activated itself, and now...the adrenaline kicks in before my brain can even fully identify "snake!!!" So when the "cable" revealed its true identity, I let out something between a whimper and a yelp and in about two seconds flat had propelled myself up onto the nearest chair.

Apparently this instinctual reaction to snakes isn't an isolated case. When I chair jumped, heads came up throughout the front rooms, and the instant I stammeringly made known the situation, I had company atop the furniture. A conference ensued. "You catch it and throw it out." "No, you do it." Ultimately one of us called someone from maintenance to come deal with the problem, and we did the best we could until his arrival.

This, I could mention, is something never accounted for in books. In fairy tales, when the princess is awaiting rescue from the dragon, the focus of the story is always on the action: the prince riding across league after league of hostile wasteland as he comes to her aid. No one ever details the awkward small talk of the rescuees and how they handled the tension of waiting. Someone should provide more guidance, srsly.

But eventually our prince arrived, in the form of a bemused middle-aged maintenance guy. He retrieved the snake (all scant 12 inches of it) and threw it outside.

And there was much rejoicing.

And then I fixed the sound issue (a driver or some such thing, I believe), and headed back to the office, where (it being a small and gossip-prone campus) news of my exploits had already spread. You'd think I'd get some credit for doing my duty in hazardous circumstances, but noooo. For the rest of my time there, I could count on the occasional not-quite-innocently-asked, "So, seen any snakes lately?" *shudder*

On the other hand, I imagine it was an even more alarming day for the snake...

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

These are a few of my favorite pencils

A bit ago, Rhodia Drive put out a call for photos of your favorite pencil. Of course I want to participate. But picking favorites is hard! I ended up taking this photo instead: a handful of pencils I've been particularly enjoying. Not sure if it'll qualify or not! I figured I'd share it here as well.

(Some of) My Favorite Pencils
Left to right:
General's Cedar Pointe, Pentel Clic Eraser, Pentel Sharp Kerry, General's Semi-Hex, Palomino HB, Forest Choice HB, and a Musgrave Test Scoring 100 across the bottom.

● The first pencil that popped into my head when considering favorites was the Musgrave Test Scoring 100: that silver pencil at the bottom of the photo. I love these. They may not be perfect, but every time I pick one up, my mind gives a little contented sigh. If I'm ever a famous eccentric writer, these are the pencils people who want to be just like LFP should covet and imbue with magical powers.

● The Pentel Sharp Kerry would have to be my favorite mechanical pencil. It makes for a great pocket or purse pencil since it has a cap. Mine takes 0.5mm leads, which is skinny...but means I can fit long lists or notes on the index cards I carry with me.

● It doesn't really have an eraser, so one of the Pentel Clic erasers accompanies it in my purse pocket.

● The General's Semi-Hex is just a superb all-arounder. Nothing really quirky about it: it's a very high quality classic HB pencil.

● The General's Cedar Pointe is a bit rougher than the Semi-Hex in more ways than one. The lead seems a bit harder than most HBs (which makes it pretty smear-resistant), but can on occasion be a little scratchy. Some days I like that more than others. I love the unfinished cedar, and the way it changes color with time and use. These are so ruggedly handsome they make me a little swoony. They're also reassuringly grippy.

● The Forest Choice HB is also a natural beauty, but with a light seal over the wood so the color remains consistent and they have a more standard smooth feel. These are ubiquitous around my writing spots: early on I bought a HUGE box of them ('cause I like 'em), so I don't feel like I need to ration them. There are Forest Choice pencils in my pencil cups at home and at work, in my carry-around pencil case, by my music stand, in my purse.... They're another reliable all-rounder, they're attractive, and they smell great.

● I feel like the poor Palomino has been a bit overshadowed by its Blackwing brethren. Which is sad, really. These may not get the flashy marketing (as much, anyway), but they are beautiful pencils, nicely finished and smooth writing. One of these days I want to try some 2Bs. Those I currently have are HB.

Although not in the photo, I *could* give honorable mention to serveral others. A few examples: I like Ticonderogas (the Chinese ones), USA Gold, General's Test Scoring 580s, Golden Bears, Helix Oxfords, and yes, the Palomino Blackwing 602s (haven't tried the other flavors), though maybe not enough to justify the price and the fact that the oversized ferrule starts getting in the way when the pencil gets short.

What are your favorites?

Monday, August 05, 2013

Other Stuff I Like: Klean Kanteen 16 oz. Insulated

Klean Kanteen Full

I realize this is out of my usual scope, but caffeine addiction seems to go side-by-side with writing material obsession, no? So here we are.

Not long after the new year, I acquired an insulated 16 oz. Klean Kanteen. This is a heavy-duty stainless steel double-walled vacuum insulated tumbler. Now that I've spent over six months putting it through the wringer, I feel qualified to share my experience.

NOTE: Keep in mind that this has been in (rough) daily use for pretty much that whole period, so this is not your usual pristine review model.

You can get these with a variety of different caps and lids. When I ordered mine, I opted for a "coffee set" that came with both a solid, leakproof loop cap and a sippy "cafe" cap.

Left: loop cap Right: cafe cap

Loop Cap Interior
The loop cap is lined with steel, so no plasticky flavors in your beverage. Any dust and gunk is my own, not Klean Kanteen provided.

I use both caps on a daily basis. Typically, I'll make my coffee in the morning and put on the loop cap for the journey to work, so I can toss the bottle around without worrying about spillage. I carry the cafe cap in my lunch bag and switch to that once I get to work, enabling me to sip without having to fiddle with the lid each time. Now...I realize there are fancy caps that have press and seal gadgets so you can sip and then close them. However, a) I am the queen of forgetting a dirty coffee cup somewhere on Friday and not getting around to cleaning it until later, and some of those cups require a mechanical engineering degree to disassemble for cleaning and reassemble, and b) the more parts there are, the more likely it is something will break or go missing. I love the simplicity of the Klean Kanteens.

Another note: if for any reason a cap wears out or gets lost, Klean Kanteen sells replacements.

As a bonus of sorts, the cafe cap resembles a certain Star Trek character. Thanks to Michael Clemens for the meme image made after my initial comment.

Speaking of cleaning, there's a reason for the Klean in Klean Kanteen. Everything about these is easy to get to and scrub. There are no hard corners--even on the cap threads--or places where crud can build up. A bottle brush and possibly an occasional vinegar and baking soda treatment is all you need to keep them sparkly.

Close-up of rounded threads

Disassembled Cafe Cap
The cafe cap also comes apart in two pieces to make it easier to clean.

Bonus feature: Although I didn't buy it for this purpose, I quickly discovered these fit in a standard bicycle bottle cage!

Kanteen on the Bike

Considering I've spent years trying to figure out convenient ways to bring coffee to work when on the bike, this makes me extremely happy.

So...summation of the pros:

1. Easy to clean.

2. Choice of lids (flexibility), which are easy to replace if lost or broken.

3. Fits in bike bottle cage.

4. Customer Service! The Klean Kanteen people obviously feel passionate about their products and stand behind them all the way. When I ordered my first Kanteen, I was a little concerned to discover it made a light rattling noise if shaken (which I typically do to check coffee level, for those wondering why I'd be shaking my cup). I wasn't sure what this meant, so I wrote to their customer service. I got a rapid and friendly response explaining the possible causes, and offering a replacement if I felt it warranted. I ended up accepting the replacement, if only for my own peace of mind. A few photos later, they let me know the new Kanteen was in the mail, and that I could keep the original for use or recycling. (It ended up functioning OK. This is it, in fact, so now I have two.) The experience left me pretty stunned, to be honest. That level of service is hard to come by these days.

Cons (there had to be a few):

1. I would recommend that those who use their Klean Kanteens in the bottle cage either opt for one of the brushed stainless steel models (no paint) or a less scratchy bottle cage. My poor Kanteen has developed rather more "character" than perhaps it deserves.

Scratches, paint chips, my fault...but something to be aware of.

2. The small top diameter can be an issue. It is one of the things which makes it fit so beautifully in a bottle cage, but it does mean your average tea basket won't fit, so if you (like me) like to brew from loose-leaf tea leaves now and again, you may find yourself frustrated. You also can't use an Aeropress directly into it. The Melitta cone, #2 sized version (my usual brewing method) works fine, however.

3. They're pretty pricey compared to the competition, though you *can* find sales here and there.

4. One other minor possible quibble: although coffee remains tastily temperatured until close to lunchtime, I would say overall this doesn't keep things hot and cold *quite* as long as Thermos containers. When I cooled both my old Thermos tumbler and the Kanteen with tap water and then added the same number of ice cubes to each, put the lid on them, and left overnight, the ice cubes in the Kanteen were a little smaller come morning. I don't have detailed measurements of the difference, which likely wouldn't affect normal usage, but I suppose if you spend time out in the cold or heat in the field, it's worth consideration.

Completely unsolicited, no financial interest and all that. I just think these are great products deserving of praise! I hope to add a plain, single-walled water bottle Kanteen to my arsenal at some point.

Specs (per manufacturer's site):
Capacity: 16 fluid ounces (473 ml)
Weight: 8.75 ounces (w/o cap)
Size: 7.25" H (w/o cap) x 2.9375" W
Opening diameter: 2.125” (54 mm)
18/8 food-grade stainless steel

Product page on manufacturer's website: http://www.kleankanteen.com/products/insulated/klean-kanteen-insulated-16oz.php

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Most Dangerous Time of the Year, 2013 Edition

Staples Haul
This, my friends, is why I should not be allowed to roam Staples unsupervised, especially at back to school time. In my defense, at least some of it was on sale, or even clearance. The pink Signo pens were 50 cents apiece, for example. And I resisted the half-gross container of Ticonderogas.

Staedtler Norica Pencils
These were kinda sorta what I went in for. Pencil Revolution just gave them a pretty positive review, and I find them very attractive to boot. (Go look at the photos on Pencil Revolution, not mine!) They were on sale for five dollars for 36 pencils, plus the two bonus erasers, so...how could I resist?

Staedtler Woodless Pencils
These were purely a curiosity buy. I've seen all-graphite pencils in art stores, but never in an office supply store with the regular pencils. And besides, the packaging is all shiny and stuff... I may do a bit of a review on these at some point, since I've not seen much about them on the web previously. Really curious if they do last longer.

2013 Composition Books
And I pretty much always stock up on composition books this time of year, the more when I can find them with good stiff covers and decent paper--harder and harder these days. I went through all of them looking for Made in Brazil notebooks, and took a gamble on a few of the Made in Egypt ones. You'd think Egypt would know paper, right? We'll see.

Off to play with the new toys!