Thursday, September 11, 2014

Arrogant, Elegant, Smart?

I've been trying to get a Throwback Thursday post up most weeks, but this week, I'm too preoccupied about the future to successfully contemplate the past.

This coming Saturday, I'm signed up for a real, honest-to-goodness writer's conference. It's a fairly small one in a fairly small town, and is more lecture than critique. Still, I'm nervous. I feel like an impostor. I feel like if I'm not careful, someone will ask me a question a Real Writer would know the answer to, and I'll be exposed as a fraud. A shocked silence will fall, and I'll be cast into the outer darkness to wail and gnash my teeth.

Something like that.

Or at the very least, I'm not sure how to introduce myself if--God forbid--anyone asks me to do so.

• Do I admit to writing all my life, to many years of short stories and essays and even completed novel-length works, and say I'm there to learn more about editing and marketing? Or is that arrogant?

• Do I act aloof and blase: say I've always been kind of curious about having a go at writing and that I'm just there out of curiosity?

• Or do I resort to my common role in music circles: playing the total beginner, so I have excuses for any shortcomings, but limiting myself because I'm basically saying "Don't take me seriously"?

As I once again pondered these questions this morning, this song (performed by Danny Kaye in The Inspector General) popped into my head. Doesn't really address my conundrum, but it makes me smile.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Goodwill Score Teaser: Berol Mirado pencils

Went to Goodwill today and was pawing through the baskets of office supplies like I always do, when *this* turned up:

That's three boxes of pencils, a full dozen in each. And a pencil I've wanted to try for a long time. And for less than a dollar a dozen. I bought these so fast...

The erasers are pretty well cooked, of course, and not much good. The pencils themselves are perfect. And beautiful things they are, IMO.

I particularly like the shiny brass and red ferrules. (Yes, there's a little corrosion, but not too bad.) The ferrules on the newer Papermate Mirados (shown here on a Black Warrior) are much subdued in comparison.

Really looking forward to trying these, once I get up the nerve to actually sharpen one. And I'll hopefully do a little review of sorts once I do.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Update Just to Update, 1st Week of Sept 2014 Edition

1. I'm about a third of the way into Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. How I missed this one until now, I have no idea. It's a peculiar book: takes place in the early 1800s in an alternate England where magic still exists, though only two "practical" magicians remain, other magicians being merely "theoretical," reading up on the history and theory without actually doing any magic. At the beginning of the book, actually performing magic is considered a bit improper, though thrilling.
Anyway, I'm very much enjoying it so far. If you know the end, don't tell me!

2. Today I'm listening to Hank Williams over and over. A friend made mention of the song "I Saw the Light," and his version is the one that plays in my head as soon as I see those words. Listening to him is bittersweet now: this is music I listened to as a kid until every word is part of me...but now that I'm more familiar with the hard, short life he led, I can't help hearing double-meanings in so many of these songs, and it tears at my heart. Love his voice, though.

3. Tomorrow I'm going to do something that scares me, rather. I've been a regular blood donor for several years now, but yesterday I got a call/plea from the Puget Sound Blood Center asking me to consider donating platelets. This requires being hooked to a machine for several hours: blood goes to a cell separating machine that collects platelets, and then red blood cells are returned. This is WAY, WAY creepier than merely bleeding into a bag. I'm a pro at bleeding into a bag at this point. I have a 2 gallon pin to prove it. But a) the nice blood center lady said they're at "emergency" levels, and b) I accidentally totally missed my last appointment to donate, so I have guilt. we go. Maybe I can include it in a story someday.

Added bonus: totally legit excuse to sit on my rear reading a book for several hours on Saturday.

4. I appear to have been conclusively adopted by a desk, whether I like it or not. It's a sturdy but unattractive thing that used to be a nurse's station at a gynecology/urology practice, just to add to its charm. (Everybody, CRINGE!) I got it for free when I helped some of the folks there move to a new building.

In a lot of ways, it's an ideal desk for me: it has a file drawer plus another drawer for junk, a pull out work-surface for times when I need more paper space, a big built-in space for organizing documents, plenty of book space up above. However, the lamp on the underside broke, so it's dark. Also it's ugly. And did I mention ugly? I thought to maybe sell it and eventually replace with something slightly more of my own choice, but no bites. Beyond conning friends into helping me haul it to Goodwill, I seem to be stuck with it. And I'm beginning to think I'm not meant to get rid of it. It seems to be My Destiny.

So I guess I'm going to try to find a new LED light to mount on the underside of the hutch bit. And maybe I can pretty it up. Somehow. Maybe I can cover it in decorative duct tape. That would go along with my milk crate and garage sale rejects motif.

5. I've been posting a bit more poetry and such over on my reflections-and-thoughts blog, Thorns and Blossoms. Some of it's a repeat of what I've posted here, but not all, so check it out if you've a mind to.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Hardy Boys and the Search for the Squeaky Baritone

Cheating today: this post originally went a few Augusts ago, but I'm stealing it because I don't have time to write a new one this week.
The Davies Memorial Library in the town where I grew up was and remains a sort of time capsule. It resides in the space above the town offices and post office, the top floor in a smallish old building with creaky wood floors. Most of the time the big green wooden front door that brings you directly into the library is locked, so instead you go in by way of the more or less modernized offices downstairs, past the sounds of printers and phones and people talking, and then up, up into a hushed and dusty space where the years have stopped in their tracks. It smells like fragrant old wood, like an old violin case, and the mustiness of old books. Huge old paneled windows let in slanted sunlight, the disturbed dust floating in the light, making the rays seem like a physical thing. In the main room, there is a fireplace and off-limits horsehair stuffed furniture, and a glass case filled with antiquities. An iron spiral staircase disappears into what I now guess is an attic; when I was little, I used to have nightmares about what was at the top of those stairs, behind the closed door.

Most of the children's section resides in a few built-in wooden bookcases against one wall, with stairs built beneath so even the shortest patrons can reach. There are some new books by now, I suppose, but at least when I was little, they mostly dated back years. Decades. While other kids were reading The Babysitters Club and Judy Blume and whatever else was popular in the late eighties and early nineties, we read boys' adventure stories from early in the century, and the Bobbsey Twins, the Happy Hollisters, L. Frank Baum, Thornton Burgess, Tom Swift, and the original Hardy Boys books: brown bound volumes with crackly yellowed pages. We'd collect a stack of books, and then Mom or I would write the titles and authors down carefully in the notebook on the desk. There were no punch cards or a full-time librarian or anything like that: the library works on an honor system, and you just write down a list of what you've got, and bring 'em back when you're done.

Although most of us were (and are!) voracious readers in our own right, Mom read many of these books aloud to us. She was a master of reading aloud: all the characters had unique voices, mannerisms; some had quirky accents. Her voice would rise in excitement at some points, or drop to a secretive near-whisper. She made those books come alive. We liked the slang in the Hardy Boys books, and repeated it ourselves. "Good night!" we'd exclaim. "Aww, nuts..." "Gee, that's swell!"

When we later came across the remade versions from the sixties and later, we were appalled and disgusted. In many cases, they shared nothing with the original books but the titles. They were tamer; more PC, I suppose, but not nearly as much fun.

After all these years, I've forgotten almost all details of the books. But there was one in particular I'd been wanting to find again at some point. I had the vague impression that there was diving involved in some way, but that's all. And one of the characters was a fellow named Mr. Perry. Mom gave him a high-pitched, rather querulous voice that stood out from all the others. And then...about halfway through the book, she read something he said, and then stopped short. She blinked, and then read slowly (I paraphrase, and probably confabulate), "he boomed in his hearty baritone voice." And then she cracked up. And we cracked up. Even the younger kids who may not have understood the discrepancy couldn't have helped laughing once Mom started. Her laughter was contagious: she'd laugh until she was breathless, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

I can't actually recall if she changed his voice or just left it--with the mismatched adjectives creeping in here and there, to our amusement. But it inadvertently turned a minor character and a not particularly spectacular book into a memorable one. When my little brother got an orange kitten at around that time, he instantly named it--Mr. Perry.

(As a side note, when Mr. Perry was a few months old, he went after a toad. Toads secrete a poison--it's about their only defense--and it made him foam at the mouth and otherwise sick. He was rushed to the vet, and in the process of examination he was discovered to be a she. Ben renamed her Peri Ozma, Ozma being of course after the princess in L. Frank Baum's Oz books. Meanwhile, many of the little kids got the impression that licking a toad could cause one to change sex. Oh dear....)

I know the Mr. Perry book was nothing special, but I've still been wanting to track it down. Every few years I'd wander around the internet hoping someone had a detailed enough synopsis that I'd be able to figure out it. And it has finally happened. Thanks to various wikis, I've identified it as The Secret Warning. Not only that, but there's a company reprinting the original series, so I can get a new copy. It's on my list. I don't expect much of it, reading it as an adult and without the circumstances surrounding the first reading. But at least I'll have the satisfaction of having solved a long-standing mystery.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Learning to Draw

Well, I did it: I ordered a book (some seem to believe it to be *the* book) on learning to draw: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards.

Years ago, Mom went through the early portion of this book with us kids, but I don't think I was more than ten or so at the time. It's been awhile. About all I remember is drawing birds, and even then, my younger brother (now a graphic design professional and an artist in fact) was so obviously so much better than me I hard a hard time even trying.

I don't really fancy myself an artist, but there are times when I wish I had the ability to sketch ideas visually as well as verbally. I'm also just curious to see what it does to the way I perceive the world around me, what details I notice and retain. Seeing more clearly is as much a benefit for writing as it is for drawing and painting.

I'm looking forward to this little adventure!

What about you? Do you ever draw or paint? What do you feel you get out of it? What do you like best? What do you find challenging or frustrating?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Desiccated

Here's how stupid-smart I was as a kid: at about the age of five, I remember finding a little package of silica gel beads.

I figured out how to get it open. Those little beads looked like candy, so I ate them, though they really didn't have any taste, which was disappointing.

I then paused to read the label, and noted the DO NOT EAT. (Pretty sure the package I found as a kid didn't have the confusing quotation marks.) I could read well enough to understand. So I took the package to Mom and explained what I'd just done.

I don't remember what she ended up doing. Just made me drink some extra fluids for the next little bit, I think. And probably laughed at me after I'd gone to bed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Slightly over-sunny shot of some of the things coming out of my garden these days: Anaheim peppers, yellow squash, alien spaceship squash (AKA patty pan), bell peppers, lemon cucumbers, and assorted tomatoes. Not pictured: about a zillion other tomatoes, eggplant.

I'm finally getting to the point where I need to start freezing or canning some of the tomatoes. It took a bit, because OH MAN I love tomatoes! I've been cooking a few to go with eggs in the morning, making tomato salads with nothing but tomato, a little sweet onion, salt and olive oil (LOTS of tomato salads), eating them plain, adding to sautéed vegetables at dinner. It's nice to finally have leftovers.

Tomato varieties definitely invited back to the party next year:

  • Sungold cherry tomatoes (in fact, I might need two, because I never seem to have enough--these are incredibly sweet and firm and flavorful!)
  • Cascade tomatoes, because they ripened before all else, have a nice compact bush, and have been crazy productive. Great salad tomatoes, these.

Tomato varieties which *may* come back:

  • Heinz paste tomatoes. They've been really productive, and the tomatoes are nicely meaty (not very seeded or juicy), which should work well for sauce...but I haven't tried yet.
  • Black Prince. These are cool looking, and really tasty...but they've also been very prone to cracking, which makes me sad.

Tomato variety to which I'll bid adieu:

  • Yellow pear. I really wanted to love these, but compared to the Sungolds, they're mushy and bland. The Sungolds are kind of mind-blowing, so it's not really a fair competition, but so it goes.

I need to decide what to do with all those peppers, too! It might be a good time to buy a bunch of tomatillos (or use up some greenish tomatoes) and make me a big pot o' something resembling chili verde.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Shiny New Word Machine

There's no way to show you how pretty this screen is, so instead of even trying, here's a lousy flash-ridden camera phone shot...

This week, after a research and shopping frenzy which rivaled that of my hypothetical toaster shopper, I purchased a new MacBook Pro Retina 13". Honestly, there's nothing wrong with the "old" mid-2010 MacBook Pro it replaces, but I've been trying to do more writing directly on the computer (traitorous, I know, but it's a skill I need to develop), and frequently this writing takes place away from home, so the light weight and superb battery life of the new models appealed. Also, my sister wants to buy my older one, so I had additional incentive to upgrade. Also, Apple just updated the MacBook Pro line with a minor processor spec bump and Best Buy had the previous generation discounted, plus I had a 10% off coupon, plus a friend had a student coupon she wasn't using.

So I jumped.

I went into all this more or less planning to buy a MacBook Air. The 11.6" model in particular is so, so very portable: not much bigger than an iPad + bluetooth keyboard (neither of which I have), easy to slip into a purse. But then I saw that high-density Retina screen--something no Air has as of this date. Most of the advertising rhetoric surrounding Retina seems to be aimed at photographers and other visual artists, but let me tell you, it makes text a thing of beauty: smooth, solid black. Considering I'm prone to headaches after long days of screen staring, Retina was love at first sight.

There's supposed to be a MacBook Air on the horizon with a Retina screen, and I debated waiting to see how that panned out, but three things (on top of a good price) changed my mind:

  • I use dual monitors at work, and LOVE this setup: it lets me easily compare similar documents, or put reference material up on one while writing/working in another, etc., etc., etc. For editing, I'd like to have this option eventually. There are some kludgy ways to attach multiple screens to the Air, but it's not really advised. The Pro, on the other hand, has plenty of ports for making this happen, including full-sized HDMI out, plus two Thunderbolt 2 ports.
  • There's no telling how much the Retina Air will cost, and it's a totally new model for Apple and may have some kinks to work out.
  • My sister's elderly netbook is on its last legs, and she is pretty eager to get my old one NOW.

So I went to Best Buy, dithered around for about thirty minutes before getting up the nerve to ask one of the sales associates to get the box from the back, and committed.

Thanks to Apple's Migration Assistant, pretty much all I had to do to set up the new system was to press a few buttons, watch a couple more episodes of "The Closer" while the two computers did a mind meld thingie, and boom: it was as if my old computer's brain had been transplanted into a new, sleek body: a body with a GORGEOUS screen and NINE FLIPPIN' HOURS OF BATTERY LIFE.

Granted, I haven't tested that battery life to the extreme, but based on usage so far, I have no reason to doubt it.

I've spent a good amount of time in Scrivener these last few days, and I'm really pleased that I don't have to zoom in nearly as much as usual: fonts are clearer even at small sizes, so I can work with more text on the screen at a time. I can also switch to scaled resolutions (1440x900 or 1680x1050) to fit even more. These resolutions aren't *quite* as perfect as the "Best for Retina" looks-like-1280x800, but still clearer than the old screen.

It's also a good pound lighter than the old system, which matters. Much slimmer as well, making it easy to slip into a bag. No built-in optical drive, but I don't use one all that often.

And have I mentioned the screen?

So yeah, so far, I'm quite happy with it. I shall call it Donald, because Donald is a good name for a Mac, and we shall write many, many stories together.

Old and new...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Personal Computer History

I've been reminiscing on tech gone by lately, since I'm kind of sort of in the research stages for a new laptop. I was one of the first generation to grow up with computers in the schools, though what we had was a far cry from what kids have these days. Fancy touch tablets would have BLOWN OUR MINDS.

What I remember most clearly from early grade school days: old Apple computers with green text on a black screen (Apple IIs?). We didn't get much time with them, but did have one class where we were given a sheet with a list of commands (to make the cursor draw a line left, up, right, down). If we entered the entire tedious list correctly, we could draw something as exciting as--a circle! Whoa. And yet, it really was amazing to see a bunch of tiny steps accumulate to become tangible. A good lesson for a kid.

Later, our first home computer was a secondhand IBM PC/XT with two 5 1/4" floppy drives and no hard drive. It had GAMES. Granted, most of the games were very limited shareware text based adventures written in BASIC, but even so. Best of all, because everything was so simple and limited back then, even we as dopey kids figured out how to get into the code and change it. "You are now entering baby at the time's room. A fat, drooling creature stares at you balefully from a four-legged cage in the right corner. Naked miniature plastic corpses litter the floor. What do you want to do?"

We also had Hack, which is now Nethack, which is still perhaps the best dungeon adventure game of all time, and which I still haven't ever beaten. I always seem to end up starving or turned to dust just before the good part. Argh. But this does mean I still play it now and then, and thus my gaming hardware requirements are, shall we say, modest.

We had assorted other secondhand computers over the years, though none that really stick in my head like that first one. I remember games like International Bridge Contractors, and a Winter Olympics game (WinterG) we played for days straight. I also remember composing music of a sort--somewhere one of my brothers still has "Munchkin Dance," which was our crowning achievement. If I ever track it down...I'll link to it. Electronic random weirdness. We were ahead of our time.

The first computer I ever purchased with my own money was a Pentium 90 with 8MB(!) of RAM and a 1GB(!) hard drive, running Windows 95. Just to contrast, my current phone has 2 GIGABYTES of RAM and 32GB of storage space, plus an extra 16GB on a card the size of a fingernail.

But that computer was my first connection to the Internet (via dial-up, of course). It was so new to me, I remember typing random words and brands .com just to see what (if anything) came up. And later, I was able to talk to Mom all the way back in Vermont using ICQ (remember that?). At the time, I was stationed in Germany, and being instantly able to see what she was typing halfway across the world was pretty incredible.

I experienced my first laptop during a project in Germany: it was at least two inches thick, had a tiny screen that lagged behind anything actually typed, and must have weighed ten pounds. And I fell in love. The whole idea of a self-contained computer you could carry around (sort of) just enchanted me. I've *mostly* had laptops ever since, despite the drawbacks. They've come a long way, baby. It's a little ridiculous how I'm now fretting over whether a system weighs under three pounds or closer to four, and if I can afford a Super Duper Ridiculously High Resolution screen or just one a mere gazillion times better than anything I could have imagined all those years ago.

I'm pretty sure any of them can handle Nethack.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Pop Pop Fizz Fizz

No, I'm not talking about antacid. I'm talking about that most glorious of all summer kid activities: burning holes in stuff with a magnifying glass.

For many of you, just reading those words immediately brought to mind the odor of scorched leaves, burned paper, and charred twigs. You were instantly swept back to days when you spent hours crouched in a sandy driveway or a corner of the back yard, practically holding your breath as you focused that tiny spot of light and waited, struggling to keep your hands steady until you were sure the darkness behind the light wasn't caused by your dazzled eyes, but by real, honest to goodness teeny tiny almost-fire. SO COOL. You bickered with friends and siblings for a turn holding the glass, or shoved bits of grass and stone and orange peel at the glass bearer and said, "Hey, see what happens with this!"

I'm not alone in this, am I?

We, being the aspiring little pyromaniacs most children tend to be, also took on slightly more daring materials. As one example, does anyone remember those dirt-cheap rolls of caps you could buy for cap guns: long rolls of red and white paper layered with a tiny dot of gun powder every inch or so? We rarely had actual functioning cap guns, so mostly we used those caps in other ways. We had a back room in the basement where the chest freezer lived. It was musty and damp and cold year 'round, and it had a bare cement floor. I remember sitting back there with my brothers, taking turns with a roll of caps and a hammer (and oh, it makes my fingers hurt just remembering--I was not always accurate with that foolish hammer). We'd tear off about six caps, lay the strip of paper out flat, and hammer each one. BANG, BANG, BANG. Mesmerizing....

Anyway, of COURSE at some point one of us had the bright idea of using the magnifying glasses on the caps. It was a little bit anticlimactic: you got a bigger pop using a hammer. But the not knowing exactly when it was going to go off...that added an element of excitement that was hard to ignore. You'd focus the beam of light, and sit there blinking and cringing, knowing it was going to snap-fizz, but not just when.

The MOST EXCITING thing we ever burned, though, isn't quite what you'd expect. We were sitting around one day in...well, I guess it had to have been early November. One of us had the idea of burning holes in some of the little mini boxes from our Halloween candies. Mostly this wasn't that more than a time-passer. But then, we made a discovery: for some reason--something in the geometry, maybe, or something about the ink used--when you used the magnifying glass on mini Milk Duds boxes, instead of just ending up with little browned holes in the sides, they would suddenly burst into flame.

Which makes their name rather ironic, if you think about it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fun to Say, East vs. West

The other day at work we got to talking about how many confusing yet fun to say derived-from-Native-American-languages names there are for things around here: towns, bodies of water, etc. I mentioned that New England also has a fair share of such names, and gave a few examples.

On the way home, the two states started trying to one-up one another in my head. Something like this:

Vermont: Queechee.
Washington: I'll see your Queechee and raise you a Snohomish.
Vermont: Oh, yeah? Memphramagog--beat that!
Washington: Ummm...Skookumchuck?
Vermont: Gar. Ompompanoosuc!
Washington: Sequim. Pronounced SKWIM. So there.
Vermont: Passumpsic.
Washington: Ooh. How about Puyallup?
Vermont: Winooski. Winooski, Winooski, Winooski!
Washington: Nisqually. I could do this all day.
Vermont: In my defense, Washington is a lot bigger.
New Hampshire: PEMIGAWASSETT!!
Washington: Geshundheit.

What are some fun town or water names near you?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just Go To Bed Already

It has come to my attention that my approach to writing often shares similarities with a bratty child's attitude toward bed time.

"I can't go to bed--I need a drink of water first!"
"I can't go to bed--I forgot to brush my teeth!"
"I can't go to bed--I need to go potty!"
"I can't go to bed--I need the nightlight on!"
"I can't go to bed--I don't have my bear!"
"I can't go to bed--I want my *other* bear!

Etc. It's almost the same with writing.

"I'm going to write LOTS, but I can't write in the morning/evening."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I need x pen/pencil/notebook, and I can't find it."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I need to be in the mood."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I don't like what I wrote yesterday, so I should take a break."
"I'm going to write LOTS, but I need x gadget, which I don't already own, so first I'll waste days researching it."
"I'm going to write LOTS, just as soon as I have a day off."

There's always some reason to stall. It's childish and silly and it needs to stop.

Maybe I can try bribing myself with star stickers on a calendar. As I recall, that used to be all that was needed to induce good behavior, once upon a time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I'm Ditching the Scale

I'm annoyed with myself.

At the beginning of the year, I was in pretty decent shape. I was doing a ton of walking, and sticking with an eating plan that helped me feel better (physically and emotionally): tons of vegetables of all sorts, some fruit, meat/chicken/fish, eggs, nuts. Very little sugar. Occasionally beans and rice. And I mostly cut dairy, since last summer I tried a month without it as an experiment and found I'm actually somewhat sensitive to it. Don't get me wrong, I cannot and will not ever completely give up ice cream and cheese, but it does make my heart race and causes congestion, so it's a trade-off. I also discovered long ago that even if bread *weren't* fairly empty calories, I'm better off without it generally speaking because it makes me sleepy and stupid for several hours afterward.

So I was eating lots of big salads, fresh omelets with plenty of vegetables, grilled steak with vegetables, roast chicken with vegetables, broiled fish with vegetables, vegetables with vegetables. You get the picture.

But I fell off the wagon somewhere along the line--Easter, maybe--and I've never gotten back. Thankfully I'm only up a few pounds, but I've been bouncing from sugar high to sugar high and I haven't been walking and I just feel...blah. Time to get back on track.

I do want to lose about fifteen pounds. Seems like I always do. And that's part of the goal this time. However, I've decided to do something a little different this time around: I'm putting the scale away, at least for awhile.

Why? Well, mostly because I'm weak willed and I know how it affects me:
If the scale is up for a given day/week: "Man, nothing I do matters. I might as well cheat."
If the scale is down for a given day/week: "Wow, I'm doing great! I deserve a little cheat."

I think putting it away for a time will help keep me honest. I'm more likely to err on the side of caution as far as eating habits go if I'm not seeing the numbers, I won't be emotionally tormented by daily fluctuations, and even if I don't see the number I hope for at the end of the experiment, at least I'll only be supremely bummed once.

So...the scale is going in the closet until my birthday in mid-October. And I'm stocking up on vegetables, polishing up the FitBit, and pulling out my walking shoes again. 'Cause I'm the boss and I said so.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Another Benefit to Hand Writing

I've spent some time this weekend getting caught up on transcription. I'm sort of hoping once I get everything on the computer, I can take a stab at moving forward that way. As much as I like writing by hand, I don't want it to become a magic bullet or a crutch.

That said, in transcribing, I'm remembering some of the reasons I love hand writing, slow though it is. I do a lot of crossing out text, but leaving it for reference--something I'm not likely to do on the computer screen, with a delete function right there. Sometimes the crossed out ends up being better than what I'd planned to keep. And I go back and write notes and directions in the margins, so my final writing ends up being slightly ahead of first draft status.

And other times...well, where is the computer equivalent for this forgotten moment of catharsis I came across in an upper margin?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Listen to Your Mother

I'm in the process of reorganizing some things around the house, getting rid of some things I don't need and using the empty room that was going to be my sister's, since plans changed and she's not staying with me for the moment. One change: I want to make some space at the breakfast bar my bitty kitchen has in lieu of space for a table. Without a stool, it's at a nice height for a standing desk space for me, though I tend to just use it as pantry space.

The weird thing: part of the reason I decided to do this is because I have a clear memory of Mom looking around the place when I moved in and saying, "I can just see you working on a laptop here..." It's a nice space, it looks out over the rest of the house, I can hear my music and look out the window when I want, so it makes logical sense, and she *would* spot that.

So I'm twenty minutes into tidying and thinking out my plan for making this happen when it suddenly hits me: Mom has never been here. Could never have been here. She passed away almost two years before I moved to Colorado, and long before I moved to Washington.

I'm sure I must be remembering something that happened at another place and time--the memory is too clear to be completely false. And yet, in memory, I see her *here*, so distinctly that I got chills when I woke up enough to realize I couldn't possibly be remembering something that actually happened.

In any case, I think she's right. I'd best get back to tidying....

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Scattered (UJTU)

1. How do people travel all the time and still manage a normal life? I went on one five day trip from June 27th to July 2nd, and I'm *still* all discombobulated. I'd originally hoped to finish the first draft of Mind Jinx (my current work in progress) by mid-July, but that's out the window. Haven't recovered my usual routines AT ALL. New estimate: end of summer at best. I'd also hoped to write a trip report, but I feel like I'm a bit past the window for that. May yet take a stab at it, however.

2. My garden has grown tremendously. I have strawberries, peas, carrots, lettuce, and am starting to get cherry tomatoes. The big tomatoes and summer squash are right behind, and I have a baby eggplant and baby delicata squash coming along nicely. Now if I can just manage to water faithfully.... Western Washington may have a reputation for rain, but it pretty much all hits in the winter and spring months. Around the 4th of July, a switch is tripped, and it's high desert here. Nice in that you can pretty much plan on weekend outdoor activities without worrying about wet, but it does mean you suddenly go from plants drowning to plants dying of thirst, and you have to develop new habits instantly.

Sweet potato vine, just for fun!

First full sized tomato (a Cascade) is changing color...

Bitty baby bell peppers

Summer squash coming along

Baby delicata squash

Eggplant! First time I've seen these growing....

Mmmm, sugar snap peas....

3. I'm in the middle of a major music muddle: for *years* I've intended to sit down and redo my music library by re-ripping all my old CDs and then re-adding any digital purchases from backup/cloud. I had a lot of gaps and strays and tracks that weren't titled consistently, and it was driving me crazy. I'm thinking about upgrading to a new computer sometime this year, and chances are it won't have a built in CD drive, so now seemed as good a time as any to tackle this project. I'm going to get it all tidied up and then back up to a decent external drive, so I have a clean starting point from here on out.

It's turning out to be even more daunting than I anticipated. I'd forgotten just how much music I've acquired over the years, not to mention Teaching Company courses and the like. But re-ripping has been an interesting walk down memory lane: I still like a lot of the same music I did way back when, but my buying and primary listening habits have fluctuated, and going back through the albums is like excavating layers of the last fifteen or twenty years of my life from sedimentary rock. Early classical period...flatpicking guitar period...folk rock...middle early classical...Irish. Etc. It's all pretty mixed, honestly, but every so often I come across an album that all but defined a given time in my life and which I've not listened to in a long while. Fascinating how a few notes can trigger a flood of half-forgotten memories.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Chill Before Packing

Apropos of nothing, this is Tamino, my conveniently self-packing cat

Tomorrow I'll be flying into Milwaukee, Wisconsin to meet up with family for my youngest brother's wedding near Madison on Saturday. After the wedding, I'm driving back from Wisconsin to Western Washington with my sister, who is relocating out here.

The upcoming trip is just about all that fits in my head at the given moment, so it's what I talked about in between tunes while playing music with friends this past weekend.

We got to discussing various attitudes and styles of packing: last minute, weeks ahead, things that can go wrong. It brought to mind one of my worst packing moments: an anecdote I didn't get around to sharing, and which is a little hard to imagine in these balmy summer days.

It was January of 2003, and I was prepping to fly to Florida with two of my younger siblings to meet up with friends I mostly knew through an Internet forum connection it would be hard to fully explain without a lot more time: essentially, we started talking about a subject that interested us, and didn't shut up for years. And along the way, we got to know each other really well, and met up in a variety of "real world" ways. Still do, to some extent. Some of those folks remain among my closest friends.

That January, we all rented a house on the beach to just hang out for a week. It was a blast. Yes, it was the off season, and though we northerners were still crazy enough to go swimming, I don't think the temperature got much above the high sixties. But back in Vermont, it was -30 that week.

And that's where the trouble came in.

I am a procrastinator. I've admitted that here before. I will make detailed lists, yes. I will plan like crazy. But then...I will stall until the last possible minute. For this particular trip, I held off on washing some of the clothes I knew I was going to need until the night before we flew out, and then did a quick load late at night and stuck them in the dryer before hitting the hay.

That was my first winter in my little bungalow in St. Johnsbury, VT: A tiny place, but it did have a finished basement, where the washer and dryer lived. The basement was only partially heated: most of the heat from the furnace was set to blow upstairs through vents, but the previous owner had disconnected one of the heat vents and left the conduit hanging to blow a little warmth into the basement. It was never *warm* down there in the winter, but it was something.

The frigid morning of the flight out, I got up at oh-dark-thirty (we had to leave by about three to get to the airport), and made my way down to the basement to grab my things from the dryer. In opening the door, I quickly discovered two things: 1) In my sleepiness the night before, I'd forgotten to switch on the dryer after I put the clothes in, and 2) My still-wet clothes were frozen solid. In one giant lump.

I tried feebly to pick them apart at first, but it was not gonna happen. They were all stiff and intertwined. So I did the only thing I *could* do: I turned the heat setting on the dryer up, and turned it on.

OH MY GOODNESS THAT WAS LOUD. If you think about it, a dryer is essentially a large metal drum turning inside a large metal box. Putting a large, hard object in there and starting it up was startling, especially that early in the morning. Ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK! But it did eventually thaw out, though I still had to pack my clothes while they were slightly damp.

I'm sure I will find other ways to procrastinate tonight, but I did my laundry Sunday.

Just in case, you know.

How about you? What travel mishaps have you experienced?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Late Typewriter Day Entry: Business Cards

Yesterday was Typewriter Day 2014, but OSX Mavericks decided my scanner wasn't good enough for the likes of it, so I had to do some strenuous negotiation before they would grudgingly cooperate. And here we are.

Typewriter Business Cards

You could even add doodles or stickers. Makes for a nice little canvas.

And yes, I typed Earnest like the word and not Ernest like the name. So sue me. I don't even like Hemingway.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: rOtring Rapid PRO 0.5mm Mechanical Pencil

Hey, I've never reviewed a mechanical pencil here, have I? Let's have "Things that may annoy both the wooden pencil diehards and the fountain pen folk" for $100, Alex.

Rotring Rapid PRO

Much though I like those other things, there is something to be said for mechanical pencils when it comes to fuss-free on-the-go writing, and this has been my primary for that role over the last six or seven months. It went with me to Wintergrass, and has been my companion on many a coffee house jaunt.

Last things first: I flippin' love this pencil. A goodly percentage of my current large-work-in-process (Mind Jinx) came out of this pencil. I could dedicate novels to this pencil.

I will, however, try to remain objective.

1. Appearance:
This is a classy looking item. My one and only quibble is that the version I have (black--there is also a silver flavor) tends to get a little grungy looking over time as the knurled grip picks up dust and whatnot. I can't say for *certain* that the silver would be better in this regard, but it seems logical. The black does, however, contrast beautifully with the rOtring red ring, and has a nice understated stealth appearance to it outside of that splash of color. The paint has held up well to abuse (read: being carried unprotected in bag and purse and bumped about on tables and desks). The body is subtly hexagonal, which--along with the clip--makes it less apt to roll when it should not.

Lead Sleeve
2. Grip:
The knurled grip is rough enough to be reassuringly sticky, but (unlike many drafting pencils) not so rough that it will sandpaper away your hard-won writer's callus. Keep in mind that I am not a draftsman, and use this strictly for writing: it could possibly be a little *too* smooth for some drawing purposes. Even for writing, I wouldn't mind just a touch more roughness, but it gets the job done. The grip is of a pleasant girth: more than a wooden pencil, less than your average gel pen.

3. Balance:
This is a relatively heavy pencil at 24.2 grams by my little kitchen scale (in contrast, I weighed a Pentel P209, and it weighed just under 9 grams). It doesn't feel clunky, however. The center of balance is almost exactly in the middle--just a smidge closer to the tip than the tail. It feels about perfect to me. I have a Pentel Graphgear 1000 I like a great deal, but it is back heavy, and that gets tiring after awhile. This one doesn't fight me either way.

4. Retracting tip:
THIS IS IMPORTANT TO ME. I don't wander around with a pocket protector, and I don't always feel like carrying a whole pencil case. I can quickly and easily put the point of this pencil away for its safety and mine. It doesn't have any fancy auto-retracting mechanism: you just hold down the button at the back of the pencil and then release it while you press the tip gently against your notebook/table/finger. I like the simplicity. Less to break.

Before the Rapid PRO arrived, I worried there would be a lot of give or wobble in the lead sleeve, or vibration while writing. I have little tolerance for this. As an example, I know a lot of people love Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencils for the way they rotate your lead for you and keep presenting you with a clean, sharp edge, and while in theory it sounds cool, I find the slight give irritating enough that I haven't used my Kuru Toga as much as anticipated. This pencil, on the other hand, is pretty solid.

My little point-and-shoot camera steadfastly refused to acknowledge the existence of the eraser, but you get the basic premise.

Other details:
The eraser is found, as you'd expect, behind the little back cap. There's actually a hole through which you can see the white eraser peeking through--I would prefer a solid cap, but whatever. The eraser itself is par for the course for quality mechanical pencils: i.e. you *could* use it in a pinch, but it wouldn't go very far, and I much prefer a separate Mars Plastic or a Pentel Clic Stick.

Eraser viewed through end cap
Eraser, as seen through the back cap

To load leads, remove the little eraser and drop them in the back end of the pencil. Again, pretty standard. It's a fairly small lead chamber, but my 0.5mm model will hold a half dozen or so leads in a pinch. The lead feeds out at a nice rate--doesn't require extra clicks, or overadvance and cause breakage.

It'sa clip.

I don't use the clip much, but it appears durable and without any bits that catch on things they shouldn't.

Overall impression:
As I said, I really like this pencil. The balance works perfectly for me, the retractable tip means I can take it anywhere without worries, the grip isn't bad, and the whole thing just screams quality. I currently keep mine loaded with plain old Pentel Super Hi-Polymer lead (B grade), and it is a pleasure to use.

• Just about perfectly balanced, at least for plain writing.
• Retractable lead sleeve/tip.
• Purty.
• Comfortable heft and solidity.
• Knurled grip adds stability.

• The black version can get a little grungy looking.
• Lead sleeve is fragile, from all I've heard, so make sure you get into the habit of retracting that point when it isn't in your hand!
• Don't expect the eraser to do much for you.
• Knurled grip could be a little grippier.
• Spendier than the Pentels and Bics at Wal-mart. (I paid about $30 for mine on Amazon back in November. YMMV.) That said, it should last pretty near forever with a bit of care.

Weight: 24.2 grams (empty), at least according to my cheapie scale
Length: Approximately 5.7 inches (14.5 cm / 145mm) long
Diameter: 9mm
Body material: Metal, but I'm not sure what type--if you know, feel free to fire off in the comments!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Typecast: Honk Not

Honk Not

I might add, laying on the horn does not excuse the drivers themselves from slowing down and using a bit of caution at the crossing, let alone entitle them to speed up and blast through, as many of them do.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Loss of Perspective

Later this week, I'll be going from this view:

To this view.

I'm kind of dreading it. I love my windows. I get to see the trees change with the seasons. I get to watch weather roll in and out. I like seeing the same people and the same dogs walk by every day, like my own personal reality TV show. (Incidentally, when I was walking back from dropping the car off to have its tires changed the other day, one of the regular walkers said "Good morning!" to me, which was crazy surreal: like suddenly bumping into Jack Bauer or Lady Mary at the grocery store.) I like the sunshine, when we get it. I don't spend *all* my time staring out the window, of course, but it's nice that it's there.

The move is necessary: we have a new employee who will need to be next to the person who will be training her. So off I go. But yeah, I'm a little stressed about giving up my view.

I had a dream the other night that we were moving our office into the run-down underground NATO bunker I worked in for awhile in Germany, complete with guarded turn-stile entry, backed-up sewage smells and occasional power glitches. Definitely no windows in that place. Maybe my subconscious is telling me it could be worse.

I did joke that they should really get me a lava lamp or *something* to look at. And one of the other tech support guys suggested maybe he could rig up a webcam, so I could at least look out the window via my computer....

On the plus side, I'll be closer to the kitchen, so I can mainline green tea and Jif honey peanut butter without disturbing anyone else. Score!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Eeeevolution Resolution

Just wanted to thank those of you who took the time to comment on my recent post (now hidden) regarding the once and future Little Flower Petals. I appreciate the thoughts! My conclusion: I think I'm going to keep it like it is, and go back to using Thorns and Blossoms as originally intended, for more faith related and introspective posts. Of course, now I've already confused everyone, but hey.

For better or worse, Little Flower Petals is a reflection of me: rather messy, generally (but inconsistently) enthusiastic, occasionally morbid, tending toward self-indulgence and impatience but striving for generosity and kindness, and always eclectic. I suppose anyone who knows me well knows all these things already, and will not be shocked. And if they don't...well, I yam what I yam, and it can't hurt to reveal it.

An example of being what I is: I sold a typewriter today (the Olivetti Underwood Studio 21, since I need to raise fund for the road trip with my sister at the end of the month AND I don't like typewriters sitting around unused and I tend to use the Olympias). As I was getting ready to head out, scrambling to find some scrap paper and the typewriter dust cover and all, I realized my hands were all stained with fountain pen ink, and had to stop to scrub THAT off. Yep, that's me.

Incidentally, the Studio 21 went to a good, typewriter loving home. You know you've sold a typewriter to a real enthusiast when you bump into the buyer again five minutes later at the Goodwill down the road where you've headed to check out possible "new" machines in spite of yourself....

Monday, June 02, 2014

Starting the Day Off Write

Bic Cristal, Morning Page

Have you heard of morning pages? I can't recall where I first saw them mentioned, though in researching (to give credit where credit is due) I find it's an idea which was popularized via Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way," a book which I admit I have not read and on which I cannot offer an opinion.

In any case, the concept is simple: first thing in the morning, as soon as you roll out of bed, before your brain has had the chance to fully wake and get its house in order, you sit down and write three full pages. Longhand. That's right: just you and a notepad and a pen or pencil.

What do you write about? Whatever pops into your head. Write about the crazy dream you just escaped. Write about your plans or worries for the day. Write about what you're going to eat for breakfast. Write about how weird the word "morning" looks to you right now, for some reason. Write about the sound of the rain and how it reminds you of sleeping in the back bedroom at your grandmother's house that July between sixth and seventh grade, when birds created a nest under the eaves and one memorable afternoon, a fledgling flew in though the window and about gave Grandma's fat old tabby cat a heart attack.

There are no rules. Just fill those three pages.

As you'd kind of expect, much of what I write is dreadfully dull or complete nonsense. However, in giving myself the freedom to explore whatever comes to mind, I've also found the seeds of short stories or poems or blog posts, wrestled with life decisions, and sorted out tangled scenes in larger works-in-progress. It's also a good way to work on writing discipline: simply sitting down at a given time each day, knowing you have to write something, no matter how sleepy and uninspired you may feel.

In a perfect world, I think I would always start my days with morning pages, and end them with writing down my "Three Good Things." In practice, I manage stints of three or four days at a time, but have never really gotten consistent about it. And I should.

Have you ever tried morning pages? If so, how have they worked for you?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

When Typewriter Nerds Dream

Last night I dreamed I was meeting up with someone in response to a Craigslist ad. I don't remember the ad itself (as is so often the case with dreams, this one started abruptly at a given moment, with no history), but I do remember I was expecting a portable. Instead, she showed up with a HUGE Hermes Ambassador.

Or...kinda. Really, it was as if my subconscious took all the features I like about various '50s and '60s standards, slapped them together, and painted them Hermes green. It was sort of like a broad-headed Olympia SG-1 with Hermes keys.

Being me, instead of examining it poker face and coyly leading into a discussion of price, I gushed on and on about all things Hermes first, and then asked how much. "$73.58," I was told, and even as a dream price that seemed ridiculously specific. But I also realized that a) it was way out of my price range, and b) I hadn't brought any cash along anyway. I told her I had friends who sort of collected typewriters, and wanted to take pictures of it so I could show it to them, and she agreed.

But then I noticed a wall-sized mainframe thing in the back room and got obsessed with taking pictures of *that*, which was tricky because the lighting wasn't good and I couldn't get back far enough to get the whole HUMONGOUS thing into the frame. When I finally got enough decent pictures to satisfy me and went back to look at the was gone. She'd taken it away somewhere. So, sadly, I have no proof and cannot promote the sale of this rare beast.

I think all this was brought on by the fact that we currently have some server room equipment (primarily a large enclosed rack) for sale on Craigslist, and said rack currently resides in a storage cage in the basement of a building where we used to have offices, and the last time I was down there, an IBM Selectric (III?) languished in another cage, and I coveted it mightily. Probably long gone, poor thing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rotation, Rotation

I appear to be in nerdy over-analysis mode for the moment, so here we go again.

The other day, I was writing with a ballpoint and realized I was rotating it slightly--sort of rolling it to the left--at the end of each line, or whenever I lifted my hand for a moment. It's something I do--something we all do, I assume--with wooden pencils without even thinking about it, so the point wears evenly, but it has no real purpose with pens except to sort of reseat your grip every so often. The only reason I noticed was because the clip on this particular pen kept getting in the way now and again, and I finally figured out it was coming around the rotation every so many lines and rubbing against my hand--until I rotated it away again.

I do this with mechanical pencils, too, to the point where when I picked up a Uni Kuru Toga pencil (which rotates the very point of the pencil for you to maintain a consistent point), we fought--because I couldn't break myself of the habit of turning the pencil, even though it was rotating for me.

Now...obviously I don't do this with fountain pens, or they'd stop working every time I got to the end of a line. So my subconscious apparently has it figured out that they're another species. Why, then, does it lump most other pens with pencils, I wonder?

Interestingly, I appear to rotate pencils to the right and pens to the left. That's even weirder.

Are you a rotator? Do you keep rolling in a particular direction or is it random? Does your brain distinguish between pencils and pens?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Identifying Bic Cristals

This is totally nerdy, and I may be the only person on the planet who cares, but here we go anyhow!

As I mentioned in the comments on my recent post about Bic Cristals, I ended up splurging (for about three bucks) on a box of the new Easy Glide variety. When I got them home, I realized I couldn't easily tell them apart from the older "writes farther" variety I already had on hand. They're clear, and they don't have any model number or anything easily visible on the pen. So...I resorted to a piece of blue paper. What will my boss think if she comes across pens labeled "smooth?" Unknown.

But today, as I was A/B-ing these pens again, something caught my eye. There *is* a difference! The "Bic" logo is farther back from the point on the "Smooth" model than it is on the older type.

Top: Bic Cristal Easy Glide. Bottom: Bic Cristal "Writes Longer"

So there ya go. If you come across one in the wild and are wondering what it's your field guide.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How Does My Garden Grow?

This weekend friends with a truck helped me haul dirt and fill all my Smart Pots, so the garden is beginning to take real shape!

I have a few seedlings which may or may not survive transplanting (cucumbers and tomatoes), planted summer squash and delicata squash this weekend, and hope to get tomato plants, pepper plants, and onion starts in the next week. Sugar snap peas are already growing in the fake ceramic pot to the left in the top photo.

I've labeled the pots with index cards for now, with the descriptions written in bright blue, fade-proof Uni-ball Vision ink. Time will tell how the paper holds up to repeated watering and drying out. Hopefully it lasts long enough that the plants have grown enough I don't need ID--that's really all I ask.

And now...we wait!

Monday, May 05, 2014

Forgive Me

Forgive me, pen snobs and pencil fans, for I have slummed.

In my defense, the Internet has been conspiring against me. First Rhodia Drive got me feeling all nostalgic, then it felt like I kept running across these on Instagram and Twitter all week. I had to pick up laundry detergent today, and these were there...begging. And I was feeling down today, and when I'm feeling down, I have no resistance to begging pens.

OK, they're skinny. They take some pressure to move. The ink is less than perfectly black. They certainly aren't the best pens in the universe. But I can still stick a piece of paper with my name on it inside the clear barrel so they don't walk away. And they make me think of scribbling at the kitchen table as a kid. And, above all, they were CHEAP.

So there.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Clam: In Which an Introvert Attempts Extroversion

It's an innocent, friendly little question, but I despise it: "How have you been?"

What else can I expect someone to say when they haven't seen me in awhile? What else do *I* say when I haven't seen someone in awhile? But when someone asks me, my mind instantly goes blank, my palms start to sweat, and I mumble something about, "Oh, busy. Work" And then freeze. There may be all sorts of interesting, amusing or edifying things I've done or experienced or read about recently, but they abandon me in an instant.

I am clam. Clam I am.

It's especially frustrating when I'm with people who know me primarily via the written word, who know I can be semi-coherent and even funny, and who I'm sure have a very hard time correlating who I am on-line with the pathetic, blushing and stammering lump of humanity they see before them. It must seem like I'm two different people, but I'm not: I'm just trapped inside. So they move on, looking puzzled.

There are few things more demoralizing than utterly flubbing social interchange. Bah. At that point, I usually find a corner spot where I can sit and observe and listen and hope no one tries to be nice to me again.

But I am learning. Sometimes--if not reliably, in the panic of the moment--I can turn the question around: ask the asker about a project I know they've been working on or an event they attended or a pet or a family member or the photo they posted the other day. Because I'm interested--I really am! And if all goes well, the ice ends up broken and, though to some extent I've slipped into my comfortable observe and listen mode, it's the proper, social sort. I get to learn something new about my friend, and it gives them the chance to talk about something which (hopefully) they are excited about. All is well.

At least until another person comes up and asks me, " have you been?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How I Learned to Stop Coffee and Love Green Tea

Green tea

A semi-secret: I gave up coffee for Lent. Going in, it was a bit of a scary sacrifice. I didn't say much about it to friends or family because I was afraid I'd jinx myself. I knew it was going to be tough, and previous attempts to go coffee free for a time had ended in failure.

But I did it. Starting with the Ash Wednesday fast day probably helped--what are a few more symptoms on a day when you're already going through some sacrificial deprivation?

I knew there was no way I could manage without a semi substitute, so Ash Wednesday morning after church, I stopped (ashy forehead and all) and bought a box of green teabags. I knew it wouldn't be great tea, but I figured it'd do until I could pick up some loose leaf. I brewed some and sipped it resolutely, steeling myself for 40 long days in the coffee desert.

And then along the way, a funny thing happened. Instead of green tea being a major sacrifice--a pathetic coffee alternative--I found myself surprised by the beauty and subtlety and delicate nuances of the stuff: Japanese green tea, particularly, and sencha specifically, though not exclusively (I like bancha, and I also discovered genmaicha, which includes toasted rice with green tea--IT IS SO GOOD). Here's a good run-down of the basic types: Types of Japanese Green Tea.

In some ways, tea is far simpler than coffee: pour hot (but not too hot) water over the leaves, strain in some way after enough time has passed. No equipment involved, really. On the other hand, there are so many *layers* to brewing green tea. For instance, most teas can be steeped not once, but many times, and each steeping has its own character. To my taste, the first steeping can be a bit edgy and brash, a wake-up. The second (my favorite) is super fast: the leaves are awake and don't require much more than a rinse, and the flavor is full. Depending on the tea, it can be almost brothy: richly vegetable, almost a little seaweedy. For the third steeping, I let the water sit a good while, and it tends to be sweeter than the first to, sometimes startlingly so, lingering on the tongue.

I picked up an itty bitty baby Japanese teapot (called a kyusu) so I can make little cups, running quickly through three steepings (or more) and then starting again. The nicer kyusus are beautiful works of art, made of unglazed clay which requires a bit of care...I'll work up to one, perhaps, but for now, I'm very much enjoying this little guy. At work I just use a Pyrex measuring cup and pour through a tea strainer, but...there's a certain something to doing things in a fancy way, at least some of the time.

My little blue kyusu

I'm most certainly not done with coffee, but I'm actually not yet back to it. I had a cup on Easter Sunday. It seemed the thing to do. But the next day I got up, eyed the coffee and then my bag of green tea, and it was the tea that made my mouth water. So I shrugged, put the kettle on, and got down to business.

There's a lesson in all this, I suppose: when we are willing to let go, sometimes we may find ourselves unexpectedly blessed. I am grateful.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mmm, Plotting

So I've cleared off the cement pad next to my house (originally intended to house a kennel, I think), and I'm getting ready to set up a rather ambitious container garden. Aside from whatever buckets and flower pots I had around the house, I'll mostly be using Smart Pots. I found them for a little cheaper than a lot of the larger plastic containers, and the lightweight/packable nature of them appeals, as does the concept of "air pruning" (so you don't end up with miserable, root-bound plants).

Those "pots" are on order, and friends with a truck are going to help me pick up a yard of potting mix next weekend. I have a few seedlings started in the sunny guest bedroom: Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Golden Nugget cherry tomatoes, lemon cukes, Thai basil. I'm also hoping to grow some other tomato varieties, potatoes, peppers, snap peas, lettuce and radishes, carrots (purple and red!), Delicata squash, spaghetti squash and zucchini, onions, assorted herbs, and strawberries. Ooh, strawberries.

And whatever else occurs to me before I use up all my space. What am I missing? Something from the cabbage family, maybe?

I confess, I'm really clueless, and there is enough information and advice out there to make you dizzy. I'm vacillating wildly between obsessed over-analysis (plans for tracking the exact dates of every single plant, replanting on exact schedules for such seeds as can be continually harvested, different watering and fertilizing agendas) and a daydreamy "let's wing it this year and learn from the mistakes" approach. Each extreme is annoyed by the other extreme. I'm annoyed at them both. This should be interesting.

Whichever way, though, I have many excuses for scribbling: brain storming, documenting, rejoicing and venting! And if I get a few decent homegrown tomatoes out of the venture, I'll count it a success.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Know Your Audience

This week we had a going away party for one of my co-workers. We took her out for drinks and appetizers at a local Mexican restaurant not far from the office. As we were getting ready to head over, another co-worker, who'd not been there before, asked me where it was. "Over there," I said, "Just down the street and on the same side as Goodwill."

Blank stare.

So I tried again. "It's kind of in the same parking lot as Staples," I said.

Blank stare.

As a last ditch effort, I said, "There used to be a post office there, but it moved down the street."

Blank stare.

At that point, another co-worker looked over my shoulder and said, "It's across the street from Taco Bell."  And the one who'd asked me for directions lit up and said, "Oh, that place!"

I'd honestly never noticed the Taco Bell.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Silly Little Pencil Question: Sharpener Profiles

You all know by now that I have a wee tendency to overanalyze, right? Like...a LOT?

At this point, I kinda have several pencil sharpeners. The Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpeners get the most use at work and at home, because the seriously long-but-sturdy point they produce is my favorite. However, sometimes it's convenient to jam a pencil one-handed into the electric sharpener I keep in the living room. (What, keeping a pencil sharpener in the living room's not normal?) And when I'm out and about, I sometimes use the little brass Kum (which, incidentally, seems to have gone walk-about, which makes me sad, and which is completely out of the scope of this post). Also, in a ridiculous fit of spendthriftiness awhile back, I acquired a Carl, because I sincerely hoped it would function just like the CFPS except without leaving flea bites all over my pencils. (I should review it one of these days, but the short version is that while it is a great sharpener, it doesn't create quite the same terrifically long point.)

So...basically, all of these are a little different, which means any time you switch from one to another, you end up shaving a bit of extra pencil in order to reshape it for that sharpener.

For those of you who use lots of pencils and multiple sharpeners, do you even think about this? Do you actually stick with one or another sharpener for given pencils? Does it worry you that you might lose .002 cents worth of graphite if you switch from one to another?  Please, tell me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ramble About Town, March 22nd 2014

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Just a tiny fragment of the delights on hand at The Tea Lady in Olympia, WA.
It had been awhile since I spent a Saturday just wandering, and with a bit of spring weather setting in (if only temporarily), I may have had a bit of cabin fever as well. So...this Saturday I did a ramble about.

Went to the Tea Lady first. I've professed my love for this place so many times before, it seems a little redundant to state it again, but...I love this place! I'm currently off coffee (if only temporarily), which made a shop full of nothing but tea all the more exciting. I'd sort of planned to buy a teapot, but they mostly had large ones, too big for me unless I start throwing daily tea parties. So I'm back to obsessing on-line on that front. Still came away with some new green tea, some fillable tea bags for times when it's less than convenient to fiddle with a filter basket, and an interesting herbal blend with citrus, turmeric, and ginger. The instant I left I got requests from Dad and my sister for teas of their own, so I have an excuse to go back soon.

Next up was downtown, and the antique mall: Finders Keepers. It's always a fun place to browse: different vendors rent cubicles within the building, so each has a different assortment and you never know what you'll find around the next corner. First thing I noted was this boxy Hermes 3000. It's $145, or I might be giving you a review rather than just a photo. Looks pretty clean.

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Lots of other little assorted writing related things about:

Pencil Sharpeners at Finders Keepers
Pencil sharpeners
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Inks...and Shinola.
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Ink erasers and assorted pencil leads.

Typewriter cleaner.

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Some sorta old cash register? And a steno machine.
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SCM Coronet, just to be equal opportunity to the electrified among us.
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One of those heavy old staplers that could double as a blunt force weapon.
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Slide rules! The big one here is about standard size for these. The little one is little bitty. Shirt pocket sized, or smaller. Cute.
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Close-up of the little guy...
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If Hop-along Cassidy says it's his favorite ice cream, who am I to argue?
Had lunch afterward with a friend at The Bread Peddler: peanut curry chicken soup. Good, as is only to be expected from The Bread Peddler. Yum!