Friday, January 30, 2009

Earlier I talked about how the sunrises here were a hard act to follow. Looks like the evening sky managed pretty well:

Moon and Venus

Bonsoir, mesdames. The moon is waxing luminous with her girlfriend (what I believe to be) Venus on this gorgeous, soft Friday night. It being ladies' night out, they actually put Orion in his place (rather pallid, to the east of them).

It's going to be a good weekend; the stars said so.
Peach Bloom Sunrise.

Sunrise II

The smudges are from frost. When the crystals are big enough, they play with the morning sun to create a sort of kaleidoscope effect.

Seeing the sun rise out the hall window is the generally highlight of my day. I wouldn't say that anything (apart from me, since I have to descend a very steep hill to get to work) goes downhill after that, just that this is a hard act to follow.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Twice this week, while changing from the red to the orange line, have had an interesting and actually rather pleasant auditory experience. In the right ear (the one closest to the train), have heard a somewhat high-pitched whistle, as though steam was trying to escape from a leak in a tube. The left ear was picking up on a conversation in Vietnamese.



With any luck, I'll pass the same place at the right time again tomorrow.
Am feeling a bit flat. Haven't been getting much good sleep as, for the past week or so, have been contending with the return of nightmares I'd not had in a long time. Part of it's the current family problems, part of it is the birthday coming up.

I don't mind the getting older part. Heck, it's another year between me and an unhappy past. What really bothers me is the fact that these are supposed to be happy times (like the holidays, I guess), but, no matter how hard I work at putting a good face on, I can't seem to not feel down.
Had a bit of sausage and a bit of shrimp left in the freezer, so decided to mix it up with some canned tomatoes, mixed vegetables, onion, garlic and red beans for something that seems to resemble a gumbo. Smells good, anyway.
Flights make for good knitting time, as I'm generally too tired or freaked out to concentrate on reading and often there isn't anything any good on the movie channel.

Airplane knitting

Malabrigo pre-felted wool the color of birch leaves in fall. Was kind of hard to part with this.

This one got started and finished on two separate trips to France. On the second flight over, was a great means of checking out of my rather unpleasant spot between a couple of Tag Heuer-sporting unpleasant business class passengers (got bumped up in a classic Continental clusterf---). The one fellow wasn't too thrilled at my not being impressed by his spending Christmas week at his friend's chalet in Switzerland. Apparently I knew the neighborhood too well and and asked too many questions. The other one's girlfriend (who I thought was his daughter at first) just.kept.staring.at.me. Weirdly. Obsessively almost.

I know I only had a cloth coat and I didn't treat the help with the proper disdain for not knowing the vintages of their complimentary beverage service, but still. Am much more comfortable being (worthy) poor and, I guess, sitting in steerage.

Anyway, back to the yarn at hand: very pleasant to the touch and comforting to work with. The stitch pattern wasn't too complicated and didn't get lost in the color variation. Also, it was destined for someone. It's always nice to have a recipient in mind when you're making something, as you can focus your good thoughts on that someone.

The scarf was very well-received, apparently. According to one friend, almost the only time the recipient takes it off is to shower.
Though I'd much rather be walking to work, I will admit that riding the train's been good for my needlework. Since knitting's become mainstream now, too, I have far fewer people bothering me while I work than the last time I took the T to work. (Never saw anyone being grilled over their choice of reading matter. Don't know why people felt it necessary to engage me in conversation while I was otherwise engaged. Really annoying.) The productive time is showing as I appear to be knocking off something like an item a week.

Here's some of what I've either got in the works or have finished. Hopefully the collection will keep growing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

While I was away, I saw some silly article from the NYT about how illiterate/dumb/inferior to the new president our former president is based on comparisons of what he's (actually) read vs whatever it is that the current president's myspace page says that he read. Whatever. What really intrigued me was that our former president engaged in a reading contest with the vice president for several years running. For reasons that should be apparent to anyone who hasn't been hit by the "GWB is an idiot, nyah" stick, though he didn't ever beat the vice president, he still got a lot of good reading in. Anyway, here's a list of some current favorites. Lots of really interesting biographies, histories, mysteries.

Well, that got me to thinking. If the president could read a book a week (in spite of what most of my neighbors may think, a very intelligent president. Trust me, history will bear this out) with all of his responsibilities, exigences, etc, surely I with my 1/2 time school schedule and 1/2 time work schedule could do the same at least. Anyway - have made it my goal now that I'm feeling better to do a lot more reading. A book a week, in addition to what I'm studying, if possible.

Here's what I've read so far:

Freakonomics - Picked this up for an Euro at Paris's version of the Salvation Army. I'd heard so much about it, couldn't resist at that price. It turned out to be one of those books that kept me up at nights thinking. Economics to me had before been nothing but dry histories, arguments over the merits of central planning vs market systems, etc. etc. This view as one of incentives was refreshing and interesting, albeit somewhat depressing/upsetting at times. In all, a wonderful 'opening up' of the mind. I found the essays on abortion and crime, on the economics of a crack gang in Chicago, and on how one of the authors proved allegations of cheating on standardized tests by CPS teachers particularly engaging.

How to Cook a Wolf - Pavel got this for me for Christmas. More a treatise on how to keep strong during a time of great privation than an actual cookbook (though there are some recipes within that are both deliciously simple and, well, curious, to put it kindly), MFK Fisher's guide on how to survive on wartime rations both physically and spiritually really tugged at my heart strings. (Gosh, if ever I could be able to write like anyone, it'd be like her.)

Consider the Oyster - another half-cookbook half-memoir on a very dear to my heart subject (with more chowder and stew recipes than I ever thought possible).

Why We Suck - All I can really say is, Move Over, Allan Bloom. (Have a serious soft spot for Denis Leary - Doctor - Denis Leary. Picked this up in Newark before Christmas, as, well, I really liked the cover picture. Figured that it'd make a nice foil for the copy of the New Criterion and Foreign Affairs I'd also picked up. Read it on the way back home. Okay: I don't agree with Herr Doktor Leary's politics; 'course I wouldn't. However, I found the anecdotes about his family charming and the cynical guy's proclamations of love for his family genuine. Very refreshing.)

La Revanche - The Frenchie told me that Grisham had come out with some very good non-lawyer stories. He really enjoyed the version originale, so, while waiting for my delayed flight at Roissy, picked the translation up for the heck of it. I think I might like the original better (about American Football in Italy), as the translation's a poor one.

What am I reading now? This. Will talk about it later. It's another one that's causing me to lose sleep at night, it's so riveting. Want to read more this guy.

What's next on the list?

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The Federalist Papers

Carnets d'Enquetes

No real theme going on here, except maybe that I don't tend to read much fiction.

What are your reading plans for the near future / the year?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Improvised Minestrone.

Needed something warm based on stuff from the larder. This was a surprisingly good improvisation.

1 can (13-16 oz) White Kidney Beans

1 can (same size) tomatoes (this time around, I used some store brand stewed tomatoes with green pepper and 'latin' spices)

1 small package mixed vegetables (just like that creepy canned Veg-All, only frozen: diced carrots, lima beans, potatoes, corn)

1 8oz container sliced mushrooms

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic

3-4 bay leaves

salt-pepper, basil, oregano
to taste

2 T olive oil

3-4 cubes bouillion (doesn't matter which flavor)

3-4 c water

Chop onion, mince garlic. Saute in olive oil until transparent. Add canned tomatoes, beans, frozen veggies, water, herbs/spices. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add mushrooms. Continue simmering until mushrooms are soft. Serve with bread, rice, pasta, whatever you like.


***

Amazing how acts of desperation can turn into keepers sometimes. Enjoy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pattern Recognition.

Hard to stomach, but just try to sit through this one:



After the creeped-outedness wore off, a realization struck. Doesn't it sound an awful lot like this?:



(Thanks, Pablo.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Treats!

So, this weekend, the Wells Fargo Wagon made its way down my street. And what it leave on my doorstep? Many wonderful things:

Emerald Glass

Beautiful emerald glass. I saw these and just had to get them. Not only because they were exactly the same colo(u)r as what my loverly Auntie Scoot collects, but because they remind me of some of the glasses that are still kicking around in my family that my (literal) bohemian relatives made in the New World when they quit the old Empire. (Not in East Cambridge, though I think they'd have liked it there, nor in Ohio, but in Buffalo, back when Libbey had a plant there.)

Whale Tickling the Ivories

"What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?"

A sweet little whale who looks as though he could have leapt off the pages of one of the Rockwell Kent editions.

Button Box

An unexpected little something that I've got big plans for.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Morning in Asia.

Half awake, enjoying the first sip of coffee and the last bit of calm of the day, I was greeted by Pavel:

"You know, Ronald Reagan said that in 1980 it was Morning in America Again. Today, it's Morning in Asia."

Matin d'Asie

Those crazy French, putting their perfume in the least apparent of places. Had the choice between "Asian Morning" and "Caribbean Breeze." The stockperson said that he had to live with large quantities of both and could discern no difference between the two.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dormancy.

Givre III

About the only thing that can grow here in January.

Can't really start the practical garden work here until about mid-April. The months up till then is when one dreams, plans, plots things out.

The gardening catalogues started arriving in December. Broke out the graph paper for planning out the new garden just the other day: looks like lots of shade and wet loving plants in the yard. Any vegetables or fruits will have to be grown in containers on the patio and balconies. All this will need to be protected, too, from all the folks we've invited to dinner over the winter.

Pavel wants a tree for the front. For as long as I've known him, he's wanted an American dogwood. This last season, he sort of changed his mind and is now looking for a mountain ash (good idea - much hardier). I'd like that he get a crabapple maybe, too. Hopas make the best jelly.

Am marvelling at work that goes on in our protective little pods before we bust out again in Spring.
And over at the Presidential Palace in Tehran, Chavez's BFF is all like,

"You...said...Bush."




¡Mira! ¡En EspaƱol! Really, I think I'm onto something here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pro Israel Rally in Copley Square



Though bitter cold out, there were still plenty of people (+1000?). Spirits were pretty up, too. Lots of signs driving home the fact that Israel has a right to defend herself, that Hamas were terrorists who target civilians. (My favorite read "Israeli Self Defense is a Mitzvah.")

The other side numbered perhaps a couple hundred tops and seemed to be comprised mainly of dyspeptic-looking Cambridge UU types. Lots of signs about "stopping genocide."

In all, a very positive thing to run into on the way home.
Fur Hat.

Remember a while back when I was talking about wanting a fur hat to go with the fluffy mittens I was making? Well, ask and you shall receive.

I love it. Found it around New Year's time at one of those little boutiques that seem to be cropping up everywhere in former industrial areas that are now rezoned "hip." This particular one, with its expensive goods and minimalist decor, could have been anywhere in the West or West-imitating world. In fact, I'd have thought myself Union Square, Somerville instead of Puteaux if all the prices weren't in Euros.

Anyway, have noted that the French seem really into fur this winter, major accessories being fur scarves, hats and (I'm shaking my head at this one) rabbit-fur vests. Does my heart good, on one hand, to see that PETA holds little sway there. On the other hand, fur farming practices where a lot of this stuff is coming from (my guess is China - tried on a real, non-antique fox-fur hat that was only like 90 EE. Can't imagine that being made over there for that cheaply.) is kind of upsetting to think about, so opted for a lovely fake.

Of course, now I need a new scarf and gloves to go with the hat. Haven't decided yet what would go best: maybe dark brown, maybe black. The Frenchie says that, if I get a red coat and the riding boots I've been eyeing for a couple years now, I'll be having a problem with men falling at my feet. I like the idea of a red coat, but not so much the random men dropping like flies around me. That sounds kind of annoying.
Awfully tired lately; am just not bouncing back like I used to. Did manage to get registered for the stuff I wanted to take this semester and buy books, though.

All this, by the way, is just my holding onto one vine while I search for the next one to grab onto.

Will talk more about that later.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ugh.

Feels like I have a touch of what I'm just going to call "DeGaulle's Revenge."
Busy Day.

I'd arranged for some part-time temporary work at a local school. Turns out that they want me full-time for at least this week. Though I like them well enough, I'm not keen on working anywhere full time right now*.

As my grades were so surprisingly stellar**, I decided to treat myself to the sequel to the Western Civilization course I took last semester. Enjoyed it immensely and, well, I'm a sucker for a good potboiler. Since this all but depletes the History offerings at the school, I'm thinking maybe of an Economics course as well. We'll see.

Anyway, the registration has to be accomplished before work. Work's all day after that and it promises to be hectic. Need to fit in haggling with Commonwealth effing Care and my alma mater. Also need to get a couple doctor appointments arranged.

It'll all get done. I'll be fine. Just am a little cranky at leaving the house right now.

***

*No, I'm not independently wealthy. My ability to take time off, take classes and get my life straightened out comes from the fact that, while everyone else around me seemed to be buying Priuses, iPhones, flat-screen TVs and adjustable-rate mortgages, I was paying off my credit card and student loans, searching for a cheaper place to live and saving money. It took time, and, unfortunately, a job that I didn't much care for that paid well. But, well, life's sometimes about delayed gratification. Am not into job-hopping, as I was never raised to believe in that elusive to the point of being almost non-existent "perfect fit" in the work world. How could there ever be with my background?

**An A- for one class: Not bad, considering I got a pretty awful grade on one assignment when the whole thing with my brother went down> Must have aced the exam. Will ask the professor if I can see it. I had this really odd feeling I'd never experienced before that I did incredibly well. The other class, the one I was worried about, was a straight A. Maybe good grades shouldn't come as such a surprise for me, as it seems that whenever I actually do the work, I end up with almost perfect scores. Funny how that works.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Daube.

I always find it interesting when I go on an improvisational streak and end up with what is considered a classic by someone else.

We'd picked up a decent-sized piece of beef (guaranteed French) at Leclerc (kind of a French Walmart - right down to the messy aisles and depressing flourescent lighting) with the intention of making a bourgignon. Got home and found that all the recipes we had for said bourgignon were way too fussy, so decided to make my own something with the cheap meat and cheap wine. The ex-Mme. Frenchie, who was served this for an impromptu lunch and who grew up in Provence, declared what I'd made a "daube."

Looked up what I did in Cook's Illustrated, and found that, though mine didn't have all the ingredients that theirs did, it was indeed a sort of daube.

Anyway, for posterity:

1 1/2 lbs beef (for last night's dinner, I used a bit of steak I got on "manager's special" at Stah), cut into bite-sized cubes

2 cups beef bouillion

2 cups good enough for drinking, but not that great red wine (last night's had a California Merlot); let's be reasonable, folks.

3-4 carrots, scrubbed and cut into coins about 1/2 inch thick)

(a handful or two of sliced mushrooms)

1 onion, diced

a clove or two of garlic, minced

a couple bay leaves if you have them. (The Frenchie has a couple laurel trees in his garden, so, we're spoiled. I had to use the jarred stuff here as, well, since I was already taking a chance by smuggling a bit of pate in, I wasn't going to press my luck by bringing a handful of tree leaves home as well. If one or the other was confiscated, I could handle it. Both would be a heartbreak).

2-3 T olive oil

Saute onion in olive oil until transparent. Add garlic and saute a bit until that's tender. Add beef. When cubes are browned on all sides, add carrots, the bouillon, bay leaves and simmer until carrots are tender. Add wine and simmer further until liquid is reduced. Serve with small boiled potatoes, noodles, good bread and a salad.

Serves four. If you can manage it, try to have leftovers. They're even better.
If you take a look at the meteo, you will note that not just Paris, but all of France got nailed by snow and cold weather. Perhaps it was due to their major source of hot air heading south and west for Christmas break.

Anyway, below freezing temperatures and maybe three inches of snow does not seem like much to us stoics in the US Northeast, but it was devastating, I tell you, devastating to Paris.

Haze

The haze is actually smog.

My stomping grounds are in a place called Suresnes, which, like Somerville, is a rapidly gentrifying industrial city. Also like Somerville, it is very hilly. Was very interesting to see something like four accidents within the first hour of snowfall around the block from the house*.

Walking was pretty difficult, as things had iced up a lot. Given the grades of some of the hills and the lack of snow cleanup, I probably should have brought my crampons in addition to the boots and winter coat. Still, it was pleasant to be out and the change in weather (first Christmas snow in more than 10 years?) seemed to provide a much-needed lift to folks' spirits. I noticed a lot more people smiling this last time than on past visits.

***

*That's right, Paris, like Boston, has more than enough a$$hole drivers. Perhaps Paris has even more, proportion-wise. The Frenchie's always trying to get me to drive there, but I won't. Haven't driven here at all in four years because the freaks on wheels scare me so. Don't see why I'd start there, where the laws are different and the roads more treacherous.
Actually, a Peterson guide to North American birds would be nice, too. My birthday's coming up at the end of the month, so maybe I'll spring for one.

Thought about the Sibley guide, but, figured that, since my (snort) extensive library of field guides tends towards Peterson, might as well not break up the set.

Anyone out there prefer the Sibley one? If so, why? I know that, years ago, when the new illustrated one came out, it made a huge splash. I'm not enough of a bird enthusiast to understand the finer points of these things.
Got the Frenchie to put out suet and seed for his garden dwellers, as well. Was amazed at how different or exotic the common varieties over there seem.

First of all, there were the Geai (pronounced Jay). In French, they're called Geai des Chenes (oak jays); in English, Eurasian Jays. These guys are about the size of pigeons, grey with only flashes of blue on the wings. Very impressive. Though I didn't hear their calls, I'm told that they are kind of strident - perhaps like our blue jays here?

There seemed to be plenty of mesanges, or chickadees (tit family, anyway, I think) around. The interesting thing about the ones I saw was the variation of coloring: some had deep blue, almost violet caps instead of black. Others had, instead of white throats, cream or even yellow ones.

Can't forget the pies - first cousins to crows and jays. These fellows are super talkative and are black with stunning white flashes on their wings and long tails. These may be my favorites.

The Frenchie's favorites, he told me, are the rouge-gorges. I was very interested to see one, as I'd figured that they'd be like the North American robins. Turned out I was wrong. They look more like bluebirds, only with grey instead of blue coats. They are quite pretty.

I really need to get an European bird book. Didn't get a chance to hunt one down, as we never actually made it to Paris (or the big bookstore in Versailles). The Frenchie seems to think that he might have an older guide in among the cartons of stuff that belonged to his parents that he packed away. Apparently his mother enjoyed watching birds.
Though I got back last Thursday (the 8th), it's taken me a couple days after that to somewhat return to the land of the living. For some reason, and I'm not really sure why, have managed to reverse days and nights. Maybe it's a combination of stress and the Winter absence of light.

Anyway, tired of being tired, I dosed myself with valerian last night and managed to sleep straight through to this morning. Came down for my coffee and found that the yew tree, bent again with the snow, was a hotbed of bird activity.

The first ones (and they were up before me) I saw were the juncos, or snowbirds. They're little grey ones, about the size of sparrows, with white bellies and light colored beaks. Plain little things, they might be my favorites.

Was happy to see the bluejay couple as well as Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal back. Mr. Cardinal only makes periodic cameos, as I think he's keeping an eye out on his territory. Mrs. Cardinal, a beautiful olivey-brown color with an orange beak, seems to be a regular in the yew, among the sparrows and juncos. Notably absent are the tufted titmice and the chickadees. Wonder where they all went.

While I was away, Pavel had to buy a new feeder. He got one of those anti-squirrel contraptions with a grill that lowers over the feed openings with the weight of those fat grey pestilent types (phooey). Saw two squirrels go at it this morning and get very frustrated. Does my heart good, as now we won't have to refill the darn thing every day.

Inside the house is a gosh-darned mess and I do dread all the cleanup that needs to be done. It is nice to get back to the kitchen window, though.