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This is the first in a series of explanations, essays, and exercises for coping with Chronic Pain.  A friend requested I explain how I've used CBT to deal with pain, and I promised to provide both information and practical exercises.  While I'm not sure how many posts this will take, I have at least fourteen exercises to cover.

This post will cover:

  • What is pain? 
  • What is CBT for Chronic Pain? What do I know about pain? Where did I get this?
  • The Pain Scale, with some examples
  • Exercise #1 It’s a capital error to theorize before one has data
Cut for very, VERY longCollapse )

hey buddy, wanna buy some dog food?

 OK, so another post is due later today!  (Yes, I'm way late!)

But in the meantime......

So, I purchased the puppy from a high-end breeder who asked that I feed at least partially raw, especially during her developmental years.  I was amenable to this.  Dog nutrition is quite complex, so we feed half raw and half pre-made.

I'll skip the long, boring story about us trying various chi-chi dog foods before discovering some that agreed with her system.  We've now got a couple that she does well on.

Which means that I can now get rid of the absolutely mind-boggling array of top-notch Honest Kitchen foods that I bought.  If you have never heard of Honest Kitchen dog foods, they are really excellent quality.  Rather than a kibble, these are dehydrated foods that you mix with water.  This turns them from a powder into a sort of thick porridge.  

Why a porridge?  This makes the food more digestible and more 'normal'.  Kibble itself isn't really a normal form of food.  The recent Australian research found that dogs prone to bloat had less chance of bloat if they were fed, uh, table scraps, rather than just regular approved dog-food, which still cracks me up (the researchers were obviously hoping to get another chance to yell at pet owners who give table scraps but were Foiled).  Anyway, the extreme dry kibble can be tough for some dogs, and a more natural water-containing food is easier on the system in general.  

HK is also the only pet food company that not only uses human grade ingredients, but has been inspected by the FDA (at HK's own request!) to human-food-grade standards.  

This is all fab-tastic, but makes the food unbelievably expensive.  (I know, what a surprise.)

This is the brand I started with for the puppy and she ate it for quite a while before turning up her elegant and Germanic snout.  Therefore I now have an ungodly number of boxes of gold-standard dog food that will go to waste if I don't find a home for it.  I've already donated a bunch of 'didn't work out' kibbles to the local rescue, but I don't know that they're really set up for feeding their pups porridge, so I'm offering it here, at a steep discount.  

Most of the boxes have only a couple servings removed.  She used to eat Thrive, which is why I have so many boxes of it.  The others were bought as sample sizes; we'd take out a little, offer it to her, she'd try it once, then refuse all subsequent offers.  We've determined she's a fairly picky eater, especially around Hormonal Girl Time.  Anyway, I can weigh the boxes if anyone wants to know for sure how much is left of each.

I'd like to get about 50% of the cost back, but if no one takes it at 50%, I'd take less.  I'm not sure how much shipping will actually cost, but I'm using a guestimate of $15.  Anything above the $15 is on me.  If I can somehow get it shipped for less, I'll refund the difference.

I'm listing the retail price, then the 50% off.  IDEALLY, I'd love to send it to one person.

Thrive: free-range chicken and quinoa, three TEN POUND boxes, one box unopened, retail at $98 each, total is $294.  I would like $140
Verve: Ranch-raised beef, 4 pounds, retail is $40, asking $18.
Keen: Cage-free turkey, 2 pounds, retail $18, asking $8.
Force: Free-range chicken, 2 pounds, retail $26, asking $13.
Hale: Base-mix, add your own meat, UNOPENED, 3 pounds, retail $36, asking $18.

Total asking price for all the food: $197 plus $15 shipping, is $212.  Total retail price is $414.  

I will ship to anywhere US for the $15; I take paypal; comment if you'd like to buy.

Any takers?  
For [personal profile] kore !

OK, this isn't gonna top the 'Help, I have two squirrels in my freezer' story (neither of which she'd killed) but it's current and it's silly as hell as it amuses me deeply.

So, at the moment, I'm sick.  The kind of sick where you hide under the covers, honking mournfully into kleenex, and drinking hot soup from a little cup while watching Netflix for hours.  The kind where you get annoyed at having to press 'keep playing' every hour and a half.  Obviously, you want to keep playing.  DUH.

Normally, I walk the puppy three times a day.  Yes, we have a big back yard, and yes, we play out there a lot, but I also take her on walkies thrice daily, usually for a couple miles per.  Yesterday, I didn't manage any, and today I did one and felt that, perhaps, I should have a nice soothing lie down after.  (Honestly, what was I thinking?  OK, I know what I was thinking: SAD PUPPY EYES.)

Anyway, back in the day, the Pook would hop up on the bed and guard me, in his silent and menacing fashion, if I was sick.  Maddie doesn't really roll that way.  Sure, she's a formiddable guardian, but instead of hanging out and looking villainous, she--

Well, she grabbed my pink croc, hopped up on my bed, and began to spin around in circles, while bouncing up and down, and kill-shaking the croc for all she was worth.  

It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

When she was done, she looked closely at me, as if to gauge whether I was sufficiently cheered up.  Deciding that I wasn't, she proceeded to do another round of pink-croc-shaking war dancing.  

After the second round, I must have seemed sufficiently cheered, since she gave me a face full of puppy kisses, then plopped down, looking very pleased with herself.

Good job, puppy!

December memeage, still not dead, etc

I have been very absent, it's complicated, let us talk of other things.

So!

There's this meme going around. Give me a topic, or a question, or similar, and I will do my best to post about it on the day you request.  You may ask me about personal stuff, random things, fic, fandoms, whatever you like.  You should also request a number.  Depending on the question, I reserve the right to post it f-locked/filtered, obvs.
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3.  Puppy story, for [personal profile] kore .
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5.  My hurt comfort preferences, for [personal profile] rachelmanija .
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9. Fountain pens, for [personal profile] yhlee .
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11. Quilts, for [personal profile] rilina .
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18. Earning money or dog stories, for [personal profile] loligo .
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Apparently, the Mormon Church has realized that discriminating against gay people for living places and jobs is, like, wrong.  And stuff.  

Because as church leaders and Jesus-followers, Mormons should be kind to the wrongity-bad-wrong fucked up souls who love their own sex.  These people deserve our compassion, doncha know, and like, should be allowed to hold jobs.

Yeah.

Wow.

So impressed am I at your stellar record of awesomeness towards little sinners like me.  This acknowledgement that I should be able to have housing and jobs JUST MAKES ME THINK MORMONS ARE TOTES THE MOST COMPASSIONATE.  Cuz what could possibly be more compassionate than that.

Am I right?

Quilt for Sale: Grrrrrl Power

Hey, buddy, wanna buy a quilt? *opens trenchcoat to reveal several cunningly folded and hung beauties of dubious provenance*

OK, not really.

But I am selling one of my quilts. I have never done this before, and I thought I'd best explain.

A dear friend of mine is going through a hard time, due to unemployment and Hard Times, which seems to abound right now. My country is still in the midst of a rough depression, and finding work is extremely difficult. This dear friend's husband has been hitting the payment relentlessly, but to no avail.

As a hiring manager myself, I know why. He's overqualified for the few openings available, he's too old, his health precludes him from hard labor, and he doesn't have the chipper-cheery mien of a twenty-something fresh out of college.

In years past, my grandparents had friends just like this. Back then, they would hold potluck suppers and card-parties and dances. A dollar for supper, or a minor fifty cent card party buy in, or another dollar for the dance room. The host and friends would supply simple but tasty food, like fried egg sandwiches or chips, and the proceeds would go to the friend in need.

I'm too far away to offer a party like that, but I can sell a quilt.

This quilt was originally intended as a gift for my mother, and it's named Grrrrl Power in honor of the tough as nails line of ladies from whom I descend. My grandmother once explained to me how to keep a brick on the lid of a toilet to prevent rats entering a baby's bedroom via the sewers and how to rig a similar safety measure for the windows, as babies are particularly vulnerable prey to rats.

This should give you a sense both of the intense maternal devotion and of the sort of environment (urban rough) from which I descend.

I'd like to think my quilts reflect this heritage.

The top (that's the pretty stripy part) is made of strips of fabric dyed by hand in Bali. The Bali dyers use wax to create the patterns, and the repeated handling of the fabric means that the fabric needs to be very sturdy. The wax that remains (in tiny amounts) also strengthens the cloth.

In my experience, the sturdiest quilts are made of Bali handpaint fabrics. Mixed quilts (those with regular patterned quilting fabric or plain quilting cotton) will show wear at the plain fabric first, far earlier than at the Bali fabric.

But I don't use Bali fabric just because it's sturdy. I use it because it's beautiful--created by master craftsmen, I sincerely believe that the care and thoughtfulness that goes into its creation shines through in the lovely tonal qualities of the fabric that results.

The pattern I chose (that's the long stripes) is a simple one, and not particularly challenging to create. It is sometimes used by quilters for a fast and easy project, in which case they sometimes choose the next strip to attach by random, allowing serendipity to guide the result.

Since this was a quilt for my mom, I was a little more thoughtful about it. While I did have a color scheme and some pre-cut strips, I removed those that didn't match the mood and substituted strips that better suited. I ordered the colors in a way that best suited the design I had in mind, and I finished the results with a color (rich red-violet) that would make the center colors float.

This was a tricky quilt to photograph, as red-violet laughs at my little Nikon, and the current crop of storms has made things challenging.

The main colors are: red violet on the outside, a lively mix of bright-dark and bubblegum-light pinks, cream or gray with sprightly splashes of yellow or pink/violet, and some spicy yellows and lovely lavenders.

The backing is a dark red-violet pinkish tonal print.

The quilting was done with pink and lavender Aurifil thread, with a sewing machine but by hand (that is, not longarm production quilted) in a sturdy wide stitched-in-the-ditch style. I find that wide spaced quilting produces the softest quilts for snuggling under. Dense quilting looks fabulous, but is often too stiff for snooziling.

The batting is Warm and Natural, which is what I depend on.

If you have never owned a truly handmade quilt before, you may be nervous about its care and keeping. Handwashing, hang-drying, special washing sodas, etc.

Yeah, I don't hold truck with that sort of thing. My quilts are washed in a big Kenmore and dried in same or on the line, as God intended. I would recommend avoiding any laundry detergent prone to fading (such as Gain), but that is often a matter of preference. If you wish to wash this baby in the bathtub with a teensy bit of OxyClean, that is fine, too.

All photographs were taken after washing and drying, so that you could see how the quilting would look once the fabric had rested post-drying. (That is why you often see before and after pictures on some Etsy listings, by the way.)

I make my quilts to be used. Some people who shop handmade quilts are nervous about putting them to use. By all means use a handmade quilt to cuddle your ancient cat, you sick parent, your cranky toddler, your own chilly toes. Quilts, in my view, are only truly quilts when they are used for comfort.

This quilt is 53" by 63", or "throw" sized. A crib size quilt (for babies) is around 40 by 60, and a large twin bed quilt would be 72 by 90. So this is about the perfect size to cover a person in a large chair/on the couch/at the end of the bed.

Since I have never sold a quilt before, I was somewhat unsure what to price it at. Many production style quilts are sold a bit cheaper, but most seem to be sold for quilt a lot more. I have chosen a minimum of $150 for the start of the bidding. I am leaving this open for five full days. So, bidding closes on Sunday, April 6, at 7 pm.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
Cut for large photosCollapse )

So about that pesky PTSD

I sometimes see fandom talk about triggers. Just to be clear: I'm gonna talk about the clinical kind of trigger, not like a discussion about fic or anything.  I'm not in that kind of place.

I was going to go over the various external stressors (sixty hour weeks, government shutdown in a state job, major budget shortfall, employee problem, health issues, etc etc), and then I was going to explain the tigger (my dad told me that I was a "disappointment". Again.  Because that is just how he rolls.).

But instead, I thought I'd tell you what it looks like. (No, I don't know why I'm feeling like sharing. But I haven't posted in a month or so, and this is as good a post as any.)
pretty sure this should have a trigger warning for ptsd stuffCollapse )

It's gonna take a while to get back to normal.  Maybe if I get another pair of boots and let the dog stay close. 

The Dreaded Time of Year: Squash-pa-looza

Look, I'm getting desperate over here.  I now have NINE tromboncinos lurking on my damn kitchen table, and this is after I gave away several.  The vines have spread so far that they've climbed over my bean bed, through a tomato patch, and out the other side.  One vine has a runner that is, my hand to god, a good twenty feet long.  It has nearly reached the fence line and appears to be headed for the neighbor's house.

Each of these long trailing vine-fiends has baby squash on them.  I saw one of the rabbits go in the patch, but I haven't seen it come out.  Maybe the squash ate them.  Maybe the rabbits hollowed one out to build a home.  I fear the dog will approach too closely and be nabbled up, and he's a good eighty pounds.  These suckers have to be feeding off something.

Some of the squash in my kitchen are four pounds EACH.  Others are "only" two and a half pounds.  People, I have nearly forty pounds of squash here.  Half of which I picked yesterday. 

I have so far made:
Grilled squash
Squash lasagne (with squash "noodles")
Boiled squash
Squash muffins, squash pies
Squash bread
Side-squash
Squash salads
Squash kebabs
Squash sliced, breaded, baked, and made into zuke sticks with dipping sauce

I instituted a one squash per person per day rule, but it isn't helping.  The squashy fiends have far-outstripped our current nomming efforts, and I've started trying to feed them to the dog, who is doing his best to help out, but he's getting on in his years, and he told me he can only manage half a squash if I add some butter to it and give him time to gnaw them because his teeth aren't what they used to be.   

What am I going to do?  I looked out this morning, and even from my porch, I could see two more light green squash lighted up like mini-lanterns, ready to be picked.  Tomorrow, they'll probably weigh another pound. 

Help. Help.

Pls send recipes knthnxbai

so about that pesky Captain Awkward

I quit reading CA a long time ago, for the most part.  For the mild social situations like what to do when you want to go restaurant A and your friends wish to go to restaurant B, I think she's fine.  Gifs, funny quotes, snark, sure.

But I think her advice on mental illness is terrible.  I think her advice on how to deal with oneself or one's partner in a context of mental illness inside a healthy relationship is pretty spectacularly awful. 

I have been doing a LOT of thinking about the CA thing, and disability issues, and relationships.  I just can't help thinking that the attitudes and advice there is like a siren-song that's luring some people to their (relationship) death and it makes me sad.

(I could explain why I think this, if people are interested, but I'm pretty sure I am a far outlier on this topic.  Near as I can tell, most people love CA.)

Sweet Bough: The Apple Chronicles

As I think I mentioned, I planted an embarrassment of fruit trees this spring.  Eight apple trees (in little clumps of 2-4 each), two cherries, two peaches, and a fig. 

Today, I harvested the first fruit of my labor.  Now, I bought small whip yearlings of semi-dwarf stock, so there was no reason to believe I'd have any fruit whatsoever for at least three or four years.  Even worse, I put the trees in a bit late because we had such strange weather (snow for a good six weeks past usual frost) and even more worse, the trees came from a completely different (and much milder) zone in northern Cali. 

But despite it all, my young trees took off, and a couple of them bloomed.

I was delighted to discover, late in the spring, two young apples.  One was reabsorbed or eaten by the squirrel mafia, but one small apple remained.  The summer trundled on, wet and lovely and beautifully mild for us, and the apple grew and grew.  Finally, it appeared fully apple-sized.  The fruit I bought from our local farmers market was smaller than the fruit I had on my tall leafy twig.  Weird.  I let it be, and let it be, and then today I discovered it had blushed as rosy as Nanny Ogg's cheeks. 

Very carefully, I held the apple, weighing it, thanking the tree, smiling with the glow of a summer-warm girl in the comfort of her own owned land, and I twisted up and off she came.  My own very first apple.  Sweet Bough.

Early apples are notoriously untasty, but I am a canny researcher.  I had purchased a wide variety of heirloom apples famed for their flavor, including a couple early apples.  My baby orchard boasts both Red Gravenstein (a sport of regular Gravenstein that supposedly enjoys the heat more) and Sweet Bough, widely considered by Coxe and other early-American growers (including in the South) to be one of the few early apples worth growing for flavor. 

I am startled to report that.....I agree.

We placed our Sweet Bough upon the cutting board, sliced her up, and tasted her.  Within about twenty seconds, the entire apple was gone.  My taste report is as follows:
Surprisingly crisp.  Not cool-weather Honeycrisp crisp (what is?), but a good deal crisper than the current crop of Galas available locally.  It was juicy without being wet--that is, nicely wet when bitten, but it did not pour juice down its side. The flesh was not at all mealy (awesome!) but instead nicely firm.  The taste was what really set it apart--sprightly.  Bright flavors, sweet, tangy, but nothing like the bitter or sharp cousins you get off many organic trees (where you wonder if things just went oddly awry). 

It wasn't a dark round flavor, like the Arkansas Black, but instead very light, pale summery honey gold.  Absolutely delightful. 

My mom is quite picky about her apples, and she said, surprised, 'It doesn't need hummous or anything!'  We both agreed that it was a very surprising apple to eat in August of all times, when normally you just would not get good fruit anywhere.  (It is basically the tail end of the storage apples so they're mealy or the too-early underripe types from far-away). 

Two thumbs up: Would nom again!

sweet bough apple on cutting board

Time time time

I was working on a piece of writing today.

It's gray and rainy today, here in my suburban home, hidden in a forest, surrounded by trees. When I biked, I passed a kid with training wheels, helmet, happy. Took my dog walking, didn't worry a single moment. I sit on my porch, look around, am grateful.

But...

Sometimes, like today, my heart aches for the old world. Stupid. I know it. I wouldn't go back there. I wouldn't put my family back there. I'm still proud of getting out, getting up.

But....

Sometimes I miss it.

I heard there was a murder, not five blocks from my last house. Heard what it was about. Thought to myself, I put R was one of them. Yeah, I wouldn't go back.

And yet, I miss it.

Put on some Tom Waits, closed my eyes, just remembered.
Well, things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl
The boys just dive right off the cars
And splash into the street
And when she's on a roll she pulls a razor
From her boot and a thousand
Pigeons fall around her feet

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0Owl_X-m8I
And the thing you can't remember, tell the things you can't forget.

Oh yeah, sometimes I miss it.  That world I understood, that knew me right back.  Not that we were fond, that world and I.  We never were.  But we understood each other.

A couple quick notes

I reviewed Black Butler (anime version) at the Hooded U the other day.  You can read about it here.

I have strep throat.  Vicious, ugly, horrible illness.  But now I have a Z-pack.  We loves our Z-pack, precioussss.  Preciouss, precioussss Z-packs.  I've been only semi-conscious the past few days, but within four hours of taking the beautiful beautiful Z-pack, I am now feeling semi-human instead.  I should have crawled my way to the doctor's office days ago, but I just felt too sick. 

For those who enjoy learning about learning, I thought I'd mention that I've finally found another dog trainer who explicitly uses mimic techniques to train dogs (aka imitative learning).  I used mimicry to teach the Pook a number of behaviors (including fetch--primarily, I would click/treat my mom for doing the behavior), and I was amused to discover that according to Science, this was not supposed to be possible.  But now another trainer has developed a specific system built around social mimicry.  It looks pretty cool, and I've popped for the DVD set off Dogwise.  If there's interest, I'll review the DVDs when I'm done watching them (they're over 8 hours long, so the price tag is actually quite reasonable).


Not ded

I haven't been around much lately, but it's been for (mostly!) good reasons.

I fired my orthopedic surgeon, and I have started seeing a well-recommended and highly regarded specialist.  Guess who turns out have had a torn ACL/PCL all this time?  JEEZ. 

Anyway, I am deep into weeks worth of pool and land PT.  It's going great, and I'm doing much much better.  Fewer meds needed, much better strength, able to do more things, etc.  Very exciting! 

I also went on a two week vacation.  I visited friends in Seattle, then I went to Alaska with my family.  I got to spend a lot of time with niece and my sister.  Annnnd, I got to see a family of humpback whales!  Which was just as cool as all those nature documentaries make it look.  Saw Tongass, too. 

At the moment, I am playing games with my geezer dog and having a nice summer.  The Pook is going deaf, so I'll be teaching him commands in sign instead of voice.  Should be fun!

And then I bought a bike!

I've been slowly and carefully regaining strength.  It's taking much longer than I would have liked, but bodies can be like that.

As part of this mad health plan, I decided that if I gained enough strength, I would get myself a bike.  Today I went into the best-reviewed local bike shop.  (My criteria were, in order: reputable and women-friendly shop, woman specific bike designs available, upright comfort style, step through frame, within budget.)

They were super nice.  The guy asked me all kinds of questions about what I was looking for, my priorities, my ride plans, without telling me my wants were silly or stupid.  He did not get bike-snobby whatsoever when I said that stability and comfort were my most important criteria.  He just said, "Sure!  Lots of people who get back into biking prefer that.  Let me show you something that might work for you." 

He explained thoroughly and carefully each of the various bikes that might match my needs.  Then he helped adjust a trial bike and set me up in the parking lot with a helmet.  I played with the gears, I tried the brakes, I listened to the explanation of various options for adjustment.  He talked to me like I was an intelligent person who simply hadn't had the opportunity to learn this stuff before (which I hadn't).  He focused on what I said was important--stability, safety, and comfort.

The bike he recommended for me was customizable in a few key ways.  He explained that when I started riding I might feel more comfortable with the settings in such-and-such a way (lower seat, for instance, so I could put my feet on the ground easier).  After a month or so, he said, when I was more steady in my balance, that might no longer be necessary and I could switch to the (easier for actual biking) slightly higher seat. 

What a difference a good bike person makes! 

I picked her up an hour ago (they assembled one in my preferred color for me and then put on the rack in the back).  I had mom drop me off, then I rode her home (after another gentle test drive in their back lot).  It was glorious!  I really like the more upright riding position.  It was gentle on my knee, without sacrificing balance.  I was easily able to brake, turn, and change gears. 

When I got home, I felt confident enough to just tool around the back streets of my neighborhood for a few minutes.  I didn't want to overdo, so I pedalled slowly home and put her away. 

In case people are curious, I bought a Giant/Liv Sedona DX.  I considered several models, including the Cypress and some others, but this one had more stability.  It fits my body, and I can ride without pain.  She's a soft turquoise, which I liked better than the black for some reason.  I could have had a wider range of brands and styles if I'd been able to stomach the jerks at the other stores, but I felt it was more important to buy a bike from someplace I could trust to do a tune up or teach me to do various adjustments. 

So!  My plan is to (gently, gently) work up to riding her on small errands, such as to the farmers market or to the grocery for milk/cream.  For the first couple weeks, my only goal is to make it easy and fun to gently bike around the neighborhood. 

*zoom zoom*

gardens, life, etc

I've been thin on the ground lately because I've been putting in a ton of overtime. 

It's also spring, my favorite time of the year.  I used to love autumn, and I still do, but spring is also glorious.  This year, I celebrated by ordering four cubic yards of compost for the garden.  What?  It's a whole two cubic yards less than last time!  I swear!

Gardening has been quite a challenge this year.  As other avid gardeners know, the zones and frost dates have changed in much of the states.  However, this year, things were quite off in the opposite direction, and I had snow and hard frost in May (yes, really).

Despite those challenges, thus far this year, I have planted:
Fruit trees!
I'm super excited about these fellas.  All were from Trees of Antiquity.  They get a huge thumbs up from me.  My mom helped me plant them, as she has taken certified arborist classes.  We planted:
Red Gravenstein (apples)
Sweet Bough
Arkansas Black
Kidd's Orange Red
Grimes Golden
Duchess of Oldenburg
Victoria Limbertwig
White Pearmain

Stella and Napoleon/Royal Anne (cherries)

Baby Crawford and Polly White (peaches)

Violette De Bourdeux/Negronne (cold hardy fig)

Roses

These were primarily planted for creating beneficial microclimates for our bird/animals and for enjoying.
Mary Rose (Austin, rich pink)
Wise Portia (dark pink, eaten by bunnies last year)
Tess (Austin, red/dark pink)
Queen of Sweden (Austin, light pink)
Peace (pink/yellow)
Pink Peace (pink with hint of yellow)
Chicago Peace (pinkier with bit of yellow)
I'd hoped to order Princess Alexandra of Kent, another rich pink Austin, but everyone but Austin US was out, and I just can't force myself to order from them, given the hugely mixed reviews they've gotten and the ridiculously increased prices (when you're more expensive than Heirloom by 30% that is a LOT). 

Perennials and Annuals
I'm putting in all sorts of perennials this year.  Last year, I experimented with several different online companies, as my local nurseries have somewhat vague stock.  I ordered from Burpee, Park's, Bluestone, Annie's, and a couple others.  Here are reviews of these folks.

Annie's Annuals and Perennials
I was surprised to discover that Annie's, which I had heard such wonderful things about, had the highest death rate of all (worse than Park's, which is kind of impressive, really).  They were also far and away the most expensive.  While their selection is unparralleled and their descriptions fun and funky, I also think they suffer from, well, excessive optimism and not in a good way.  It's fine to mention that some annuals will reseed given the right conditions, but in my case, despite solid care and following recommendations for location and yes, proper hardening off, the annuals just plain weren't suitable for my zone.  As in, the full sun hit them and in two weeks, they were dead.  Not a little wilty, not a little scruffy, dead

In my own garden, I often grow tomatoes more or less wild, as a self-renewing patch that requires only watering to get started.  Once I'm in a gardening locale, I can plant in my favorite tomatoes and be assured that, if I want, I can have that same (or similar) tomatoes show up in that spot the next year. 

It would be ridiculous of me to sell tomato seeds with the notation: "These little fellas self-seed regularly!  Plant two in a good spot and you'll be assured of plenty of volunteers come next spring!  Both tasty and delicious, this plant is easy to grow.  Recommended for anyone who has a 'black thumb'.' 

I can hazard some guesses as to why my tomatoes will reseed themselves like bizarre volunteers for a food army.  It could be that I use long slow good fertilizers in my soil (Fox Farm brand, for the curious).  It could be that I have chosen appropriate tomatoes for my zone.  It could be that I have what some more woo gardeners call a plant affinity (that is, there's a special spiritual connection here). 

But I can assure you all that perfectly respectable master gardeners in other locales (even nearby) do not have to regretfully rip out tomato volunteers that show up in random places in their yards.  They just don't.  A few might, but most don't.  Tomatoes are considered one of the jewels in the gardening crown, and nearly everyone I've ever known will say that these beasts must be started indoors. 

I do not doubt that Annie herself has more reseeding annuals than she needs.  I'm sure that her guesses as to zone appropriateness are well-intentioned and probably true for certain parts of a given zone (such as particular Cali micro-climate zones).  But her plants do not do well here, and except for a few particular plants I have no hope of getting anywhere else (larger dianthus, a plant that is practically unkillable and some native monarch-specific milkweeds) I will regretfully not purchase there again.  I certainly will not use her planting locale/zone guides in regards to me.

Burpee

This is one of my favorite gardening companies, but they have their faults.  They produce excellent varieties, but their seeds have become more and more expensive over the years.  Prohibitively so.  I now only purchase seeds from them every other year, using the last year or two's seeds in larger quantities to make up for lower germination rates.  We're talking six or seven bucks per packet for some of their new varietals.  Ouch.  But for consistent seed quality in really hot summer appropriate hybrids, they cannot be beat.  I've never had their seeds fully fail on me.

Park's
They are going bankrupt--for good reason.  Avoid like the plague.  Please.  There were weird bugs in my cardboard and they sent the wrong plants.  I got a refund....eventually.   But not soon enough to plant what I'd wanted. 

Bluestone Perennials
This little company underwent a major change a year or two ago.  Instead of selling small plants they've switched to larger 4" coconut pots.  I was dubious, because I hate coconut pots.  I'd tried those pots years ago and they never ever broke down. 

However, I had a coupon.  So I tried a small selection of their plants.  Unlike Annie's, these plants trouped slowly and doggedly through heat, massive drought, clay soil, and a lot of slugs with no problem. 

These Bluestone plants sailed through our unexpectedly brutal winter with zero difficulties.  Even the ones I forgot to plant (hey, they were stuck in a kind of muddy patch, OK?  I got....distracted.  As you do.) did just fine.  I mean, lolwhut super plants.  I have a mum in such a tough spot that's so lush it should be wearing a cape and a sparkly superhero cape. 

Unfortunately, Bluestone plants are NOT cheap.  Their shipping is about standard for well-packed online plant companies.  But the good news is that in spring, if you have bought from them during the season at regular prices, you get to leap on their 50% off sale.  That's when I stock up on plants I need in larger quantities or try things I'm unsure about. 

A few weeks ago, I bought nine perennial sunflowers, a bunch of quince, some daylilies, and some dianthus, poppies, anemone, and hosta.  Bluestone thoughtfully chose NOT to ship over Memorial Day weekend.  Yes, it meant my plants were delayed a bit, but it also meant my plants arrived ALIVE.  Big thumbs up from me. 

They also have the best search engine for plants.  You enter your criteria (location, soil type, zone, color, height, etc) and voila.  They tell you what will work.  Brilliant.  Free.  Fabulous.  Great for planning dream gardens!

I will post comments about bulb companies later, if there is interest.

Work is going through a massive reorganization right now.  I've been mostly absent for a bit, and, I'm sorry to say, I'm going to continue to be AWOL for a while.

I've been doing some sewing in order to relax, and I thought I'd share some of my progress.  In the past, I've made a few skirts, some pj pants, and the occasional ill-fitting top.  This last winter I took a class on sewing curves with my beautiful new machine, which I still love.  Unlike my 1960s Singer, the Brother has a bunch of fancy stitches, including an overcasting stitch, a stretch stitch, easy-to-do basting stitches, and so on. 

I love pretty dresses, but I have a hard time finding ones that fit me well.  Classic busty hourglasses may show up in illustrations, but they sure don't show up in most clothing lines!  I have a couple of April Cornell bias-cut dresses and a couple Holy Clothings and a best beloved bias-cut 1940s style silk and silk-lined dress that I've owned for twenty years (it is now far too big but I'm not getting rid of that puppy). 

So I bought a copy of Colette's Sewing Handbook, a couple of Burda and Simplicity patterns, some sale fabrics, and got to work. 

The first thing I learned was that I now remember why I hate homemade dresses: facings.  I loathe facings.  LOATHE THEM.  For those who don't know, facings are these weird flappy little bits of semi-lining that are supposed to make it possible for you to have smooth seams at necklines and arm-bands.  They do not work for me, and I find them scratchy and messy. 

My Burda style dress remains half-made, as I wrestled hard with those suckers.  I will finish it, eventually, but I set it aside in a fit of pique.

I moved on to the first project in the Colette handbook--the little scallop-edged skirt called Meringue.  I didn't much care for the scallops, but I wanted to learn the techniques.  The book itself is quite interesting, and the instructions are often well-thought out and interesting.  Unfortunately, I think they're an odd mixture of skipping basic steps (with darts should you cut them or not?  Patterns vary on this step!) and too basic (showing that fabrics come in stripes, dots, patterns of various depths). 

I needed a full yard of fabric less than the pattern called for, which was disconcerting.  But I followed the steps and made my skirt, and discovered that I should have used a much heavier weight.  I used a shot-cotton shirting, which has lots of drape, but the skirt's scallops were too soft.  I'd followed all the rules about fit, but I found the skirt's fit to be only 'OK'. 

So, I moved on to the Taffy blouse.  This silly confection is bias-cut and pretty, but kind of absurd.  It's intended to teach a new sewist about making French seams and working with fancy fabrics.  I decided to make an actual muslin to perfect the fit, and I'm glad I did. 

See, according to Colette's patterns, she drafts based on a C cup, where most pattern manufacturers do a B cup.  The Taffy blouse is a fairly loose generous cut (as her patterns go) with just a simple bust dart and shaping provided by the sides and two ties in the back.

My measurements fell quite nicely on her pattern measurements, so I made the regular size.  Except it did not fit.  At all. 

I'm not experienced enough to understand exactly what the problem was, but I can tell there was one.  It fit over my head fine.  In fact, the neck was floppy and too big, and the seams showed my bra straps all around (I hate that). 

The stomach was oddly poochy, even though mine is nicely tucked in.  The shoulders slid around.  The arm area was sort of...poochy?  And the hips were really really tight.  It was deuced odd.

In fact, you can see similar fit issues on the model!  See how the armpit area has several folds?  Strange, huh?  And there are folds at the stomach as well, because the shirt can't really keep moving down over the model's hips (and mine are much much larger than hers).  She has a fairly straight shape (similar sized shoulders, waist, hips, I mean) so if it was a bit odd shaped on her, imagine how it was on a La Curved Out shape like me.  Not good, let's just put it that way.  Here's another version on a dress-form.  I didn't want to directly criticize anyone else's fit, and certainly not their shape, so I didn't point out more.  Personally, I just don't think the fit on this blouse was well-crafted.

Compare the fit to this April Cornell blouse, which is very similar in basic construction (three pieces of fabric, made of a lightweight woven fabric).

While the Cornell blouse isn't 100% perfection, it's also not a bespoke garment!  The whole point of making fitted blouses from a fancy pattern is to get a good fit (or to use things like silk voile, ahem).  If Colette herself can't sew a beautifully fitted blouse for her models, how am I to sew myself a well-fitted garment, even with adjustments?

Here is another example of the well-fitted garments from her book.  Um. 

So, in the midst of struggling with the supposedly best new thing since sliced bread (aka Colette patterns), I succumbed to the Washi dress.  I wanted a nice comfy housedress to wear on the porch for post-gardening naps. 

My first go I made a wearable muslin from loud mumu-like quilt cotton on sale.  I made it maxi length and swapped in bias binding for all the stupid and senseless facings.  I also swapped in elbow length sleeves for the cap sleeves.

Imagine my surprise when, a couple hours later, I had a well-fitted attractive dress that needed only a bit of help with the hemming (it's hard to pin hems yourself).

The bust looked right.  The sleeves fit.  Everything went together without pain.  I don't care for pure-shirring, so, like others, I made an elastic casing.  It worked fine.

Feeling confused, I decided it must have been an aberration, so I made another one.  In plaid navy-black flannel.  This time I chose my own neckline (to be more modest and make sure my bra wouldn't show).  Despite this change and despite it not being on the bias, it still fit over my head, laid beautifully flat, and looked good. 

When I wore it to work, several people stopped me and asked where I had found such a stylish dress!

I made one in Amy Butler Love at tunic length for spring.  I adjusted a larger size for my mom and made it maxi length and sleeveless from an organic cotton sheet trimmed with white bias binding and with a pretty applique flower patch for style.  I made it again in tunic length in cream-floral with shot cotton bias binding.  I made it in ankle length, elbow-sleeved walking dress style in blue-green shot cotton. 

Even now, four yards of expensive Japanese double-gauze are whinging its way to me.  That'll be in a probably-sleeveless version for summer.  The lovely Art Gallery linen-cotton will get made into a short sleeved maxi length for my mom.  Another four yards of navy-blue voile will be made into a probably princess neckline version.  The black-white chambray weave linen blend is going to be an elbow length version with wide black bindings and, if I can manage it, some Alabama Chanin style embellishments. 

As will a selection of additional shot cottons, vintage sheets, spare old sheets, new organic cotton sheets bought on the cheap, and Kona cottons of various colors and combinations, as well as voiles, and, I suspect, a smidgen of French silk. 

This week, I decided to branch out again.  I picked up a pattern by Kay Whitt from Serendipity studios.  You can see some nice variations here.  (I also picked up the modkid kimono dress/tunic, but reaaaaaallly didn't like the construction instructions.)  I'm making the kimono's muslin from a sale Anna Marie Horner cotton voile in rich spring greens.

However, I do continue to ponder the issues with those Colette patterns.  Maybe I was doing something wrong?  Maybe my shape is really weird?  I don't know.  I know I would like to sew a well-made fitted dress or blouse, because it's so versatile, but....not like that. 

I bought a couple of additional Colette patterns when I was still on the high from reading (but not, alas, trying) the patterns in the book.  The instructions seemed so clear and the idea behind the patterns seemed so good (bust sizing up, yes!).  But now that I have examined them, I'm really not sure I want to make that wrap dress with its odd poky-out sleeve 'caps' and the deep V in back (it would probably show off my bra, ugh).  Peering closely, it doesn't look so great on the model, so.....

Should I even try the Pastille dress or should I assume she's not drafting to my shape?

Does anyone else think the fit of these patterns is off?  Do you have alternate pattern recs?

I have a couple Simplicity Amazing fit patterns, but they don't speak to me.  It's probably a fault in me, but it's all so fussy the way they lay it out, like you're marshalling armies instead of sewing seams, and instead of straightforward instructions, it's all very complicated tissue fitting and moving things around. on faith/trial and error And no, I'm not going to make the damn dress with facings three times, rip out the seams, and do it again.  Give me some guidance beforehand!   I did make a nice Khaliah Ali shift in Kaffe Fasset rayon challis, I should add, so I probably have my mumu needs covered.  What I'm looking for is guidance on making fitted clothes that actually fit.  The current trend seems to be making fitted clothes that wrinkle, pucker, or pooch.  Thank you, but I can buy that off the rack already. 

Speak to me, fellow sewists or clothing enthusiasts!
Since my mother was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I've been working to find recipes that meet the nutritionist's guidelines.  I made an excellent casserole this weekend that I think will appeal to several folks here. 

It is a lovely and inexpensive main dish that, depending on what you use for tomatoes, will also be gluten free. 

1 lb ground buffalo or other ground meat
1 large sweet onion
4 large ribs of celery
seasonings (salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder)
most of a large purple cabbage
1 can tomato soup (wetted to make about 1 1/2 cups), tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes

In a large pan, brown meat and sprinkle with seasonings to your taste (I used, salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon paprika, a good shake of onion powder).  While meat is browning, finely chop the onions and celery.  Set those to one side.  Fine shred the cabbage (you could also use a 'coleslaw mix'). 

Spray non-stick cooking spray (pam) on a casserole dish.  Sprinkle with an inch worth of cabbage. 

When the meat is brown, sprinkle it over the cabbage. 

Cook the onion and celery in the meat pan until the onion is translucent.  If necessary, deglaze the pan with a bit of water or wine. 

When the onion and celery are just translucent, sprinkle that on top of the meat.  Cover that with the rest of the cabbage. 

Pour the tomato sauce over all, then cover and bake at 350 for an hour to an hour and a half, until cabbage is cooked to your liking.

Good served with any traditional veg, such as steamed broccoli, sweet corn, or beans. 

Death by bunny: the rose garden update

It is with great sadness that I must report that many of my new rose bushes have perished, brought down not by slugs or blackspot, but by the winter feeding habits of the Tomato Rabbit.  So called because she lives in a den next to the bed that houses the strawberries and one giant yellow pear tomato.  Now, I am very fond of the Tomato Rabbit.  I left the yellow pear in situ so that she could have a home for the winter.  I quit weeding over there.  I quit mulching.  I even felt guilty watering, since she would hop out, bedraggled and pouty and damp, when I turned on the sprinkler. 

There's lots of delicious rabbit-friendly food in my yard.  She could have all the grasses, the spare tomatoes, the nasturtium greens, the peppery flowers, the lilac bush in toto, but noooooooooo.  She had to eat all my rose bushes to the ground. 

Not content with a stem here or there, she mowed those suckers to the bare earth.  No leaves, no stems, just sad dead twigs about an inch long on most of them, and on two slightly less wretched specimens, the twigs are about four inches.  Only Radio Times has a decent branch left, but even that is just ten inches and so many other twiggy bits are exposed to the elements, I fear for its recovery.

I think they're all toast, except the already established Jayne Austin and Lady of the Myst, both of which are bethorned from stem to stern, thank goodness.

See, I read that sometimes the roses will come back, despite that kind of abuse.  However.....we managed to get a cold snap down to six, with a bunch of ice on top of it.  I think it's best to assume that losses will be heavy.  There's so many cuts and so little plant left and only part of a season to develop roots...

I have built large fences around each remaining rose, twig or not.  And now I know how poor Wise Portia perished (twice) this past summer.  She must have tasted good. 

The Pook, while an admirable hound in many ways, does not chase rabbits.  Well, he doesn't chase our rabbits.  See, the Pook classifies things as 'family' and 'not family'.  Family rabbits are not for chasing and must be protected against maurauding cats (we had lots of these in Waldo).  Non-family rabbits can be chased.  Same with mice, squirrels, ground squirrels, etc.  The Pook has an intense level of pack drive, a moderate territorial drive (you can see this because his reaction to postal visits increases dramatically when family is home), and minor amounts of prey drive.  I still remember watching the rabbits at the Waldo house graze on the grass while the Pook lounged sleepily in their midst, soaking sun into his old bones and keeping an eye out for cats.

In any case. 

What this all means is that I have to select roses again.  Which is always fun, but also dashed expensive.  

So, my fellow rosarians and rose fanciers and flower fiends, what say you?

The area I'm primarily filling in is the long edge of my privacy fence.  I'm basically creating a heavy border with lots of small climates for various critters and many perennial flowers. 

In the past, I selected many delightful naughty roses, and called it my slut garden (with deep affection).  Wife of Bath with her jolly laugh and pink petals is coming back for sure.  I'll probably get another Radio Times as well.  Beautiful pink blooms, rich scent, decent growth, lasts in a vase. 

I'd put in several peach roses, but wasn't overly impressed with most of them--they were either mostly yellow or white.  My favorite peach remained Lady of the Mist (really gorgeous shift from pink to apricot to almost lavender) and her scent is fantastic. 

The red I tried (Tower of London) died early, so I won't be bringing it back either.  I already have on Abraham Darby (in the front), so I figure one of him is plenty (he's already making a bid to climb the house, OK?) and the front also has a bunch of Zephyr-whatsits bourbons and an

I'm considering deep pinks, medium pinks, and rich apricots, plus one red.  I've decided I just don't enjoy white or cream roses.  I like bursts of color with my scent.  Also, I like the Austins with their rich scent, especially the myrh tones, but I'm happy to entertain other varieties.  Repeat bloom, good vase time, etc.  I have a Peace in front that I really love, so I may get another of those.  So beautiful, such great cut flowers, even if it does look spindly, I don't care. 

Naughty overtones in the name a big plus!

Not quite my grandmother's spaghetti

Yesterday, I made an absolutely delicious sauce.  I wanted to record it, in case I have the time to make it again. 

Makes really quite a lot.

You will need:
4 sweet onions
1 lb ground buffalo
half a bunch celery
a good sharp chopping knife
a head of garlic
1 glass sherry or sweet wine
2 jars of Ragu Traditional (if you switch brands, be sure that it is only tomato sauce, spices, and a bit of olive oil, not the corn-syrup sugary sweet kind that is most often made)
1 1/2 pounds ripe pear or cherry tomatoes
A large pot
Olive oil
Small rind of parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper
Salt, to taste

In the large pot, brown the buffalo over medium-high heat while you chop the vegetables.  You want the buffalo to be browned in very small pieces, so break it up as it cooks.

Very finely mince the onions. Put them in a large bowl as you go.  (You'll need to put them somewhere, as there will be so many.) 

After the onions, chop off the bottoms of the celery and then very finely chop the celery, making it easier on yourself by long-slicing the ribs a few times and then mincing across.  Put these, too, in the bowl.

By this time, the buffalo will likely be done.  Put the cooked buffalo in another bowl.  If you substitute beef for the buffalo, you'll want to put it in a colander to drain off the fat. 

Pour olive into the pot, right on top of the browned bits.  How much oil you use depends on the size of the pot and whether you want this to have fewer calories.  I poured in enough to cover the pot's bottom.

Heat the oil until it spits a bit, then sprinkle all the chopped onions and celery in.  Stir gently, cooking on medium until softened some. 

While the onions and celery cook, break off the garlic cloves.  I enjoy garlic, so I used nearly the whole head, about seven cloves.  Mince and sprinkle in, with the pepper and thyme. 

When all is slightly softened, about fifteen minutes, pour in some wine so that it bubbles gently.  Let it reduce for a time, then stir in the buffalo, then Ragu.  Gently stir in the tomatoes.  Taste and add some salt.

Turn the sauce to low, put on the lid, then allow to simmer gently for about four hours.  Stir every twenty minutes or so.  After an hour or so, remove the lid and add in the hardest rind of parmesan cheese so that will melt gently into the sauce. 

Serve over hot buttered spaghetti.

Makes really quite a lot, but after the several hours, it will be quite thick.

Elementary (my dear)

I'm doing a bit better, but still feeling quiet.  However, I'm actually feeling genuinely fannish (gasp, I know). 

While working on yet another quilt on my best beloved new sewing machine of ADA awesome, I ran out of audiobooks saved to my ipod.  Which is kinda shocking, since I had to upgrade my ipod when I blew past the 16 GIG limit on my old one.  Ahahahaha.  (When a cousin asked me what kind of music I liked, and I answered, 'All kinds!'  he seemed skeptical so I handed over my tiny charcoal overlord.  Then he looked at my playlists and slowly shook his head.  'You really do like all kinds.  You have the Bee Gees and Alice in Chains and Sigur Ros and and folky stuff.  And classical.  And pop.  And grunge.  Is this Barry White?'  'Well, yes,' I said.  'You never know when you might need some schmoozy soul, I always say.'  'Huh,' he said, still flipping through the albums.  But he quit trying out-music-geek me, which is pretty funny, considering everyone on that side thinks I am the most boring person ever.)

So there I was, working on a simple fabric experiment (more on this in another post) and I wanted something fresh to listen to.  I'd just inhaled a few lovely recs and hadn't figured out what to download next.  Besides, I thought, it would be fun to switch to TV and maybe give my ears a rest from the earbuds.

I flipped up the laptop and started poking through various free series on Netflix (too weird, too dull, too creepy, too depressing, hmmm) and then Amazon, and found myself remembering that a buddy had mentioned that Lucy Liu was in the recent American adaptation of Sherlock Holmes.  I enjoy Sherlock Holmes and I love Lucy Liu. 

I wasn't sure about the whole drug addict thing, since TV gets addiction wrong so often (House MD I am looking at you, yes) but....  Lucy Liu.  I promised myself I could shut it off at any time and gave it a go.

And I really enjoyed it!

The setup is simple and straightforward.  Sherlock is a recovering addict, Watson is his live-in sobriety coach, and together they fight crime. 

Sherlock consults for a police captain at the New York Police Department.  The captain is played as a solid, thoughtful cop who is both ethical and smart.  The captain's semi-assistant is a detective who, while also smart, finds Sherlock deeply irritating (mostly because Sherlock is, in fact, irritating). 

In this show, Sherlock is a know-it-all asshole, but not actually sociopathic.  He treats people in general rather poorly but he's not cruel and he has some hidden caring.  He searches for justice in part because he doesn't like seeing people hurt.  As time passes in the show, he begins to care (in his own way) for Watson and to push her to re-engage with the medical practice she left behind. 

Watson, for her part, begins as a competent but distant, surgeon who has now become a sobriety coach.  She's shown as very honorable and deeply ethical.  She won't discuss patients unless she believes their lives are at risk, she thinks of others' well-being over her own, and she is shown again and again as sensible and competent.  The disgrace that caused her to stop practising medicine is revealed, over the episodes that I watched, to be a mistake not of hubris or competency or what-have-you, but just....a mistake, as all humans are prone to make sometimes.  She feels deep remorse over the mistake, as all ethical people would, and she makes penance as best she can.

I've read criticism of Watson, as her character, as showing her as fallible, as various things.

But I quite like her, and I think the show portrays her quite well.  I've met many medicos in my day.  Very few admit to human fallibility beyond it being a theoretical possibility that happens only to other people.  It takes the very best, the most compassionate, to admit they can screw up.  And only by admitting the possibility for those mistakes can such mistakes be prevented.  This is dealt with in one episode quite well.

Sherlock himself is brash, snotty, sarcastic, and difficult.  But since he always came off that way in the books, I don't mind. 

Personally, I'm planning to watch the rest of the shows available on Amazon and, if I get a good plot bunny, might happily craft a bit of Watson fic. 

Also, to tie this back to my beginning....  I instantly the recognized the music as it came on.  What's my favorite independent Canadian cellist doing on a mainstream TV show?  I have no idea!  But there she was and continued to be, from episode to episode, her haunting melodies creating great theme and set music.  Check her out here: http://www.zoekeating.com/

ETA: If you happen to have fic/vids/podfic about Joan Watson being awesome, I sure wouldn't say no. 

Various recs

Over the holidays I got a chance to imbibe various media. 

Books

Yes, folks, I have actually read some novels!  This hasn't happened in at least a year, I think.  In addition to my recent JD Robb binge....
Loretta Chase, Lord of Scoundrels and The Last Hellion, historical romances.  Both of these include determined and competent women clashing with rakes.  There's some violence, a bit of scandal, and some truly lovely sentence structure. 
After the Night, Linda Howard.  Contemporary romance (early 90s).  Includes the classic Howard-style dub-con relationship, so beware if that kind of thing bugs you.  There's also plenty of skeevy class stuff going on, but at least it recognizes class issues.  I suspect that if you have not already fallen in love with this sort of story, you likely won't enjoy it, but it's an old guilty pleasure of mine, so.
Amanda Quick, Deception.  Ridiculous premise.  A piratical viscount gets himself a job as a tutor in the household of a brainy redheaded bluestocking.  Romantic romp ensues.  Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical romance.  Sweet and silly and fun. 

Audiobooks
Hogfather, Terry Pratchett, read by Nigel Planer.  SUSAN STO HELIT, baby.  
The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett, read by Stephen Briggs.  This is, I think, Briggs' first Discworld book.  This is one of my favorite guards books. 
The Amelia Peabody series, Elizabeth Peters, read by Barbara Rosenblatt.  This has to be the best unreliable narrator I've ever run across.  And I want to be Ramses when I grow up, so. 

Podfic/Audiofic
The Student Prince, written and read by Fayjay.
Drop Dead Gorgeous, by Maia, read by I'm not sure. 


death of the year, start of the new sun

(Well, this did not crosspost, jeez.)

This is such a strange time of year. The short days, the brightness of cold sun on sharp snow followed by the bitter nights. The holidays rich with food and busy with people, but the cold loneliness at other times. The busyness of work at work and the odd doldrums of quietude.

A brief review, then.

This past year I struggled once again with the joint trouble, but that's boring, so I'll skip it. Other health issues, ditto.

I have not been blogging, talking, commenting, as much. I've been feeling very quiet, mostly, or have been what a dear friend calls cocooning--curling up and resting, recharging.

I joined my second yarn club and interacted with other knitters (a first for me). Unfortunately, the club crashed and burned in a huuuuuuuuge way, and our last pattern remains wrong and uncorrected. The whole mess soured me a bit on knitting, which was dumb of me, but I maybe needed a little break in that hobby anyhow. I'll be back at the needles soon, I'm sure. Even so, I made several 'fancy' projects and a bunch of charity hats and socks. My favorite project of the year was the socks I made for my mom--she has very unusual shaped feet (in part because of wearing too-small shoes in her early years). They fit her great and she loves them. I designed the pattern using an outline of her foot and some reference volumes.

As a present to myself, I bought my first sewing machine, after using my ancient hand-me-down Singer for thirty odd years. This new Brother sews like a dream and does not use a presser foot! That means it has no joint impact at all. I've completed four quilts since I bought it in late November. As in, from start to finish, yes.

I put in a glorious garden, including over ten rose bushes, and a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. I have transformed my front yard from a barren wasteland of crab grass and dandelions to a pleasant spread of grass and flowers and small bushes. The grass, I'm happy to say, will shrink even more next year. (I don't really believe in front lawn grass.)

I turned forty, which pleased me.

I also celebrated a full decade of the Pook. We adopted him almost exactly ten years ago--the week between Christmas and New Years of 2002. We have traveled so many paths together. He is my constant companion, my best friend, my familiar. Ever curled at my feet, a dark shadow of power and calm.

This year I made my first full-length comic and posted it for others to see and enjoy.

I wrote stories and essays and book reviews, but fewer than I have in the past.

I cooked countless meals and ate at new restaurants and tried new foods.

I took an art class, my first in many years, and completed an art journal--a goal from years past now done.

I did my best to connect, in an appropriate way, with my dad and my sister and my niece. That cost me effort and emotional reserves, but it was important. I saw my dad renew his vows on a beach in Mexico, and ate truly delicious tres leche cake and large tropical mangoes.

I worked hard at work, much of which was both boring and important.

With my mom, I made great progress on our tiny little cottage. We got foundation work done, put in new insulation, improved plumbing, renovated my bedroom walls, redid the basement, cleaned and stained the porches, and completed redid the bathroom (patched the hole in the wall, ripped off wallpaper, painted, fixed tile, changed the fixtures, regrouted, painted, etc.)

On the last day of the year, I curled under quilts and watched the snow fall. The Pook was at my feet and coffee was in my hand. I was sitting on a couch in a house of my own on my own land. It is small and old, but it is mine, and very dear. I thought of all my friends and loved ones, thought of the new year ahead, and was glad.

I hope you are glad, too.

May 2013 bring glorious joy to you all.

Later, I will talk a bit about what I hope to do in the year to come....

visited by an omen

Yesterday, my mom and I went out to buy supplies to make a painted stained glass window for our bathroom.  It was a joyous occasion, and we'd planned to end the shopping trip with lunch at Whole Foods buffet, a treat mom and I have both eyed, but never tried.  However, we weren't expecting the Whole Foods to be packed (yes, we're neither of us big shoppers) so we went to the local Vietnamese pho place instead.

When we drove up into the driveway, I stopped the car and stared.  "Oh my god, look at that hawk!" I said.

Mom turned and visibly started.

There, in the middle of our yard, was a great big hawk.

I've seen hawks before, sometimes quit close, but never one so huge.  What was especially striking, however, was its fetching leg-warmer feathers.  Fuzzy fuzzy legwarmers all the way down to its tootsie toes.  Great big regal bird, absurd little 80s leg-fashion. 

After allowing us to stare upon its beauty for a bit, it leaped into the air, beating its great wings.  In its talons it held a squirrel who had perished by car that morning, but which was probably still 'fresh' because it is so freaking cold here. 

When I say the hawk was big, I mean it was huge.  Ginormous.  Nearly eagle-sized. 

It felt like being visited by an omen, and that is how I am taking it.  After considerable thought, I have decided that the hawk brought me a message of plenty even in winter, of using that which would otherwise be of waste, of not needing to strive so hard, but to accept the bounty that is here.  That while the squirrel might be sad to have perished, it would probably just as soon its earthly shell went to good use.

Also, being a librarian, I felt the urge to rush out and figure out what sort of hawk it was, since it was sure as heck not our usual peregrine falcon, lovely as those are.

I'm pretty sure we were visited by a Ferruginous Hawk.  Not only did our hawk have the light colored body, rusty-red edged wings, and bright v under the tail, it was also huge and 'booted'.  There are only two booted hawks in North America--booted being the fancy hawkish term for 'wearing adorable feathery leg warmers to the piggie-toes'. 

Ahem. 

May you have a year of plenty, of food even on one of the darkest days of the year, and if nothing else, may you have the most adorable piggy-wiggy fuzzy feets in existence.

quick note

I am currently VERY behind in emails and projects. 

So far I've racked up twenty hours of comp time already this week.  Don't ask.  The system is still confused and Monday was a holiday and a payroll processing day and blah blah blah whatever. 

I will not be able to do much today, because I have to catch up on some (more) work stuff.  Even longer story. 

I hope to resume my regularly scheduled having a life tomorrow.  Or Thursday.  At least by Friday.  I hope.