Friday, December 24, 2004

Just a quick note from the road to wish everybody a merry Christmas! And for those who don't celebrate it, I hope you at least can benefit from some time off to relax and play with yarn.

I absolutely adore Christmas—the lights and the music and the wonderful foods and thoughtful traditions—although I must confess it also tugs at the ol' emotional heartstrings a bit. So it's wonderful but difficult at the same time. It's easy to get drawn down memory lane, thinking about what was and what wasn't, what you have and what you don't, who you thought you'd be by now and who you really are, those you loved and celebrated with in the past who are no longer here today.

Then you have a wake-up call that brings you back to the present, which happened tonight. We were driving around Boston looking at lights. Halfway down a narrow street, my brother slowed to give some people extra space to get out of their parked car safely. We got up to the top of the street and he screeched to a halt, spotting a speeding car crossing through the intersection against the red light. Had he not stopped for those people earlier on the street, we would've been directly in that car's path.

I sometimes wonder how many of these near misses we have every day without knowing it. And I wonder what finally tips the scale and causes an event to happen. Is there even a cosmic cause and effect to things, or do they just happen totally at random? I don't know. And it's too late tonight for me to come up with an intelligent answer to that question. But that's what I'm thinking about as I prepare to log out and go to bed. Hopefully visions of sugar plum fairies will replace the shadows, and all will be well in the world.

I wish you all a warm day of goodness—laughter, love, kindness, good food, and perhaps a knitting-related gift or two under the tree.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

slices of heavenMy grandma loved to bake during the holidays, which makes this one of my favorite times of year. After we moved to Arizona, we didn't get to spend as many holidays with my grandma, but that didn't stop her from baking. Every year, she'd send a huge, heavy box filled with tins of cookies and cakes. One bite and I was instantly with her again.

is that a g or a j?She passed away 9 years ago but I can still feel the comfort and warmth of her presence every time I make one of her recipes. Her honey cakes still make me swoon. As a holiday treat, I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

These succulent, moist cakes are a marvelous blend of sweetness and spice, and they keep (preferably in an ancient family tin) forever. My grandma's handwriting was remarkably cryptic, so allow me to translate...

Grandma's Honey Cakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and butter a shallow jelly roll pan (no dimensions given, but it's one of those standard rectangular pans usually reserved for birthday cakes and brownies).

Cream together 1/2 cup shortening (I use butter) and 1 cup brown sugar until light.

Add 1 well-beaten egg and 1/2 cup honey.

Sift together 2 1/2-cups flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. allspice.

Add dry ingredients to shortening/sugar/egg/honey mix alternatively with 1/2 cup sour milk.

Fold in 1/4 cup raisins, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, and 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts are marvelous).

Spread batter 1/2 inch thick in greased pan. Bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out dry. You don't want the edges to get too brown.

Immediately spread a frosting of: 1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and enough lemon juice to make a nice fluid paste out of the mix (usually the juice of 1 lemon is fine - you can also substitute water if you don't have a lemon handy).

Once the cake has cooled, slice it into small rectangular bars. I can normally get 48 bars from one pan.


Tuesday, December 7, 2004

the winter lightsLet the holidays begin! The weather has been peevish these past few days, alternating between rain and snow and bitter, bitter cold. What better way to celebrate the arrival of winter than by putting lights in all the windows?

Life in this small town continues to have its amusements. The week before Thanksgiving, I noticed it was getting mighty cold at KR headquarters. I looked at the thermostat and discovered that it was set for 62 but the room was barely hitting 50. Time to call the town plumber for an apartment call.

So I did. And nothing happened. So I called again. And nothing happened. I called a third time and happened to get Emily, our old postmistress who retired earlier this year - much to everyone's chagrin - but after a week of doing nothing took a job with the plumber to keep herself out of trouble.

She found the owner, who told me that the boiler was dead. Apparently someone had come out and shut it off because it was filled with water. And apparently that same someone forgot to mention any of this to me or the building's owner. I'm not quite sure what they thought I planned to do for heat this winter, but it obviously didn't include thermostats.

A few days after that call, still without news of my fate, several of his crew members came by to drain the pipes in the building. This would keep the pipes from freezing, later bursting, and destroying all my cards, which was good. But it also meant he could take his time replacing the boiler, since there was nothing at stake. (Making someone work in a heatless, bathroomless building apparently isn't cause for concern around here.)

Sure enough, more than two weeks passed without heat in the building before they finally came back and installed the new boiler. And especially now as the temps remain in the high teens, I'll never take heating for granted again.

The problem is that this plumber has a monopoly on the town. If you try to call a plumber in another town to ask for help, they'll refer you back to this guy. You never know if it's out of professional respect or fear.

Same goes for all the other service-oriented professions. People from away tend to hire a team of tough and capable locals to perform upkeep and maintenance on their summer properties. But when things go south, they won't fire the guys for fear they'll burn their houses down. So they just keep paying them. It's one of the weirdest dynamics I've encountered.

So if you're ever thinking of leaving the big city and moving to a small town, remember that the smaller you get, the fewer choices you have. And the better you'll need to get along with people, because they're in limited and perpetually in-your-face supply.

That's where my thoughts are on this icy evening.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

In honor of this week's review of Joelle Hoverson's Last-Minute Knitted Gifts in KR, I thought I'd show a close-up of the one, single, solitary item I have managed to complete for this year's gift-giving season.

So far.

use your imagination - it's a hatIt's a simple k2/p2 ribbed hat made from an ancient skein of Noro whose label has long since been lost. I love the way decreases look on hats. Like a swirl of frosting out of a pastry tube.

Last year I made my brother a similar hat out of 100% angora, and apparently his wife would constantly steal it. Since she usually gets short shrift at the holidays, I thought it time to make her a hat of her very own. The color shifts from a lilac brim, made of the same angora as my brother's hat, to an almost identical lilac in the Noro yarn, which then shifts to a brighter purple, then light brown, then green, and finally the soft sage you see here. The Noro yarn also has angora in it, so I'm looking forward to watching the halo unfold after I wash it.

I don't think she reads my blog. But if she does... surprise! Now you know what you're getting! Pretend to be surprised.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

I hereby declare December 1 National Blog Amnesty Day. Wayward bloggers around the country, I encourage you to seek forgiveness, wipe the slate clean, and blog anew. That's what I'm doing today.

So much has happened since my last post, and even before that. All sorts of stories and pictures that were planned but never came to fruition. I'm not even going to bother bringing you up to date here, since dreading that task is what has kept me from returning to this blog. But if you're curious what I did this fall, here's where you can read my full reports:

And now, according to Rule 1, Section 3, Paragraph B of the International Blog Amnesty Code, I am hereby released from any guilt and free to begin anew. Digging further into the IBAC, I see that Rule 3, Section 12, Subparagraph L specifies that one's first update upon returning need not be an epic post to compensate for previous silence. (You really should look more closely at the code—there are all sorts of good things in there.)

I will, however, show you some pictures.

the first snow of the seasonFirst, our first snowstorm of the season as seen from my upstairs office. (Not to be confused with my new office building, hereafter referred to as HQ.)

As you can see, it's pretty... un-green.

After a lengthy battle, I've finally surrendered to winter—which is good since that's where we're headed. This was my sixth fall in New England, and I think the newness of the move is finally giving way to a more realistic, cautious optimism. Nothing smacks you back to your senses like a winter in Maine.

Mr. Casey checks his eyelids for holesMeanwhile, here's a picture of Casey doing his impersonation of a flying supercat, but with his eyes closed and resting on a soft blanket. He does this for several hours a day to perfect his technique. What a tough life.