Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Oakland.

Here is my first vintage-style sock monkey, made from a pair of red heeled socks! He's rather homely, but I am quite fond of him and his thick unibrow.

That's our Christmas tree. I covered it with various bird ornaments and berry and pine cone garlands. I wanted it to look like a bunch of colorful tropical birds were flying over Oakland, minding their own business, then saw my Christmas tree, and decided to perch on it and and gnaw on berries. You know, just like it would happen in nature.

There are no presents underneath because there is only so much temptation our dogs can resist. The feathery ornaments are more than enough. Note the lack of ornaments on the lower sixth of the tree.

Some sock monkey marvelousness for you (apparently I am not the only one having sock monkey dreams!) -

Also, for those of you who have never seen Crouton doing his dancing bear begging trick -

But don't be fooled. These are a couple of very bad dogs. We had family over on Sunday, and they took advantage of the ensuing chaos to escape and run at top speed across busy 14th Avenue in traffic. Needless to say, they were safely retrieved and returned (tails wagging and tongues lolling happily) to the house, but not before I burst into tears. Baaaaaaadddd dooooogggs!

I've been knitting up a storm lately, so stay tuned for knitting posts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sock Monkey Dreams.

I'm almost done with my next sock monkey, and I am actually having sock monkey dreams (since I am struggling to sleep through an unmedicated cold, some of the dreams have been quite sinister). Pictures of the completed monkey to follow. This one uses vintage-style red-heeled Redford socks. (Thanks to Will for the link, I wasted no time shelling out for both the blue and the brown versions! I think I'm going to make a bunny with one pair of blue socks, and Steve is delighting me by wearing the other pair around the house. Loud red heels on my husband!). I planned to use the vintage pattern, but unfortunately, I am very bad at following even basic directions, so mine is pretty different, closer to the monkey in this book. More like the last sock monkey I sewed up. But it still looks like a vintage sock monkey to the untrained eye.

By the way, I am seriously lusting after this book. And this one. (Hint, hint.)

Did you know? According to Wikipedia, "The genesis of the sock monkey came about when the craze of stuffed animals swept across Europe and into America, where it met the burgeoning arts and crafts movement in the United States. Mothers there took to sewing sock monkeys as toys for their children, and sock monkeys soon became a fixture of American nurseries." Redford started manufacturing red-heeled socks in 1932, making sock monkeys a great example of Depression-era ingenuity and craftiness. And we all know how much Inder loves Depression-era ingenuity and craftiness.

I also made a flannel receiving blanket (my sole act of nesting and I'm already five months pregnant!) from fabric printed with sock monkeys. I promise to take some photos of that too. I'm not organized enough to have a themed nursery, but if I was, I think we can all guess what the theme would be ...

In other news, I was more than halfway through knitting a gorgeous (if I may say so) lacy scarf, using golden 100% silk yarn, when I lost the whole project at the Oakland Airport. Nooooooooooo!!!! I'm trying to numb my grief with sock monkeys. Someone please send me a pattern for cute fingerless gloves? Nothing too complicated - I'm still a beginner.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

White Beans with Tomato.

Oh, wow, these are so dang tasty! This was patched together from several different recipes (most notably, this one), but of course I tripled the quantity (who makes a small pot of beans?) and improvised a bunch. Here is how mine came together:

3 cups cannellini beans
1 or 2 large cans whole tomatoes in sauce
6-10 fresh roma tomatoes (we're still getting these from the garden - they're not the ripest, but are fine for cooking)
Lots of fresh sage (also from the garden)
Vegetable broth
Lots of garlic
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

I pressure-cooked the beans in half broth, half water, with a sprig of sage. I'm a huge fan of the pressure cooker. Perfectly tender but never mushy beans in less than an hour, with no soaking or even stirring? For that, I'll take my chances with a major kitchen explosion. No, seriously, technology has come a long way, and you know, follow directions and exercise common sense and stuff. Three cups of white beans takes about 45 minutes at full pressure. I don't usually rinse my beans after cooking, but I did here, to prevent them from becoming too starchy to mix well with the tomato.

Since I was using fresh tomatoes, I blanched them by dropping them in boiling water for a minute, then removed them, let them cool, and removed the skins. Chop them up and supplement with chopped canned tomatoes. Keep the tomato juice from the can.

In a separate pot, saute garlic and the rest of the sage, minced, together in olive oil, then add the tomato and let it bubble for a little bit.

Add the beans and stir. Add tomato juice as needed to keep things loose. Here's where rinsing the beans in cold water and allowing them to cool a bit really pays off - they'll maintain their shape nicely. Add lots of salt and pepper (although you may not need as much salt if you used a salted broth for the beans). Garnish with sage leaf if you're planning to take a picture for the blog.

With a little bit of grated Parmesan on top it's no longer vegan, but uh, yum.

Thanks to Crouton as always for clean-up.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Halloween dogs.

Have you noticed that dogs in costumes, no matter how outrageously cute, always look really unhappy? Still, this is the cutest gargoyle I've ever seen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yeah, yeah, I'm still alive.

Yeah, it's been a while. A long, long while. My excuse?: I've found it suprisingly hard to maintain a Facebook account and a blog at the same time. Seriously.

But, nonetheless, I've been filing things away to share with y'all.

Like this great postcard from the golden years of bully-dog-hood (thanks Bad Rap Blog!):

And this dress, from Anthropologie, which I really must have:

It's funny, because I'm really not into the one-shouldered Flinstones thing, at all, but I love this dress. Maybe it's the fact that the one-shouldered thing is sheer black net, and I have a thing for sheer black anything? Anyway, I simply covet the dress.

(But I've been good, and haven't actually shopped at Anthropologie in so long. Really, you'd be proud. Global economic collapse has been a real motivator. Speaking of which, get moving on your "recession garden"!)

I've also (finally) discovered Net-A-Porter, home to designer apparel that is so ridiculously far out of my price range as to not even constitute a shopping risk. That sound you hear? That would be a strangulated moan of appreciation coming from my throat:

It's so subtle and understated, but so beautiful! And priced at less than one mortgage payment (calculated based on pre-bubble-bursting real estate values - i.e., the amount I actually pay), it's practically a steal!

I'll be back - in less than three months this time, I promise!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There must be somebody ...

... who could rock this look.

Yes, that is, in fact, press-on zebra-striped (and camo!) eye shadow. Place on eyelid and peel back the plastic layer. Ideal for on-the-go professional ballroom dancers/strippers. Much less time consuming than painting on individual zebra stripes, certainly.

And just the idea of camouflaged eyelids is too cool for words.

But what's that third print supposed to be - the one on the bottom? Cheetah spots? Nami suggests "skummy pondwater as viewed under a microscope."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two dogs, working on their tans.

It's official. I have the two cutest dogs on the face of the earth. And I've finally gotten someone other than Steve to acknowledge it. And Steve doesn't really count anyway, since I pretty much have to force it out of him under threat of long-term marital discord.

Omie says: "You can't get this bronzed goddess look from a bottle."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On the summer squash that is threatening to take over my entire back yard.

The jungle stands by, poised to take back civilization. You wake up one day, surprised to discover that the kudzu has swallowed up your front porch. That's the situation with summer squash in our garden right now. I say "summer squash" because I planted about five different varieties of the stuff. But almost all of it turned out to be regular green zucchini. Not sure what happened with that.

Anyway. As you can see, it is growing across the path. It's about ready to climb our fence and grow into our neighbor's yard. I expect to come home one of these days and find that my house looks like a Mayan ruin, barely visible and straining under a canopy of ginormous straight-necked green squash. And we're only three weeks into zucchini season. Be afraid.

So far I have made:
  1. Steamed squash with rice. Blah.
  2. Grilled squash. You just put a little oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper on whole baby squash, wrap them in foil, and grill them for twenty minutes or so.
  3. Zucchini bread. (Thanks Paula Deen! Although anything would taste good with three cups of refined white sugar in it, let's face it.)
  4. Fritatta with grated zucchini and carrot (based loosely on the zucchini fritatta recipe in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone).
  5. Homemade pasta sauce with squash (make sauce; add squash).
I am planning to try:
  1. Fried squash blossoms.
  2. Baked overgrown giant zucchini stuffed with wild rice pilaf.
  3. Summer squash pureed soup, per my mother's suggestion.
Also, if you want any squash, for heaven's sake, please speak up.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nami, come back [to] San Francisco.

(I am egregiously misquoting the Magnetic Fields here.) Nami visited us from Japan a few weekends ago, and I just got my grubby paws on Steve's wonderful photos. Nami, it was so good to see your smiling face. Come back to California (we know we're annoying, but we love you).

Crouton's really done it this time.

Catching up on some of the events of the past couple weeks:

Yes. That's the Holy Bible, post Crouton. Huge sections of it are now missing - presumably because they ended up in Crouton's GI tract (Steve says, "He has really digested God's word."). Namely, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (the Law) as well as Revelation. I'm pretty sure that Leviticus forbids allowing your dog to eat your Bible (very unkosher!), but I can't say for sure, since he ate that book.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

40s-style platforms - in the flesh!

I haven't been posting enough pictures lately. Blogs without pretty pictures are like ... um ... blogs without pretty pictures. So I thought I should mention that I have found a new obsession. Faryl Robin shoes. Especially when procured at a steep discount at the Loehman's Outlet (which happens to be disturbingly close to my place of work). I'm wearing these for the first time today (with a black pencil skirt, black short sleeved sweater, and fitted brown plaid vest, thanks for asking), and have almost fallen down only once in them so far. Not bad for platforms, which are notoriously unstable. They are so Casablanca. Too bad I'm so not Ingrid Bergman (at least, in terms of natural grace and poise - oh, yeah, and everything else). Sigh.

Humble pie.

I really shouldn't be so full of myself. Our housemate Rebecca has apparently read 30 books already this year. Yes, that's approximately five per month, folks. Whereas, by my calculations, not including picture books, cookbooks, and books I skipped major chunks of, I've only read 13. Well, she does work in a bookstore, one of those jobs I've always envied (where you can read books on the job). Yeah, I read on the job, but it's not the same. Trust me.

But do you want to know the real reason I don't read as much as Rebecca? I waste all of that valuable quiet time between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., ahem, sleeping. And periodically waking up to let the dogs out and noticing that Rebecca's light is still on.

Rebecca, you're an inspiration to me. So anyway, of the 13 books I've read this year, four really stand out as some of the best books I've read - maybe ever - as follows:

1) A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas.

2) Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

3) Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell

4) Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

You can read my embarassingly gushing reviews of all of these on goodreads, if you are so inclined.

Here's to finding four more amazing books by the end of 2008!

Friday, June 27, 2008

How to really impress your Goodreads friends!

Ms. Clotheshorse is a girl after my own heart. I love her style and indie-romantic photography (and I hereby confess to checking out various fashion blogs). She also knows how to budget - she has vowed not to shop until she finishes War & Peace! I should try something like this. If nothing else, I'd get through some really big books in record time!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Depressing post.

Like Bad Rap, I believe that the overwhelming majority of dog fatalities are preventable, and stories like this one just break my heart. My prayers go out to this poor child's family.

A dog that is left chained to a fence for months, neglected, hungry, and unsocialized - this is not a "family dog" that "turned on" its owner or a child. Living in an impoverished area of Oakland, I see miserable, unstable, frantic, chained-up dogs (usually pits, rotties, or German Shepherds, but sometimes even Chihuahuas) every time I take a walk around my neighborhood. Some of these dogs are clearly aggressive towards people, and I fear them. Despite all the recent good press for pits, I am reminded that we still have a very long way to go.

(Thanks to Bad Rap for the informative links.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Searching for ...

As it turns out, half the fun of having a blog is reading your blog stats. Especially the Google searches that have lead readers to your blog.

Some of my favorites:

Can pit bulls herd sheep?

Um, not my pit bull. But in theory, yes. Still, I've heard that pit bulls are generally better at herding cows - they nip a bit too hard to be ideal for sheep.

Bread maggots + yeast

That does sound like something I would talk about, doesn't it? Believe me, if that combination comes up in my life, I will blog about it.

Bolting swiss chard can you eat it?

Yes. But mine usually bolts when I become so sick of the sight of the stuff that I don't have the energy to prune it back anymore. Right now it's bolting all over our tomatoes and potatoes. We keep saying, "Look, the potatoes are flowering!" only to discover that those are actually chard flowers. But I'm letting it make a mess of the garden in order to encourage a new generation of "volunteers" for the fall. By the time they come up, boiled chard stems might sound good again.

Folk art mobile homes

Oh, do tell! That sounds right up my alley!

Footwarmers pitbull poison

At first, reading this, I was imagining Omie poisoning herself with a pair of cute wool socks. But then I remembered those chemical footwarmers that people use in cold climates. I live in California. This is unlikely to come up.

Hypochondria blog

Oh, is that what this is?

Tips how to impress husband

I need those tips too! Falling ungracefully into dog-holes, screaming and kicking when Steve tries to disinfect my wounds, and cramming the freezer so full of whole grains that Steve can't find his frozen pizza - amazingly, this is not doing the trick.

I have three pit bulls is that too many?

It is not possible to have too many pit bulls, you lucky creature.

What do you do when you decide to be a poor, country-folk artist?

That is a really good question. Uh, start praying? Hang in there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blogging follow-ups.

Crouton ate a bunch of raw bread dough, swelled up to approximately the size of one of those Heineken mini-kegs, started acting liking he had drunk two of them, and ended up at the animal ER, getting intravenous fluids.

So much for my hard-core bread-making phase - I haven't had the heart to make bread since it almost killed my dog.

And remember those holes the dogs were busy digging? Well, I fell into one, and skinned my knees. Ouch! The bigger ouch came when I realized we were out of Neosporin and I had to use hydrogen peroxide instead. Wow. That &%$@ hurts.

We do seem to have the moth-infestation under control, thanks to daily vigilance from Steve. So the ick-factor in our lives is once again mostly dog-related (as it should be). Our cupboards are now lined with attractive glass jars full of beans and grains. The only problem is that our freezer is full to overflowing - it's a good day when you can open it without a pound of millet landing on your shoes. The general consensus in the household seems to be: "Inder really needs to work on that Depression-era mentality of hers. I hear therapy works wonders for pearl barley hoarding."

My new-clothing fast is over, and I did hit Target with Rebecca and score a couple of cute items that I'll be sporting soon. However, I am holding off on expensive items, including adorable, made-for-Inder suits. Saving money is no fun, but I was newly inspired after seeing the vet bill for Crouton.

Tyson is still up for adoption! What a cutie! With all the good pit bull news lately (combined with cute photos), I've sort of forgotten why we don't have a dozen of the cute little spark-plugs running around the house in a little pit bull pack. Oh ... wait ... what's wrong with this picture? Oh, yeah, and Steve reminds me of this. And that whole budgeting thing. Sigh.

Motivation: The price of our farm has been reduced - again!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Good news in the dog world!

The Dutch government has decided to lift its 15 year ban on pit bulls! (Or maybe it's 25 years? There is some confusion in the article.) Why? Because, after reviewing the policy, the government found that the ban "did not lead to any decrease in bite incidents." The evidence just doesn't support breed-specific legislation. It's so good to see those words in print!

See the photo of a white pit bull associated with the article? That's Teddles, one of the Vick dogs. Two years ago, when I first got Omie, I never dreamed I would see this much positive press about pit bulls so soon!

I don't think Omie knows she is a pit bull, but if she did, she'd be smiling (as it is, she's smiling at me in this photo because Steve is about to throw her a pine cone to chase - a real reason to be happy!).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Yep, we're thugs.

As you may have heard, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is in support of local laws banning pit bulls like the one in Denver, which required the immediate destruction of any dog deemed to be a pit bull in the City, regardless of its individual temperament. And you can probably guess that I'm not in favor of such an approach.

To use some vocabulary that I learned in law school (but haven't had much of a chance to show off since), such laws are both "overinclusive" (because they implicate pit bulls who represent no danger to society) and "underinclusive" (because they fail to account for dangerous dogs that don't happen to be pit bulls). That is to say, pit bull bans are neither fair nor effective.

According to PETA:
But we must consider that nice families rarely come to a shelter to adopt pit bulls; almost without exception, those who want pit bulls are attracted to the "macho" image of the breed as a living weapon and seek to play up this image by putting the animals in heavy chains, taunting them into aggression, and leaving them outside in all weather extremes in order to "toughen" them. There is no denying that pit bulls are at a higher risk of suffering a horrible fate. - Jeff Haines PETA Spokesman (emphasis mine)
He has a point. I mean, look at our suffering "living weapon":

Before Omie came my way, I never considered myself to be a "pit bull person." Okay, I admit it, I wasn't even a dog person. But I saw this little brown dog in need, and she saw a face to slurp and a potential source of pillows and blankets. The rest is history.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crouton in the back yard dirt hole.

The dogs insist on digging giant holes in the back yard, including in the middle of the lawn. Their purpose in digging giant holes? Well, to lay in them, of course. Duh.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Countdown to June 5!

Only a couple weeks left before I can buy some new clothes! Okay, granted, it's been great to see my credit card balances shrinking instead of growing, but I ask you, can prudence, thriftiness, and frugality survive this gorgeous seersucker suit currently on sale at J. Crew?:

Here's a close up of that gorgeous, slightly clever collar. Argh! The loveliness!

Isn't it so me? I can hear it calling: Inder, buy me! It's also saying, with a little bit of apprehension in its voice: You would never spill coffee on me on your morning commute, right?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adventures in bread-baking.

Growing up, I learned to bake bread from the Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown. As far as I remember, my mother used the basic whole wheat recipe, almost exclusively. Not only did it open to that page automatically - it wouldn't open anywhere else, the pages were so soaked in gluten.

"Bread is alive," Mom would say, wiping streaks of flour into her perpetually messy red hair, "like a baby in the womb, it's growing. Would you like to pat the baby?" My sis and I would gingerly pat the shiny, smooth surface of the kneaded dough. It did feel remarkably like skin - a baby's bottom, in fact. You had to admit, it was pretty spankable.

Before bread machines were even invented, we learned that fast bread is generally icky bread. Who were we to imagine that we could improve upon the slow, patient, carefully perfected processes of the past six millenia? To summarize:

Rule #1 of bread: Yeast is your friend.

Rule #2 of bread: It just takes a long time. Get over it.

Also, I learned that the Tassajara Bread Book was revolutionary in its insistence on rising a sponge before the first kneading, with only flour, sweetener, warm water and yeast. This gives the yeast a chance to really get going with their favorite ingredients before adding salt and oil, which retard the growth of yeast. I didn't realize at the time that this step is omitted in most recipes, which is generally fine for white bread, but a serious problem with whole wheat breads.

I love that the new edition looks just like the older one I grew up with, rough brown paper cover and all.

Much later, when I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, I made bread often, mostly on days I was studying or writing papers. If you're stuck at home all day anyway, why not bake some bread? I got excited about whole grains and started experimenting with using all whole wheat flour. However, without a little bit of white flour to "lighten" the loaf up, the Tassajara loaves came out of the oven looking more like building materials than bread. Dense and small, these loaves could double as hand-weights.

But, I asked myself, I regularly buy 100% whole wheat bread at the store that was light and fluffy. What am I doing wrong?

So I started experimenting, using more yeast and longer rising time. I stretched the four hour process into a six hour one. Sure enough, a lighter loaf! The longer you let the yeast work, the better your bread will be.

Then I discovered the benefits of elbow grease - kneading your dough vigorously for 25 to 30 minutes results in lighter, prettier loaves. This must be why peasant women always have strong arms (that and carrying buckets of water from the well, anyway). It's hard work! But worth it.

Since then, I've tried a few other recipes. For example, I tried the basic loaf in The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. Eh. It didn't turn out nearly as well as my standard. Why? In my opinion, it's because Laurel does not call for a sponge. White bread doesn't need a sponge, but whole wheat bread really needs that extra boost.

But my bread adventures are by no means over. I am trying something new now - a starter. As we speak, my first biga is ripening on our kitchen counter. It has a post-it on it that says: "Do Not Disturb Me: I Am Fermenting." This is for an Italian country bread recipe in Mediterranean Harvest: Vegetarian Recipes from the World's Healthiest Cuisine. As far as I can tell, bigas are halfway between a traditional sponge and a sourdough starter. The process was developed after dry yeast became available in Europe - chefs were moving away from sourdough, but wanted something more flavorful than dry yeast alone. It is similar to the Polish or French poolish. It's a sponge (with dry yeast in it) that is allowed to sit at room temperature for a day or two and pick up some wild (sourdough) yeast. I can't wait to see how this turns out. Coming up: "Adventures in bread-baking, part II."

After that? True sourdough starter. "Adventures in bread-baking, part III."

Of course, I have to buy all new flour now, and glass containers to hold the flour in, because our flour stock was full of worms and I tossed it. No problem. But that whole episode did give me pause. I was reminded that, back in the day, this type of infestation would have been really devastating. You probably would've just sifted the maggots out and eaten the food anyway (Rebecca remembers someone in her childhood doing that - that's old school). I mean, there wouldn't have been super-cheap Whole Food bulk bins down the street to draw from. But don't worry, my inclinations towards traditional cooking and housekeeping methods don't go that far.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Freeze your grains. Trust me.

Yesterday was one of those days. I had to work late and missed Sacred Harp. And, according to Rebecca, it was, like, the best Monday night singing ever. Drat.

So I tried to drown my sorrows in cheese, focusing my frustrations on a giant vat of macaroni and cheese with Dill Havarti and Gruyere cheese.

At some point during this process, I discovered that our entire pantry was infested with grain moths and their nasty pink squirmy maggot-like larvae.

(Look, I pride myself on not being a super-squeamish girl, but you gotta admit, there's something primally disgusting about finding worms in your food.)

(Who knew this blog was going to be so disgusting, anyway? Seems to be my favorite topic.)

So, when I first saw worms in my lentils, I squealed and dropped the bag of lentils in horror. Steve wanted to know what the fuss was about, so he picked up another infested bag. Recoiling, he practically threw the thing across the room.

We spent the next half hour throwing away all of our bulk foods, while I overcooked the macaroni. Here's a sample of our conversation:

"Why do you have so many lentils?" Steve asked, throwing away the fourth bag of French green lentils.

"Haven't you heard? We're living in the end-times." I said. "I mean, duh. I'm storing beans for the impending apocalypse."

(Seriously, you can never have too many lentils. You never know what might happen. Lentils have seen me through some hard times. Supposedly, my parents were so poor when my mom was pregnant with me that, in utero, I largely subsisted on lentils and mung beans and rice.)

Steve washes his hands, with ritualistic fervor, for the tenth time.

"Eeeeeek!" I squeal, throwing another infested bag into the trash.

In the next room, the dogs cower under the dining room table, wondering what they've done wrong this time.

That was my evening. Thank goodness, the moths hadn't infiltrated the bag of all-purpose flour I had recently bought, and I was still able to make the roue for the mac and cheese. Whew! Life without cheese sauce? That would be bad.

So now our cupboards are completely bare except for canned goods, one bag of rice I bought two days ago, and one bag of flour I bought last week. Seriously.

Rebecca has finally converted me to Mason jars.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Playing with crayons at Zza's Trattoria on Grand Ave.

My take on Omie and Crouton, using stubby crayons on the paper tablecloth. As Steve always says (about himself, but it applies much more to me), "I do not render well." Still, who says they put those crayons out just for the kids?

Sorry for the bad photo (taken with my crummy cell phone).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Steve hates Omie.

Yep, it's true, folks. Sorry to say, Steve hates Omie. And the feeling is obviously mutual.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to express yourself through mix CDs.

It's that time again: I'm working on creating my next mix CD, which I will then give to anyone who is interested and probably quite a few people who aren't at all interested. I put an embarrassing amount of effort into this process.

Is a mix CD art? Well, not in itself. It's a compilation of other people's art. A mix CD is like a commonplace book. If your life were a film, a mix CD would be the soundtrack. Hopefully, a mix CD is an acknowledgment of the power of music in your life, and it's a snapshot of a certain moment in time.

Some thoughts:

  1. First, assess your emotional state. Everyone wants to make mix CDs in the throes of a new crush. Be careful! Trust me, you will not regret exercising some mix CD reserve at this vulnerable time. Consider keeping it light. Steer clear of the Carpenters, early PJ Harvey, the Cure, Ani DiFranco, and for heaven's sake, if you just met the guy, do not include "Be My Husband," by Nina Simone. This is for your own good.

  2. Open a new playlist (I use iTunes), and throw great tunes into the playlist as you think of them. I have many playlists going, organized along thematic lines. Back in the day, before Mp3 technology, I used to keep lists of great songs in my diary. It took a really long time to make a good mix back then. Although when you consider that I used to write first drafts of all of my papers in longhand, it doesn't seem so bad.

  3. What order should the songs be in? I usually start by picking the first and last songs in the mix. Some songs are just naturally good beginning songs, and some are naturally good ending songs. The first song is the most important on the whole mix. It should be upbeat, draw the listener in and hold their attention. Never start a mix CD with anything too quiet, weird, avant-garde, or laid back, or your listeners will never make it to song number 2.

  4. The last song on a mix CD may linger in your listener's psyche for hours after the CD is done, so choose wisely. Generally, a winding-things-down tune is the best.

  5. There are really no rules about what to include, although I often make up a few to keep things interesting. I generally do not use more than one song from the same artist in a CD. Often I even try to avoid using artists I used in the last mix I made. But you could use only one artist in a CD to good effect, making a personal "best of." Most of my favorite movie soundtracks are mostly one artist with a few rogue songs thrown in.

  6. Thematic mixes are super-cool. Songs about nature, songs about committed and long-term love, songs about robots, songs about cars, songs about money. I did a mix CD of songs about death once, and it was, by my standards at least, pretty upbeat. If you haven't guessed this by now, I'm not really a fan of happy peppy music.

  7. Within the CD, I try to group songs by mood, and then carefully arrange them for flow. Do not group all of the really sad songs together in the middle - your listeners will be too depressed to finish the CD. Unless you want your mix CD to be an indistinguishable solid wall of sound throughout, moods and tempos should ebb and flow.

  8. I spend weeks listening and experimenting with order. I generally make several "drafts" before releasing the final version. Okay, yes, I'm insane.

  9. Some thoughts on mood. You may be feeling really low, and you may be tempted to create a really sad mix CD. You know the one - the "Life is Meaningless and Love is Pain" mix. By all means, make the mix! It's probably just the catharsis you need! But please don't force it on your friends. Although obviously much better than unrelenting cheeriness, unrelenting depression is actually pretty boring. On the other hand, sadness at the suffering in the world tempered by delight in nature, good friends, and nostalgia for those trips to the lake you took as a child - now you're talking! A mix CD isn't just an opportunity to share some new artists with your friends - like good memoir, it should please the listener, and it should judiciously reveal something about your current emotional state.

  10. You're going to have to cull some songs that, however amazing, just don't "fit." This is why "drafts" are good. You'll be listening to the draft mix in your car (which is generally the best place for objective review), and a particular song will constantly jar your ear, or beg to be skipped. Remove it, even though you love it.

  11. Album art and a cool title are optional, but definitely enhance the experience.

  12. Disseminate widely.

  13. Don't forget to give me a copy.

  14. Because mix CDs are so personal, it's easy to get sensitive about them. Try to take it in stride when you find out that half of your friends never bothered to listen to the CD at all, and the other half skip over all of the songs in the middle. Remember, everyone has different tastes. Repeat after me: "Taste is subjective." Let's face it - making mixes is a fundamentally narcissistic passtime. No one else will love it like you love it. And that's okay.

If I had a CD changer - if I still had CDs - these would be the CDs on constant rotation:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dog tolerance guidelines.

It's been forever since I posted anything about my favorite topic, pit bulls! I noticed that Bad Rap has updated their page on dog-aggression in pit bulls, with pictures! For example:

Isn't this great? Among other things, it shows that with careful management, you can get a bunch of pit bulls, of various dog-tolerance levels, to pose together for a photo (I imagine there were treats involved - look at those intent stares!).

It is important for pit bull lovers and advocates to remember the breeding of these dogs. To put it bluntly: Dog-aggression has been bred into these dogs for centuries and is relatively common in pit bulls. Dog-tolerance varies from dog to dog, can be managed, and should not discourage anyone from adopting a pit bull. But responsible pit bull owners need to be aware of the issue.

(Pits are naturally very people-friendly. Human-aggression in pits is a sign of defective breeding and temperament. Human-aggressive pits should be humanely euthanized. Well-bred pits make terrible guard dogs.)

After mature, unneutered males (fix your dog, people!), mature females are the most likely to display anti-dog-social behavior. Dog tolerance can decline with maturity. For example, our Omie was dog-social as a puppy, but has matured to be dog-selective at best. She gets along well with her dog "friends" who, like her lil' bro Crouton, are almost all male, but needs to be closely supervised with other mature female dogs. As Bad Rap says: "Can be described as 'bitchy.'" That's our Omie!

So, if you come to visit us, please don't surprise us by bringing your mature, female dog in tow to "play" with Omie! We don't like that kind of surprise. A nice bottle of sparkling wine, on the other hand, is always welcome.

I'm obviously a big fan of pits, but I think it's important to discuss the difficult aspects of the breed as well as the more snuggly aspects. I don't want to give my readers the impression that I believe that all pit bulls are all love-bugs in all circumstances. The truth is, this is an unrealistic expectation to carry about any breed of dog. But because of the stereotypes and media hype, pit bull owners need to be especially conscious of their dogs' breeding, and train their dogs accordingly. Denial doesn't do the breed any favors. Bad Rap does such an excellent, evenhanded job with this. Yay, Bad Rap!

That should satisfy me for a while on the pit bull front. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Berkeley Sacred Harp - on the Radio!

Late last night, a group of Monday night sacred harp regulars performed on KUSF, the University of San Francisco college station. There were fourteen of us in a tiny, acoustically deadened, and extremely warm room. It was way past my bedtime. The equipment was primitive. As in pre-stereo. But singing your heart out with your friends is fun no matter what the circumstances!

Listen to a recording of the show.

I think because of the acoustics of the room (or more precisely, the lack thereof), the sound is especially naked and raw, even by sacred harp standards. Of course, in my book, "raw" = "cool."

At the very, very end, I lead 49b, "Mear." This is an example of a "crisis of faith" song - minor, mournful, profoundly unresolved, and thus, naturally, one of my favorites. Indulge me:

Will God forever cast us off?
His wrath forever smoke
Against the people of His love,
His little chosen flock.

And still to heighten our distress,
Thy presence is withdrawn;
Thy wonted signs of pow’r and grace
Thy pow’r and grace are gone.

No prophet speaks to calm our grief,
But all in silence mourn;
Nor know the hour of our relief,
The hour of Thy return.

Now that you're feeling a little vulnerable and worried, let me invite y'all to the Golden Gate Singing this Saturday in Portrero Hill! If the gorgeous, powerful music doesn't soothe your theological angst, the amazing potluck spread might do the trick. Newcomers are more than welcome - it's free and loaner books are provided! Persons of all faiths (or no faith) are welcome and represented. Most importantly: we don't care if you can sing (we can't)! Drop by!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Catch-up 2.0.

I've been hermitting lately. I haven't been picking up the phone (sorry Stefani, Mom, Kim, and Ida). And I haven't been posting here. I don't know what my excuse is - I'm busy, but not that busy. Here's the update:

  1. Buying no new clothing has been a piece of cake, because I'm not really leaving the house right now.
  2. We've been doing pretty well with the 100 foot diet challenge, although it's getting a little boring. There's only so much lemon and chard you can take. I can't wait until we have peas, beans, tomatoes, and squash!
  3. I have been baking bread the past couple weeks, and organizing at least one messy corner while the bread rises. Here's today's work - the cookbook niche in our kitchen:

I'm not saying it's clutter-free or anything (we don't really do "minimalist" in this house), but it's much better, right?

I also organized my bookshelves, trying mightily to put books into intuitive, easy to remember groupings. Like contemporary fiction, modern fiction, 19th century fiction, and pre-19th century literary works. I also created a crafts and gardening section, which looks like this (there are old editions, childrens' books, and environmental books mixed in there too):

Hardly something you'd see in Better Homes and Gardens, but it's a major improvement (especially once I upended the pumpkin again). I was too embarrassed by the "before" to take a picture.

You wouldn't believe the amount of dust and dog hair I found mixed up with all of my books! This was a two-Claritin project.

Now, I need to go check on my bread.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Hobbit house.

Speaking of homesteads, I'm so in love with this handmade sod house in Wales. It looks straight out of Tolkein, right? Isn't this exactly the house you would have chosen for yourself at age 10? A family made it from scratch and they're living in it now! Click on the picture for more details and pictures of the inside! The rafters are trees!! Argh!!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the urban homestead.

While I was plotting ways to get out of work early on this glitteringly blue, downright hot spring day, a wandering swarm of bees was taking over our back garden! Steve bloggeth (I'm sorry, bloogeth).

Since I couldn't leave work, I blabbed to my coworkers and emailed half my friends to share our exciting news! We have a swarm of bees, everyone! Reactions varied from "I think there's a special kind of Raid for bees" to "You'd look really good in one of those beekeeper outfits" to "I want some honey!"

But in the end, I missed the show - the bees moved on to a neighbor's house before I got home. Further evidence that having a job means you miss out on everything interesting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Deconstructing Barbie."

This is the creepiest, most disturbing, and let's face it, coolest, collection of wearable art I've seen in a good while. Click on one of the pictures to be linked to the Etsy shop and more information about the artist, Margaux Lange.

My dear departed friend Marc Salak would have appreciated this very much. He once decorated his Christmas tree with Barbie-leg and Barbie-arm ornaments. Okay, it wasn't really a Christmas tree, it was a heap of elk antlers piled in the shape of a Christmas tree (the leg and arm ornaments looked strikingly like icicles, actually). Anyway, wherever he is right now, he's likely moaning, "Barbie eyeball jewelry?!! Why didn't I think of that?"

And I happen to be the lucky person who inherited his Barbie doll and assorted Barbie doll parts collection (okay, I got it because everyone else was too creeped out by it). Hm ...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

100 Foot Diet, Week #1 (Lemontastic).

Kale with kalamata olives and red pepper flakes, served with lemon wedges. (Kale and lemon from the garden.) Loosely taken from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, but we ignored most of the actual instructions.

Macaroni and cheese from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. (Okay, none of this came from the garden, but it was tasty.)

Meyer lemon bars, from Alpineberry. (You guessed it, lemons from the garden.) Intense, but delicious!

My cheap digital camera chose this moment to give up the ghost, but Steve took a picture of the Meyer lemon bars, which turned out way more beautifully than any of my photos anyway.

The real challenge.

The 100 foot diet project is relatively easy. I mean, sure, I'm planting some extra veggies this year, so hopefully we'll be able to make at least a few meals almost entirely from the backyard, but using something from the garden every week? We already do that.

So here's the real challenge. I'm a little scared to record it in such a pubic area, because of the rather high chance of public failure. But I hope sharing the challenge with y'all will help me stick to it.

Here are the rules:

1) I will buy NO NEW CLOTHING,


Second hand clothing, thrift stores, and sewing are allowed. Occasional purchases of new pantyhose, etc., are allowed, in an emergency, but only with Steve's permission. The permission issue has nothing to do with permission, of course - it's simply a matter of forcing me to be honest about my purchases and not sneak around.

(I've perfected various sneaky shopping techniques over the years, including leaving things in the car for several days before bringing them in, putting full bags of new things in the back of the closet, and of course, the "what? this old thing?" response to questions. This would be screwed up enough, but it's especially weird given that Steve is generally supportive of my shopping. Can we say issues?)

Mostly, it would just be awesome to have a little more money for a few months. I mean, I have tons and tons of cute spring outfits. I don't need any more. If I must have more, I can thrift for more.

No more Anthropologie. No more Urban Outfitters. No. No. No.

I'm marking June 5 on my calendar. That's the goal.

A few exceptions have already been discussed. For example, I can buy shoes, but only to replace the shoes my dogs chew up. This is a fairly generous exception, given how tasty my dogs seem to find my footwear.

Coming soon: Whiny progress reports.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The 100 Foot Diet Challenge.

I've decided to take on the 100 foot diet challenge - make one meal a week from as many homegrown products as possible. (For more details, click on the poster.) Now, we do not grow our own wheat, nor do we have chickens or a dairy cow, so there are limits to what we can cook solely from our backyard. But as long as the challenge is "as much as possible," I think we can do it. And as Rebecca points out, we definitely won't have to worry about scurvy. Not that scurvy is a major killer of land-lubbin' vegetarians.

Also, I love the poster! Garden propaganda is so cool!

Anyway, by late-summer, this'll be a piece of cake - by then, we'll feel guilty if we eat a single tomato- or zucchini-free meal. The fun, challenging part is right now, when it's slim pickin' out there. Kale and chard with lemon and chervil, anyone?

We have one gourd seedling!

Update: Shortly after I hit the books on how to germinate African hard-shell gourd seeds, one of ours sprouted! I am hopeful that the others will follow suit, and we may yet have a back fence covered in bird-house and swan gourd vines.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Not what you think.

Contrary to popular opinion, we are not supplementing our modest incomes with the grow-lights in the back room. (I know you're disappointed.) Rather, check out our baby basil, peppers, and radishes! If anyone knows how to get gourd seeds to sprout, let us know, because so far, our germination rate is exactly 0%. And we were kind of excited about making gourd bird-houses.


Crouton really hates being bathed. He shows his displeasure by looking as rat-like as possible. But who knew his face was so skinny?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dog poison.

Again, not for the faint of heart or those with delicate stomachs (you people should never get a dog):

I saw Crouton was chewing on something, and to my horror, it was a daffodil bulb, snuck right out of one of the shot glasses I've been sprouting them in. A couple of the forced bulbs live on a low-ish windowsill, where Crouton can apparently reach them.

Initially, I was horrified that he had ruined an almost-blooming bulb, but then he started to look a little funny, and a new horror set in. Ask any of my friends - they all agree - I have a very active imagination.

According to the internet, plants in the narcissus family are toxic to dogs, and can cause everything from stomach upset to "tremor, spasm, and death." (Note: What is this, a 17th century herbal? "Tremor" and "spasm"? I could be wrong, but I don't think those are modern veterinary diagnoses.)

As I was reading this, Crouton promptly puked. On the rug. As I was cleaning it up, we had puking episodes 2 and 3. I started to freak out.

So I called the local emergency 24 hour vet (because it was already after 8 p.m.). Yes, I am totally that crazy lady that calls emergency vets on a regular basis. Bless those folks for existing, and especially, for answering questions by phone. They said that while the bulb-chewing might cause him a stomach ache and some vomiting, he probably was not on the verge of death. Good to know. Also, please stop calling us. Okay. So I gave him some yogurt and refused to go out with my husband to play pool. Instead, I stayed home, watching Crouton closely for signs of lethargy or, you know, death.

Never mind that this dog will eat anything, and puke it up just as promptly. It doesn't matter how toxic and nasty it tastes. He firmly believes that he is on the verge of starvation all the time. Keep the Drano away from this puppy. Literally.

And sure enough, he's fine now. Crisis averted. Adrenaline ... wasted. Sheesh.


Steve took this gorgeous photo of our little ragamuffin cross between a swiffer and a vaccuum cleaner. Yes, he always looks that dirty.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Unless you're reading the Oxford English Dictionary (all 20 volumes) for fun ...

When I said that you need a largish purse to carry your fun reading, I did not mean this:

She's kidding, right? That's a joke £3,000 Hermes bag, right? In a sick twist, the Daily Mail includes this picture under the headline "Katie Holmes pays tribute to Jackie Kennedy." Oh, noooooo. Poor Jackie must just be rolling in her grave.

Erin over at A Dress A Day labeled this photo "Suri is IN the bag." Personally, I'm wondering if she could pull a hatstand and five foot ornately-framed mirror out of it, like Mary Poppins. If so, I retract all criticism.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Party ideas brainstormed with Linda over breakfast.

  1. Garden work party - you come over to my house, drink a white wine spritzer on the back patio, and pitch in with the garden. Pros: free labor. Cons: the dogs leave kind of a lot of land mines in the back yard - it could end badly.
  2. Apron-making party - you come over to my house with some fabric, and we all make aprons. Pros: you get an apron. Cons: I only have one accessible sewing machine.
  3. Tomato party - instead of having a pumpkin party, we have a tomato party. Everyone brings something cooked with tomatoes, and we gorge. Pros: maybe I enlist your help with canning said tomatoes and send you home with tons more. Cons: Eating that much tomato could give the guests acid indigestion.
  4. Felting party - all my knitting friends make use of my washer and drier to make felt. Pros: I might get some felt to sew up into cool bags, etc. Cons: I have exactly two friends who would want to attend this party.

Books you're gonna need if you decide to buy that farm or start that commune, Part 1.

This is the classic treatise on intensive vegetable gardening. It's been around since well before I could read, but it's still the best. It's required reading for small farmers and communes, but it's also the best advice on backyard gardening in small spaces.

This is fiction, but it's also a manifesto about the joys and pains of farming, and the all-important land.

How to build your house and barn and fences, raise livestock, grow crops, and sell and preserve your harvest.

More inspirational fiction. Take-away point: Even noblemen can get satisfaction from scything their own wheat.

Here's the guide for the urban farmer. A manifesto on dumpster-diving, community-garden establishing, sewage composting, guerrilla seed-throwing, protest-organizing, and other essential skills for the "off -the-grid" city dweller.

Um, you might not have to read this whole book to find out that the answer to life, the universe, and everything is "cultivate your garden."

Mostly, this is all about building your "off-the-grid" eco-green-house, with a little bit of advice on veggie gardening on the side.

This isn't my specialty (yet), but my friends inform me that this is the book on "putting up" your produce. Talk to me later this year, when I will be faced with harvesting no less than six (edit: now seven) tomato plants, a loquat tree, and a persimmon tree.

This is my favorite - Steve and I especially love to pore over the pictures indicating how to make the most of 1 acre, 5 acre, and 10 acres plots (there are also guidelines for city gardens). A lovely mixture of practical advice and eye-candy. Mmmmm.