Snow days

The blizzard hit pretty much as predicted in our area. This morning I went out the back door and waded through snow above my knees. We took Sudo out the front instead, so there was only a little deep snow before the street, which had been plowed at least once during the night or early morning. Coming back in, Ben was going to dig a little path through the snow banked between the street and the front steps, but Sudo had had enough of being outside, and tried to jump straight over the snowbank. She kind of got stranded on her belly, since the snow was taller than she was, but she paddled on through, ran up the stairs, and tried to push the front door open with her face. She’d be shocked to learn she’s the same species as a husky.

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snowdog1

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In this one you can see how she’s squinting her eyes against the snow and wind.

Inside, we’ve been well provisioned, having purposefully created leftovers for the past couple days in case the power went out (it hasn’t). Fresh baked bread, North African stew, pasta with homemade sauce, chocolate chip cookies, and lots of tea and hot cocoa. And that’s just the food! We also have stacks of books. I finished God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet (thanks Erin!) and am trying to decide what to read next – The Art of Fielding? The first in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series? Vanessa and Her Sister? Decisions, decisions.

Back inside and ensconced in her armchair once again.

Back inside and ensconced in her armchair once again.

 

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Winter rose

The miniature rose bush I pruned back to nearly nothing is doing extremely well indoors.

November 9, 2014

November 9, 2014

November 23, 2014

November 23, 2014

January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015

January 9, 2015

January 12, 2015

January 12, 2015

January 12, 2015

January 12, 2015

January 12, 2015

January 12, 2015

Once these blooms start to fade, I’ll cut it back again. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? I really should read a gardening book one of these days. Any recommendations?

Aside from the rose bush, most of the other plants are still doing well indoors too (except one of the African violets seems to be dying, I’m not sure why), and I’ve added an orchid to the bunch. My track record with orchids is so-so; I know to drench them and then let them dry out completely before watering them again, and keep them out of direct sunlight (they actually do okay in offices). We’ll see how long I can keep this one alive.

New orchid, January 12, 2015

New orchid, January 12, 2015

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On Letter-Writing, II

2014 yielded 4 inches of letters.

2014 yielded 4 inches of letters.

A year ago, I read Simon Garfield’s book To the Letter and Lewis Carroll’s “Eight or Nine Wise Words On Letter-Writing” and was inspired to start writing letters again. Luckily, I had four equally dedicated correspondents, plus a few friends who send postcards when they travel (and sometimes even when they stay home).

Reading and writing so many letters this past year has been a pleasure, and it’s an activity I plan to continue this coming year. Letters are a different quality of communication compared to e-mail, talking on the phone, or social media; they’re a little more organized, a lot more thoughtful, and they have more personality. I’ve loved recognizing friends’ handwriting on envelopes when I pick up the mail, seeing what stamps they chose, what kind of paper and ink. I’ve sent and received beautiful and unique cards and postcards, and I’ve learned about more facets of my friends’ lives than I would have in any other way.

To my letter-writing friends, thank you. Here’s to 2015.

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Cinnamon swirl cookies

A vision came to me. It was a cinnamon-bun-meets-cookie vision. To make this vision a reality, I used the dough recipe for “Fig Pinwheels” from Martha Stewart’s Cookies (page 101) and the butter-sugar-cinnamon filling for the cinnamon roll recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks (page 37).

This isn’t the type of recipe you can whip up in a snap, not because it’s difficult but because the dough has to chill three separate times: twice for an hour each, once for half an hour. You could definitely make the dough the day before and chill it overnight, but – hold on to your hats – that does mean starting a day earlier (i.e. you have to know you will want cookies tomorrow. Then again…when is that ever not the case?).

Step one is to make the dough – butter, brown sugar, white sugar, flour, baking soda, salt – then split it in half, wrap each half in plastic, and chill for an hour.

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Step two is to roll out each ball of dough into a rectangular shape on a floured piece of parchment paper, then chill for a half hour.

Step three, melt the butter for the filling and have the sugar and cinnamon to hand. PW’s cinnamon roll recipe is scaled to feed hungry cowboys, and it’s decadent; for the cookies, I used just 1/2 stick of butter, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1.5 tsp cinnamon.

Step four, spread melted butter on each rectangle, then sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon over the butter. Roll each rectangle into a log, and chill the logs for another hour, turning occasionally so they don’t flatten on one side. (Then again, this is according to Martha Stewart; not all of us are as keen on perfect appearance. Most of us figure staying out of jail is a good enough appearance. But I digress.)

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Not perfect circles, but they came out fine!

Finally, slice the chilled logs and put the cookies on a baking sheet; bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through. Remove to a rack to cool; store in plastic containers with parchment paper between layers of cookies. (Martha says the cookies will keep for three days.)

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Appearance-wise, they turned out great; they look like little snails, but unlike real snails, I will eat these. I was worried that the filling wasn’t thick enough (the original recipe calls for a homemade fig spread, or failing that – and yes, failing is the right word, thank you, Martha – a store-bought jam), but it turned out fine. They might be a tiny bit on the bland side, but I bet the butter-sugar-cinnamon filling made them a lot easier to handle; a fig or other jam filling would have been slippery and sticky.

We’re bringing half this batch to a fellow Hampshire alum who has invited us to tour her farm this weekend; I couldn’t go empty-handed. Must remember to pick up some carrots for the horses on the way! (Sudo’s staying home. As much as I’d love to see what would happen if she met a goat face to face…)

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Ben does a puzzle

I didn’t know this when we got married, but Ben really likes jigsaw puzzles. And not in that “if there’s one around I’ll look at it for a few minutes and fit a couple pieces in place, and over the course of several months I may or may not finish it” way, but in the obsessive, down-the-rabbit-hole way. Which is all right, really, because the only table big enough for the thousand-piece puzzles he does is our kitchen table, which is also where we eat.

Abbey Road, the beginning

Abbey Road, the beginning

Find all those edge pieces and start with the border...

Find all those edge pieces and start with the border…

Expert puzzler posture: the hunchback.

Expert puzzler posture: the hunchback.

The Liverpool lads begin to take shape.

The Liverpool lads begin to take shape…

As does the road and a bit more sky and trees.

…as does the road and a bit more sky and trees…

And a bit more...

…and a bit more (though Ringo is still hollow at this point).

The crosswalk is almost complete.

The crosswalk is almost complete.

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

Hmm...

Hmm…

There it goes.

There it goes.

And, done!

And, done!

Beginning to end, Ben did the puzzle in about four days. I helped very little with it, other than sorting the puzzle pieces to find edge pieces or certain blocks of color. (Also, I set up the Welcome to Night Vale podcasts to listen to while I was sorting and Ben was puzzling. That is one trippy podcast, and I highly recommend it.)

We’re thinking of framing the completed Abbey Road puzzle, but Ben plans to do the Where the Wild Things Are Puzzle again sometime. Maybe jigsaw puzzles will be his December tradition; he completed this one last year.

Where the Wild Things (mostly) Are

Where the Wild Things (mostly) Are

Where the Wild Things Are

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I received Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up this month (not as a hint, but because Ben knew I was waiting for the library copy, which I’d put on hold after reading this New York Times article). Once I started reading, I couldn’t wait to begin tidying, but I made myself wait until I’d finished the book. Then, I jumped in, mostly following the “KonMari Method” but tempering it a bit with my own usual tidying habits. Fortunately, I had the time to do most of the apartment in a short amount of time, thanks to holidays and weekends.

Day One, I focused on clothes, more or less following the suggested order: tops, bottoms, things on hangers, socks, underwear, bags, accessories, clothes for specific events, shoes. Upon finishing each category – meaning I’d handled each item and decided whether to keep or discard it – I folded up the items and returned them to their drawers. (And yes, I did say “thank you for your service” to the clothes I was getting rid of. It feels nice.) I brought five or six bags of clothes to Goodwill, threw out a few odds and ends (worn-out socks, stained shirts), and have one bag still to bring to the consignment shop.

Obsolete technology, begone!

Obsolete technology, begone!

On Day Two, I diverted slightly from the KonMari Method, tidying by location instead of category; I started on books, but also tidied our bathroom cabinet and our technology stuff, which took up a large plastic box and an entire cord-filled drawer. Some of the tech stuff was Ben’s, and after we were done, we were down to half a drawer; everything else went to the electronics recycling center at Best Buy. (It felt delightful to go there only to get rid of things, not to acquire them.) I was also able to repurpose some of the original packaging from tech things to use in the bathroom cabinets for small items like nail polish.

Goodbye to all that.

Goodbye to all that.

Next, I turned my attention to the books. If you have too many, Kondo writes, you should divide them into four categories: general, practical, visual, and magazines. I got rid of only a few “practical” books (cookbooks), though they were replaced almost immediately when we received a late wedding gift of cookbooks; these slotted neatly into the space I’d cleared, and we hope to use them more than the ones I got rid of. But mostly, I got rid of novels, even a few signed copies that I didn’t think I’d read again. Enough space was available on the living room bookshelf then to move the Calvin & Hobbes books from their previous, rather inaccessible location under an end table to the bookshelf. The books I discarded went to a local used book shop, or to the Friends of the Library for the book sale.

Even though I sometimes concentrated on a location instead of a category, I did try to reorganize so that all items of one type were in the same location. Books and shoes are the exceptions, I suppose, because there are still bookshelves in most rooms of the house, and while most shoes are by the front door, some off-season shoes are in the bedroom closet.

Jumping out of order, I sorted three kitchen drawers. We got rid of a few things, and I used a shoebox lid and a clean piece of fabric left over from college to make a divider in the drawer. Now when we open that drawer, we’re treated to tie-dye and butterflies as well as a microplane zester and ice cream scoop. (What kind of fabric pattern did you expect? I went to Hampshire.) We came back to the kitchen later, getting rid of a few extra tins and pans, and reorganizing the cabinet where the more unwieldy baking equipment is kept.

Magazines are somewhere between books and papers, so I did those next. The only magazine I subscribe to is The New Yorker, and though I’d love to be the kind of person who reads it cover-to-cover each week, I’m not; books are always more tempting. I sorted through over a year of back issues, ripping out articles I’d read and liked or still wanted to read, and covers I particularly liked; the rest went into recycling. Rather than containing two stuffed baskets and a precarious pile of magazines, our bathroom now hosts a single basket with a few New Yorkers and a couple of books: The Onion’s Our Front Pages and Jon Stewart’s America the Book: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.

Jewelry was next up under the tidying microscope. (This probably should have come earlier in the process, as Kondo includes accessories as clothing, but the point is that it’s done now.) I tend to wear the same necklace and earrings every single day, but I do have some other things (though not as many now as I did a few days ago!). Instead of keeping earrings and necklaces in boxes, I stuck pushpins in the wall and hung two or three necklaces from each; the earrings I poked through a ribbon and pinned the ends of the ribbon to the wall above the necklaces.

Before moving on to the last big task before “mementos” and photos – that is, papers – I got rid of a bunch of plastic CD cases and a few DVDs. With a little wrangling, this allowed us to remove a small shelf from the living room, and we moved the printer from the living room into the guest room. We don’t use the printer much, so it didn’t need to be in such a prime location; plus, we’ve regained the use of that end table.

Stalling just a bit more before moving on to papers, I took advantage of the unseasonably nice weather to clean out my car. There were an absurd number of printed-out directions and maps, all of which went straight into the recycling. I did keep a AAA map of New England, in case the GPS fails, but that’s about it for paper in the car. I sorted through my CDs there too and only kept mixes; it’ll be interesting to hear my high school and college tastes again. I punched holes through the soft plastic sleeves and put them all on a metal ring, so they won’t get scattered.

Stuffed animal menagerie

Stuffed animal menagerie

At last, papers. I took Kondo’s advice and shredded old credit card statements and pay stubs, and my box of files has a lot more breathing room now. I kept most theater programs, concert tickets, and museum brochures, and I tied bunches of letters with ribbon, because that’s what people do in novels. (If you’ve ever sent me a letter, chances are I still have it.) While I was surrounded in a sea of papers, Ben did some of his own tidying and rearranging in our bedroom, including an adorable surprise on a high shelf of our closet. Between the two of us, we recycled about six or seven bags of paper, not counting the two bags of magazines.

Even though the house doesn’t look hugely different to visitors, it feels different to us. For one thing, each type of thing has its own single location now, so we know where to look for it. For another, things aren’t lurking in closets or under the bed anymore. Maybe the monsters that prey on grown-ups aren’t made up of fangs and claws, but of old bank statements and ethernet cables, books we intended to read but didn’t and clothes we’re never going to wear again. Less stuff, it turns out, sparks more joy.

 

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Scarves again

I’m reviving the long-dormant knitting tag. In the second half of November alone, I made two scarves, and showed Ben how to knit as well. He picked it up quickly and is making a fine gray scarf for himself.

Meanwhile, I ripped out the first scarf I ever made, which was a bit lumpy, and re-knitted it in the exact same way (that is, straight knitting, no pattern at all).

Old new scarf.

Old new scarf.

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Next, I got myself some brand new yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease “Thick and Quick” with stripes, 80% acrylic, 20% wool. I started it at home, did a big chunk in the car on the way to Pennsylvania (I wasn’t driving, obviously), and finished at my in-laws’ house. Early on, I had to consult my co-worker (who is an impressively talented knitter) to refresh my memory about ribbing (k2p2), and with that assist, the rest went quickly (as promised!).

New stripy scarf

New stripy scarf

Scarf snail

Scarf snail

I can’t keep track of whether I started each row with knitting or purling, so I kept track on the back of a receipt. (I know there’s an app for that, but pen and paper works just as well.) I still messed up in about three different places, but the scarf’s still warm and cheery-looking and that’s what matters.

That’s probably the last project for me for the year, but at least I haven’t forgotten how. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try making a hat again. Those double-pointed needles are still around here somewhere…

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