Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goodbye Carl

I just learned that my friend Carl Peters has passed away. Carl, along with his wife Margo, who passed away in January, were my first friends at the church in Austin. It was so nice to have someone familiar to sit with every week, someone who asked how I was doing, someone to share a hymnal with. When Margo became too ill to come to church, I began to visit them at their retirement apartment. They would take me to lunch at their fancy cafeteria and show me pictures from their many travels. Carl and I still sat together on Sundays - we told anyone who asked that I was his young "girlfriend." I know they were much loved by their children and grandchildren, as well as by friends in the church. They will both be missed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Breakfast for dinner

Tonight, we had breakfast for dinner: waffles, scrambled locally grown eggs, locally raised buffalo sausage, and cantaloupe. I can't believe we haven't done this in a really long time, if ever, since we've been together. It is such a good idea. You get the best meal of the day, but when you are awake enough to appreciate it! Our waffles were enhanced by grape jelly we got in our basket of the month last month, and by the chocolate-hazelnut spread we bought at the University District Farmer's Market in Seattle this summer. Yum yum yum. Too bad we didn't have local peaches as the fruit, and it would have been all local. Oh well, one item trucked in from California in a whole meal isn't too bad.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things that make me laugh

A group of guys on campus made a slip and slide on the lawn of their dorm. I love that. If I was still in college, I would have considered taking a turn on it myself. Of course, I am too shy to actually join in, but still...

I am a feminist

There, I said it publicly. I have been reading Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti this week, and it has made me mad. Do you know how much absolute junk and lies about women are out there? Do you know how much our lives are controlled by old white men? Don't let them. Get out and vote for Obama this election - and yes, I know that Sarah Palin is a woman, but she is a woman with mad wack, ignorant, hateful opinions. Just because she is a woman doesn't make her automatically good.

The book was making me reconsider my choice to change my last name when I got married. Benjamin said I didn't have to, but at the time I couldn't see not changing it. Now, it would take a lot of work to change it or even just to hyphenate. Besides, I didn't completely get rid of Donovan, I just made it a middle sort of name. It was a choice I made, so now I will live with it. But it was a choice made harder by all the insane rhetoric that I managed to absorb and all the worry I had about what people would think about me. Totally bogus. As I get older, I am slowly learning that it is better to, in the words of the snarky advice on a video game I play, "Don't worry about what others think; they don't do it very often." Hmm. Maybe we will just make something up for our (hypothetical) child. Or just stick to pets.

Anyway, if you want more information about being a full frontal feminist, you can check out Valenti's web site feministing.com.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sleeping cats

I am offering this picture of Cleo sleeping as a respite from the politics and downer news that are on offer everywhere (including my other post of the day). Everyone, on the count of three, say "Awww...)

Debate, debate!

Friday night is the first of the presidential candidate debates between Barack Obama and John McCain. I have avoided the debates of this political season until now, but since this is shaping up to be a very big election, I will be watching. In fact, we are planning to go to a debate watching party. Whee! To continue my politicizing of this blog (just for now, I promise), I encourage you to watch also. Get to really know what the candidates say, and perhaps more importantly, how they say it. You know it is going to be all talking points and prepared answers, but just how hard will they try to dodge the actual question that is being asked? Will McCain sweat and look shifty? Will Obama? Will one of them be poked and prodded so much that they turn into the Mayor from Buffy Season 3? Only one way to find out - watch!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Confused? You should be!

In this season of politics, it is easy to get confused about the messages of our politicians. So I want to thank Monique for pointing out this handy list from Black and Progressive Sociologists for Obama that clears everything up:

If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're 'exotic, different.'

Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, a quintessential American story.

If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.

Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that
registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor,
spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.

If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become
the country's second highest ranking executive (and according to the actuarial tables, a > 30% chance of succeeding the president during your first term).

If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.

If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your un-wed teen daughter
ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community,
then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.

If you're husband is nicknamed 'First Dude', with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

Please, don't let McCain and Palin win this year. Please, make sure you are registered to vote, and then go out and VOTE. Not voting against them is the equaivalent of a vote for them. We cannot have another four years of anti-intellectual, conservative government. I am beginning to feel so strongly about this whole election that despite the fact that I turn off the radio far more often than I used to (sick of hearing about it) I have actually given money to Obama, I am reading his book, and written my senators and representative about the financial crisis.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Oliver loves his Pig

Oliver has a thing for this stuffed pig. Lately, he has been sitting on it, but he also likes to knead it, or what I used to call pussy-footing. If you have ever seen a truly content cat, you know what I am talking about - purring and using their paws to knead the toy, blanket, stomach, whatever they are sitting on at the time. Oliver likes to knead his pig, and when he does so, he also likes, no needs to have either an ear or the tail in his mouth. It is absolutely adorable, and just a little bit strange.
We aren't sure what attracts Oliver to this pig, because for the longest time he was seemingly scared of soft objects - he wouldn't get on the furniture, the bed, the softer of the two cat beds. Nothing. Now, he nests on the pig. Go figure. Anyway, he is currently curled up, fast asleep, on top of the pig. Aww...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jaw-dropping Friday night

I am not the sort of person who uses superlatives about entertainment and experiences very often, but last night deserves them. We went to see the Golden Dragon Acrobats, a troupe of Chinese acrobats doing absolutely amazing things. There was the guy balancing on top of 8 stacked chairs, on one hand. The couple doing a lovely pas de deux where the woman went en pointe on his shoulder, and then on his head. Women juggling end tables, with their feet. My jaw was literally dropping and my mouth hanging open through much of the show. Take a look through the pictures on the web site. Amazing! The most fun I have had a show of any kind in a long time. If they come to a town near you, I would strongly encourage you to go. The big question I have after seeing it is why the Chinese gymnasts haven't won all of the gold medals in the Olympics, with a tradition like this.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Our weekend with Ike

It seems ages ago now, but over the weekend we had a brush with the remains of Ike. The weather was incredibly humid and icky for most of the day on Saturday, and by later afternoon the wind had picked up and the rain began. Our biggest worry was rain coming in the tops of our living room windows - the previous night we had a rain storm that sent rain pouring in around the window frame (so much for a well constructed new apartment building). As the storm struck, however, the radio and TV weather men began to warn of possible tornadoes. eek! Eventually, while we were making dinner, the warning sirens even went off - we stayed away from the windows and drank margaritas. The worst of that part of the storm was gone pretty quickly, without any actual tornado and without getting any rain into the windows. The wind and rain continued throughout the night, and I did have to get up around 2:30 to mop up water around the windows, but nothing more exciting. Ah well. Sunday morning brought sunny skies and cooler weather (hurrah!) and the damage was visible - mostly just small branches down, the occasional tree knocked over. So, we survived the hurricane aftermath pretty well - other areas of the state had flooding and power outages. That is as close as I want to come to a hurricane however!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This little piggy when to market

On Saturday we braved the pre-Ike humidity to take a trip to the River Market in Little Rock. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of locally grown producers selling, since we had heard that it was mostly people who bought goods wholesale, like the market in Rochester. No, several of the people who supply the two CSAs that we get were there, and there were some interesting looking vegetables. And they have a great pig statue. What is it with markets and pigs? Pike Place Market also has a pig statue...Actually, I think the River Market was trying to mold itself in Pike Place's image, since it had a big sign on the roof that was similar, a pig, and covered areas with restaurants and such. No flying fish though.
We had a good lunch at a bakery/deli, and enjoyed the trip out of Conway. We will be exploring some more this coming weekend - we have tickets to opening night of the Arkansas Symphony, and plan to go out to dinner in LR beforehand. Whee.

And I have one, possibly two interviews lined up at the University of Arkansas Little Rock library, so keep your fingers crossed that something good comes of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Canned sunshine

Last week I picked peaches and apples - this is one thing that makes Arkansas better than Texas, the availability of fruit - at an orchard about 30 minutes from Conway. It was quite a large business - many different varieties that ripen at different times - bigger than any of the places I picked at last year in NY. I bought about 35 pounds of fruit in total. After eating some of the peaches, I decided that I needed to do something to save the rest of them for the winter. My first thought was to freeze them for use in smoothies and possibly pie, but then I decided to try canning. I have done it before, but only as helper to Mom, who did most of the work. Oh well, how hard could it be?

Armed with the Joy of Cooking and a convenient home canning website, I set out to can my peaches. It isn't difficult really, but it does take a bit of organization. First the jars and lids need to be sterilized, then the syrup needs to be made, and the peaches need to be peeled. Whew. As you can see, these steps took up all of my stove burners - at least I already had a canning pot and enough other pots to do it all at once. Boy, could I have used an assistant though! Someone eager and useful (like me perhaps) to help with the peeling and chopping of the peaches. Well, I survived and got everything done without cutting myself (peeled peaches are very slippery!) and without making too big of a mess.
I decided to use the hot pack method, which is where you boil the peaches in the syrup for a little while before filling the jars. It is supposed to help prevent air bubbles and keep the peaches looking bright and pretty. Neither Mom nor I can remember what we used the last time we canned peaches. Oh well, it wasn't that hard. Thanks to a lovely little canning funnel, I was able to fill the jars without making too much of a mess on their sides and the counter. One thing to keep in mind about canning though - it is a good idea to have a lot of cloth kitchen towels on hand to mop up spills and drips.

After the all-important water bath to help seal the jars, I was delighted to find that I had done everything correctly - the lids popped down the way they were supposed to. The only small hitch was that I didn't quite fill the jars as full as possible, so there is a bit of a gap at the bottom of the jars (see the jars on the right in the picture below). I was afraid to pack too tightly I guess. Since only about half of the peaches were ready at that time, I had to can another batch over the weekend. I made a few improvement to my methods (including adding an assistant - a more or less willing Benjamin) and the jars got packed a little bit better.

So I now have 12 jars of canned sunshine to help me through the winter when fresh fruit is in short supply. Yum! I also plan to can applesauce in the coming weeks, at some point. Now, if only I had a dehydrator - I could make the lovely dried peach slices that my dad used to make every fall...but that will have to wait until I have a house and more space. Soon. Next fall, I hope.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wry observation

Friday afternoon is not the time to go to the gym if you are tall, not tan, nearing 30, and not particularly perky. It appears that between 2:30 and 3:30 PM is work-out time for the entire UCA cheer squad. Huh.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Canning madness

On Tuesday I picked apples and peaches. Today, I am going to try canning them. I have canned before, with Mom, but never on my own. For peaches and applesauce it seems pretty easy, almost fool-proof. We shall see. Pictures will be forthcoming, both of the picking expedition and the canning, when I get around to firing up Benjamin's computer and taking them off the camera.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grasshopper memories

This little green grasshopper was resting on my catnip plant yesterday morning. I love grasshoppers - especially trying to catch them. When I was small and Mom and I would visit my great-grandfather at his farm in Nebraska, he and I would go out and catch them. He would point them out with his cane, and I would pounce on them. I always loved fluttery feeling of a grasshopper in your hand, trying to escape. I would usually let them go - the thrill was in the catch more than anything. I still get that thrill - on our recent hike I managed to catch a couple, although I seem to have slowed down and am no longer so close to the ground as I was at 7.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

More local food

Despite the lack of a physical organic farmer's market in Conway, there is an on-line market. You log in, order what you want from the available products, and then go pick it up at the set time. The pick ups are available every other week, for now, although the organizers hope to go to weekly deliveries in the spring. It is like a CSA, except that you can choose what you want to buy, instead of just getting what is given to you. Thanks to one of Benjamin's co-workers, we discovered it in time to order last week, and this is what we got:
  • Natural ground beef
  • Buffalo summer sausage
  • Raw milk cheddar
  • Green beans
  • Squash
  • Eggs
  • Purple potatoes
  • Buffalo hot dogs
  • Heirloom tomatoes
I could also have ordered honey (but we have plenty of that at the moment), raw milk, a deposit on a natural, heritage turkey for Thanksgiving, whole chicken roasters, okra, grapes, and buffalo roast, and more. So, for now, we seem to have figured out where to get good food. We will get the basket once a month - have to see if it continues to be worth it during the winter - and order from this group every other week. And I have a lead on a local fruit farm that is currently picking peaches and apples! Don't worry, there will be pictures when I go.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Take that, you big sandwich chains

This lovely sandwich is one of the meals we had this week using produce from our basket. Roasted eggplant and onions with a balsamic vinegar dressing on a bed of spring greens, topped with feta cheese and fresh basil. Yum yum! Now that is something you can't get at a fast food sandwich place.

Most of the good stuff is gone from that basket, but I go pick up our order from the other CSA today. Not so many veggies though, mostly local, organic meats. I can't wait until we have our own garden.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hello Gustav

Tropical Depression Gustav is currently stuck over Arkansas, that is, over us. It has been raining since some time on Monday night, and boy is it wet. All the culverts that had been so dry when we arrived are full. All the low places in the parking lots and lawns are under water. Our house is full of wet shoes, socks and coats. I actually drove Ben to work today, so he wouldn't get soaked before starting a day of teaching. If this keeps up, we are going to need an ark!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Episode 251, in which we go hiking, again

Trust me, I am sweating like a cold glass of iced tea

In honor of the spirit of a long weekend vacation, we went hiking on Sunday. This time, we headed to Lake Sylvia, a nice little park on the edges of the Ouachita forest and hiking trail about 45 minutes from Conway. The trail itself was mostly not too difficult, with a side trail up to an overlook that included a little bit of climbing. Apart from that, it was mostly just a ramble through a mixed deciduous/evergreen forest. We started early-ish to avoid the heat and humidity that would come with the afternoon. Even so, I was dripping wet pretty soon after we started. Humidity and I just don't get along. I am pretty well adjusted to the heat here, but if it is humid I sweat. Sigh.

View from Chinquapin Overlook

Anyway, sweating aside, it was a nice trail in a calming forest. Plenty of fresh air and chirping crickets and cicadas. We have nicknamed the sound that they produce the alien death-ray. Seriously, if you have ever been around that sound, the whirring, chirping, buzzing noise, it sounds exactly like the death-ray sort of sound in certain alien movies. It really does get into your brain and make it feel like you could easily go crazy if it went on long enough. But the bugs stop just in time, and instead it is just the sound of hiking in the south in August. Apart from those bugs, the only wildlife we saw were spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. They particularly liked to spin webs across the trail, as if they might catch a careless hiker and eat well all winter (shudder). Since we still don't have a guide to the spiders of Arkansas, we treated them all with caution and ducked under or walked around. A stick comes in very handy on such a trail, for waving in front of the lead hiker to break the webs without having to use your body to do so.

Despite the fact that it was Labor Day weekend, we only saw one other hiker on the entire 5 miles of trail. The camp-ground around the lake had a fair number of campers in it, but no-where as many as I expected. A pleasant surprise really. Maybe it is because it was hot, or because people are camped out by this point in the summer. The lake itself looked like a pleasant place to swim, and there were a number of kids splashing around and jumping off the jumping platform. Next time we go out there for a hike (and I am sure we will return) we will remember to take our bathing suits.