Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What do you mean, the furnace stopped working?

I wasn't going to blog about the ice and cold weather and all the little signs that make me flash back to my years in New England: slow gas burners, faucets left dripping so the pipes won't freeze, drafty windows, frozen garden fountains, and layers and layers of clothes.

But this morning Zorg woke me with the news that our oil furnace was no longer responding to the thermostat controls.

He left for work, and I opened negotiations with the oil company (we have a service contract). I got off to a bad start when the woman asked how they were going to get into the house. "Through the garage" was not the answer she was looking for -- it turned out she was asking me what number they should call to have someone let them into the house. "Oh," I said. "This number; I'll be at the house all day."

"We ask because MOST people work," she sneered.

"Well, I work in a home office," I snapped back. "And the temperature in it is 51 degrees at the moment." (Was this a ploy to get me to warm up? It worked.)

Things didn't improve when I asked her if our $200 service contract with the company put us at the top of the list for repairs. No, she said, the service people work by neighborhood.

She tried to persuade me to dismantle two sections of the furnace so I could push the re-set button. I pointed out that if I did that, we wouldn't know why the furnace (new, and recently tuned up) had quit. I declined, pointing out that, once re-set, it would likely just quit again and I'd have to call her back and get back in the queue for repairs -- just much further back in the line.

I took a hot shower, dressed in many layers of clothes, made hot tea and oatmeal, and put some veggies to roast in the oven to get the kitchen warm. Fortunately, my office has a space heater and I barricaded myself in there to await the repair person.

A much nicer woman called me an hour later to say the service truck would arrive before noon. The electrician they sent was a delightful fellow in his mid-70s who has been working in the heating industry for more than 50 years. He's retired, but comes back on during winter emergencies.

As I'd suspected, dismantling the furnace to get to the re-set button was not easy. Many screws came out, many metal panels and braces were removed. When he pushed the re-set button, the furnace went on with a roar -- and then shut off.

"Not good," he said. It turned out there was a clogged oil nozzle (our model of furnance has a particularly narrow and fussy one, he said). He replaced it and started up the burner -- which promptly released a cloud of smoky oil into the den. Argggh.

In a few minutes, the burner was running cleanly again, and the repairman set about putting all the panels back together. I noticed a frayed place on the cord of his work light, and asked if I could wrap it with some electrical tape. He laughed and agreed. He asked about a couple of my elderly neighbors (gone now) whose furnaces he'd worked on in the past. And he told me about the winter of 1951, when he was at Lincoln High School, and his friends had driven their cars on the ice on Green Lake.

I signed a receipt, and he headed off to his next emergency. The heat's back on and the veggies are roasted. OK, enough of that. I'm ready for summer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The iPod separates us from our common space

Jesse Kornbluth, writer of the informative Head Butler blog (reviewing books, music, and the like), notes:
Critics knock the iPod because, they say, it separates us from our common space. Yes, it does. It takes us into another space, where people sing in harmony and every song is a kind of prayer.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A week to look forward to

I'm coming off three exhausting days of yoga, and looking forward to some fun for the next week.

• Tuesday - coffee at Cafe Besalu with a friend and after work KBCS On the Road at the Tractor with Captain Leroy and the Zydeco Locals and Jo Miller and Her Burly Roughnecks. The KBCS event starts at the reasonable weeknight hour of 7 p.m. and benefits public radio. [2 p.m. Tuesday -- KBCS event has been cancelled due to icy road conditions. Drat! Coffee with my friend was fun, and we went thrift-shopping afterwards.]

• Wednesday night - my friend Rae is coming over to visit me and the kitties!

• Thursday night - a holiday party on Capitol Hill for a online list of local writers, followed by...well, yoga again.

• Friday - the annual Beppa wholesale event (at their new Phinney Ridge location) and, later, contra dancing!

• Saturday - A much-needed haircut with Ross at Habitude, an afternoon session making my Aunt Arv's famous rum balls, and then the big World of Warcraft Meetup downtown with Zorg, my Level 60 husband.

• Sunday - More yoga, followed by Winterfest at Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center -- a huge fair in a charming environment.

• Monday - Day off from work! Morning hands-on class at Sur la Table in Kirkland where they will teach me how to do a better job of decorating cookies than I did last year when I piped frosting all over the cats and spread cookies all over the house. Then dinner with Zorg at Tom Douglas' new pizza place, Serious Pie.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It snowed. All right, already!

It snowed in Ballard from 5 to 7 p.m. today, about two wet, sticky inches. Everyone rushed outside and tromped around. One teenager a few streets over made a four-foot snowman, clearing the entire lawn and the parking strip of snow in the process. We heard the little girls down the street asking their dad for a carrot and raisins to garnish the tiny snowperson they'd put together.

Now the snow seems to be collapsing into a heavy, lumpy "snush." Should it freeze tonight, that could get very ugly for the morning commute.

You want real snow? Friends tell us they got a full 15 inches in Bellingham.

The snow put some excitement in a day that otherwise could be summed up as yoga class (hot), Sunday market (wet), laundry and ironing (cold), organizing family photos (amusing), and cooking (yum!).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thankful for...

Good health -- mine, Zorg's, and my mom's.

My friend Angie tipping me off to the "trailer park" yoga program we're both doing.

Friends who have forgiven me for neglecting them during my "workaholic" phase and who still invite me to hang out with them!

Warm, cozy house filled with warm, cozy cats.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

iPod trance

My new iPod shuffle, a gift from my mom, arrived from Amazon today. It is TOO CUTE!

Zorg saw it and said "That's the whole iPod?" Then he picked it up and went into the same trance-like state that I had experienced a few weeks ago when a friend showed me his.

Zorg handed it back and wandered off, muttering "I've got to have one of those."

It's about half the size of a book of matches, and clips onto your shirt. It charges by sitting on a tiny little dock (also too cute) connected to your computer.

Yes, it holds 1 GB of music or data.

I just noticed that the only shuffle shown on the "Stuff on My Cat" website is the old shuffle. I can't believe no one has clipped the new one onto their kitty and taken a picture. Oh Kaylee,, kitty, kitty, kitty....

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nordic heritage

My father's family came over from Sweden in the 1880s and settled in the village of Falconer (just outside of Jamestown) in the Southwestern corner of New York State.

My grandfather, who ran a small village grocery, was for a while the mayor of Falconer. He was a very pleasant, generous man who helped many families in town make it through the Depression years. Much of his spare time was spent at the Methodist church (right next door to their house) where he served on various committees and sang bass in the choir. Many of our cousins lived on the same street; visiting involved walking a few doors down.

In Jamestown proper, cousins of ours ran a large grocery store with a full meat market and delicatessen. There they sold sulta, korv, their signature pickled herring, and lutefisk. Every fall my mom and dad and I would drive from Washington D.C. up to Falconer to stock up on provisions. We'd call ahead to the Jamestown Swedish bakery and they'd make a batch of cardamom breads for us. We'd pick up large boxes of the breads on our way out of town, put them in the trunk, and freeze them as soon as we got home.

I loved visiting Falconer. It was pretty much the Lake Wobegon of my childhood.

I get to recapture some of that experience every November at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. This past weekend was their holiday fair, and I had lunch at their cafe two days in a row. The first day, I had a herring-and-hardboiled egg sandwich, followed by rommegrot (pudding with cinnamon, butter and sugar); the second day it was a meatball sandwich with carmelized onions and beets. I always get the coffee, which tastes just like the coffee in Falconer (and not much like the coffee at Starbucks).

Some of the crafts are Nordic; all of the crafts are very high quality. Three floors of the museum are filled with crafts booths. On the first floor the crafts tables are integrated into the exhibit space, so you are crossing bridges and wandering through ships as you shop. There's a bake sale on the first floor. I brought home a small container of Swedish Dreams, a light, lacy meringue cookie with almond flavoring.

In addition to shopping and eating, I eavesdrop. In the cafe line I listened to two older men discussing the intricacies of driving in the rain for what must have been 10 minutes. One of them pronounced "puddles" as "poodles." It sounded just like Falconer.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The mermaid's tail

More than a dozen years ago a dear friend gave me an elaborate terracotta mermaid which I hung on the wall above the hot tub at the old Shady Rest. When Zorg and I moved to Ballard, we brought the mermaid along and she became part of the patio decor.

Our neighbors here in Ballard have a little boy who makes Dennis the Menace seem like a cherub. The kid, about 5, is, I'm sure, well intentioned but "exuberant" would be an understatement.

The little girl next door often plays in our yard; when this little boy joins her, suddenly half of the equipment in my garden shed has been hidden under the front porch, our cats are fleeing for the hills, and ladders are falling over. Today he crawled into the space under the back porch stairs (because it was there?), came crashing back out and cracked the tail off the mermaid. Initially he wasn't particularly alarmed, but when he saw me standing there, he looked, if not guilty, at least surprised. I said "never mind," and stuck the mermaid tail upsidedown in a planter, thinking "I'll get another one."

Tonight I discovered terracotta mermaids aren't readily available, at least not via in the internet. Google "terracotta mermaid" and you get only a few hits; ironically, the very first is a description of this mermaid I submitted to David Hobson's gardening site a few years ago.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to repair terracotta with glue; cracked pots are usually stitched together with wire. I plan to call down to Herban Pottery, where I believe the original mermaid came from, to see if they have a replacement. Otherwise, stay tuned for adventures in glue.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No contest?

Over at Competizione they recently had a writing contest on the topic of
"a contest experience."

I could have submitted this story:
Here's a story of a contest I won, but can't talk about. It was a writing contest, and my winning entry was about a woman I'd met years ago when I was a journalism student.

I'd encountered her at journalism banquet at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. She was there to accept an award for a two-year feature series for a major New York daily paper; I was there to receive a scholarship. As it turned out, I had been utterly unprepared for a night on the town with the New York media glitterati. Among the clues to my cluelessness was my outfit: an emerald green polyester dress my well-intentioned mom had made me for the occasion.

When the story of the night at the Waldorf won the online competition, I wanted to tell everybody. Then I realized I was in the awkward position of being unable to write about it in either of my blogs.

You see, one blog is anonymous (you might say, mysterious) and the online announcement of the contest results contained my identifying information.

The other blog is my professional blog, and you would think that would be the place to crow about my success. Unfortunately, my mother is a faithful reader of that professional blog.

I shared my quandary with a friend, who suggested my mom might not mind the references to the dress after all these years. But I'm not going to risk it. As I recall, she liked the dress so much that she made me another one, in bright magenta, it being "a classic style" (mom-speak for "dorky").

So, though it must remain under wraps, winning the contest was encouraging. It encouraged me to work on my novel -- there's safety in fiction!

Friday, November 10, 2006

More uses for the hairdryer

A few days ago I came across a tip for how to remove sticky labels from things: A hairdryer.

Price tags and other labels attached with what would seem to be Gorilla Glue are right at the top of my list of pet peeves. I've pretty much resigned myself to tedious scrubbing with Goo Gone or some such smelly petroleum product and a non-scratch scrubber like a Dobie Pad to get sticky labels off of surfaces such as glass, plastic, and wood.

But last year I encountered a couple of particularly tenacious price tags that had me stumped. They were affixed to beautiful trade paperbacks, and you can't use Goo Gone or anything else damp on a paper cover. After much painstaking peeling, I ended up with 80% of the tag still firmly attached to the front of the book cover. I was distinctly annoyed.

When I read the hairdryer tip, I immediately thought of those books, and retrieved them from the bookcase. I turned on the hairdryer, heated the label, and pulled one label right off, with no damage at all to the paper cover. The second label, which I'd originally scraped away at a bit more, needed some gentle rubbing to get all the glue removed. But it worked!

Does everyone else know this trick and I'm just late to the game?

When it's good, it's very, very good

I generally loathe web sites with Flash opening sequences. But this sale site for Nordstrom's designer lines is just fabulous.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hot shots in the kitchen

The Geeky Gourmet reports on a whole new approach to cooking a turkey. I hear Dick Cheney is one of their recipe testers.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kaylee turns pro

Cats have a special meow for emergencies.

It's a deep, insistant, wild sort of meow. But instead of "Quick! Timmy's fallen down the well!" it means something like "Quick! The rat I brought in has fallen down the shaft of your $200 Nordstrom boot!"

Our little mini-kitty, Kaylee, an energetic half-Abyssinian tabby, has been playing "Mousie" with me for two years now. A couple of times a day she pounds on the mirror on the door of my office until I throw a half dozen rabbit-fur mice up in the air for her to catch.

Today she turned pro, bringing a live rat onto the playing field. Zorg put the rat out, and Kaylee went back after it a few times, obviously hunting. When she came in she sounded the emergency meow, clearly upset about the rat's disappearance. A while ago I heard thumping in the livingroom and saw that she'd not only found it, she'd apparently bounced it to death.

I gave the rat a decent burial, and Kaylee went upstairs for a nap. But she looks somehow...different. Is that a killer gleam in her eye?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Toga! Toga!

I was not a particular fan of the 1978 film "Animal House" but "The Blues Brothers," perpetrated by roughly the same writers and actors, is a favorite, along with their later "Ghostbusters."

Chris Miller, one of the writers of "Animal House" has now written a book, The Real Animal House, about his fraternity days that inspired the movie.

New York Times reviewer Christopher Buckley describes the book as "sophomoric, disgusting, tasteless, vile, misogynist, chauvinist, debased and at times so unspeakably revolting that any person of decent sensibility would hurl it into the nearest Dumpster," adding "I couldn’t put it down." Buckley continues: "Toga-wise, Miller’s book is to 'Animal House,' the movie, what 'Caligula' is to Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove’s 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.'"

If the book as half as spirited as Buckley's review (in which he claims to be unable to quote from the book because the language and the activities described are unprintable for the Times) I may be forced to read it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

New: Jewelry from Apple

A friend handed me the new iPod shuffle today, and, as if hypnotized, I clipped it onto my sweater like a pin.

One gigabyte of music or data! I want one, plus a coordinated pair of wireless "speaker" earrings.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The social calendar, that is. Maybe everyone has moved the partying to November instead?

This weekend includes an afternoon tea on Capitol Hill, the annual Northwest Folklife Auction, a "Naked Ladies" clothing exchange party, a games party, and Louisianathon 3, a hot Cajun/Zydeco dance with four bands (Jamais Trop Tard, File Gumbo, Cayenne, and How's Bayou). Zorg will be doing stuff for the Mountaineers in the midst of it all, as well.

So there's no way I'll get to the intriguing I Heart Rummage urban crafts exposition (free) at the Crocodile Cafe in Belltown, noon-4 p.m. Sunday. But it will be happening again December 17, so see you there then.

Also, not to be missed: Sandy Bradley's annual holiday reunion Potluck show at MOHAI Nov. 25. The 2005 show was pure delight. This is the perfect place to meet up with old friends. Quick -- get your tickets!