Saturday, August 28, 2010

Yard sales, basement, and ice cream

This morning Tom and I went to yard sales with Beth. We soon discovered that the last Saturday of August is a yard-sale madhouse — apparently everyone decides this is their last chance to unload stuff before winter sets in. Prices were outrageously good, from Asian antiques to brand-new designer clothes. We saw, but didn't need, some wonderful furniture. We bought a professional mat cutter, blades and all. I got a blue-and-white pin-stripe cotton blouse that makes me look like Girl Genius.

As is my habit, I came home, moved the new stuff in, and set about bagging an equal amount of stuff to take to Goodwill on Monday — most of it clothes. This led me into the deep storage-recesses of the laundry room, under the basement stairs where the cats like to hide. What a mess! I hauled out a lot of stuff I simply trashed, a lot that needed to be washed, and I found the missing plug-in heating pads for the cat beds.

The laundry room cleanup was so extensive that I got into the garage and triaged the remainder of my dad's tools and hardware left from my mom's move to Florida.

This didn't leave much time for gardening, and the next thing I knew it was dusk, and time for a late dinner. I'd promised Tom spaghetti. We have a lot of basil growing in the garden, so I did a Genovese pesto sauce (but with parmesan instead of pecorino Sardo). It was outrageously good. I realize I should make it for guests, but who do we know who would be willing to wait until 8:30 at night for dinner?

After dinner it was time to make the cream base for the ice cream we're taking to Diana's ice cream social tomorrow. This involves heating half-and-half to 175 degrees, blending that into an egg/sugar mixture, heating it all to 175 and stopping just short of creating a custard. Then I pour it through a sieve and add cream, vanilla, and a tiny bit of salt.

At that point you usually add the flavoring (fruit, etc.) and refrigerate the base for 4 - 12 hours.  Half of this base is going to be made into butter pecan (you churn it, then mix in chopped pecans that have been baked and then tossed in melted butter) but the other half is going to be an extremely unusual flavor that our chef friend Nilos suggested. I looked up the recipe and it dates to 1760!

I'll reveal what it is after I find out how the people at the ice cream social react to it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ray the Engineer

Today must have been Unexpected Emergencies Day and I missed the memo. Everything I thought I'd finished turned out to have a time-critical Stage II or Stage III that nobody told me about.

So I spent today glued to my chair, working. Underneath my office, in the laundry room, was Smokey, my former cat. He's staying with us for a couple of days because the vet is trying to find out if he has a parasite. Smokey, who is accustomed to living outdoors in a greenhouse at Amelia's, did not much enjoy his day in the laundry room. But he is a passive cat, and simply glared at me when I came in with food. Use the litterbox, cat, and you can leave!

Across the hall from Smokey, in the den, was Mabel, Tom's cat. She can't go out until the abscess under her chin heals. We let her out for a bit last night, but only under strict supervision. Mabel is a far more cheerful prisoner than Smokey, but perhaps it's because she has a nice perch by an open window. (No, it's because Mabel is one of the smartest, coolest cats ever.)

When I finally finished my regular work at 9:30 p.m., I realized that I have a humor column due to an editor on Wednesday. Tom looked alarmed to hear that because I'm pretty far from humorous at the moment.

I'd been sketching out a piece about strange house sounds, but I'm not feeling whimsical enough to give that the light touch it needs. So I pulled out a sketch I'd started some months ago about my frustrations about having heaps of obsolete electronic gadgets and mysterious cables. Since I'm currently halfway through writing the second draft of a technology ebook, a rant about computer cables seemed oh so appropriate. And, yes, it really caught fire and writing it has even cheered me up a bit.

Developing the gadgets-and-cables story allowed me to introduce a new character into the humor column's cast — Ray the Engineer. He's a composite of two or three of my technology fix-it friends (you know who you are — Ray is you, but funnier).

Whatever happens tomorrow: I'm going to yoga at noon.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bad cats

One of my clients went on vacation last week, meaning that much of the project management and decision-making work he handles on various projects has found its way down the line to me. I can hardly wait until he gets back.

I completed the first draft of the technology book, but now have a lot of additional work to do. I'd hoped to get to it this week, but, thanks to client #1, it hasn't happened.

And, in all fairness to him, there are the cat problems:

Zoe, the big, annoying tabby, is going through a bullying phase. The other cats have always pretty much ignored her (she blocks the doors, and takes a desultory swat at any cat that walks past) but about a week ago I noticed Mabel, the new black Bombay, was avoiding Zoe and even avoiding the house. Two nights ago, Mabel spent the night outside, then came in and spent yesterday holed up in the basement. I kept checking on her, and she seemed cheerful. She was eating, but sneaking around and avoiding Zoe, who I had to move out of Mabel's path a couple of times. This morning Mabel ate breakfast and went upstairs to her cat bed. I was suspicious, and went up to pet her and came away with my hand covered with blood. She had a huge, fresh abcess under her chin, and was running a fever.

Mabel is now at the vet, recovering from minor surgery to clean out the abcess and remove dead skin. I'm sure she'll recover just fine, but I'm glad we got her in for treatment. I'm not sure if Zoe, who has extremely long claws, caused the injury or if Zoe just took advantage of Mabel being injured to bully her, but Zoe is going to be under close scrutiny and will get "time outs" in the bathroom if she so much as looks funny at Mabel.

I discovered Mabel's injury just as we were about to go up to Amelia's to check on Smokey. Smokey is a 14-year-old black Russian Blue I found in Wallingford 12 years ago. When I moved to Ballard, I brought Smokey, who kept running off to move in with elderly people. He finally settled with my elderly neighbor Steve, and lived there for four years until Steve went to a nursing home (and was afraid if he brought Smokey, the cat would have run off). Smokey came back to our place, didn't much like the (then new) tabby kittens and wandered off and found Amelia, who had just lost her husband. She lives alone seven blocks north of us. Smokey "commuted" for a year before moving in permanently with Amelia.

Amelia is extremely fragile — she's only in her early 70s, but has severe osteoporosis and must weight less than 90 pounds. She can't have Smokey in the house because if she tripped over him in the dark, it could kill her. So Smokey lives in a very large glass greenhouse in her backyard. She's out there tending plants every day, even in the winter, so he gets plenty of attention. We go up every couple of months with Smokey's flea medicine and take him for his shots and checkup once a year.

In late June, Smokey, now 14, had the expensive geriatric blood tests and got perfect scores. But the vet noticed he had lost some weight, and asked us to check him. We went up yesterday and were shocked to see how thin he was. It's possible he has parasites (living and eating outdoors) or that he has cancer. We went back today, and, after talking with Amelia, we are also wondering if he isn't getting enough food and water. We left a water dish for him.

Amelia seems to be increasingly confused, and I'm wondering if she is simply forgetting to feed him. Amelia has a son who stops by frequently and takes very good care of her, but I doubt he is particularly concerned about the cat. We are going to go up every other day and police the situation, and feed Smokey some snacks and make sure his water bowl is cleaned and filled. And we're going to take him in to the vet Monday morning and see about getting him parasite medicine that would be safe for an elderly cat to take.

Last winter, we couldn't get Amelia to keep Smokey's cat bed heater plugged in (she was afraid of tripping over the cord). If Smokey does indeed recover from whatever is causing him to lose weight, I'm thinking that, come October, we will need to convert the outdoor pet-bed heater to run off a battery pack and simply go up and replace the batteries every few weeks.

Smokey is exactly the same age as Sheba, the deaf white cat, and you can really see the difference between the health of a pampered, mostly indoor cat like Sheba and an outdoor animal like Smokey. The way Sheba leaps and gallops and vaults through the house every morning you'd never know she's 14. She even still gets up on the next-door neighbors' roof.

Back to work...