Monday, December 31, 2007

home for the holiday

I’m back from my week at home, which was fairly uneventful.

Between the two days in airports, the day we drove downstate to visit my grandparents, and the sitting around the house, I managed to read five books. I had a goal this year of reading 52 books, one a week, but by my count I only made 49 unless graphic novels count. I’ll try to meet the same goal next year, and will probably make it since I wasted six weeks on the same book (Stanley Coren’s The Left-Hander Syndrome, which should have been interesting but was dryer than the dullest textbook) this year.

Things have changed at the homestead. My dad’s dog, QB, died early in the year, and my brother bought my mom a tiny lapdog for Mother’s Day. The dog, as most small dogs are, is very high strung, and spends most of its time torturing Penny, the other dog, but I managed to catch them at a quiet moment:

sleeping dogs lie

Before anyone else asks, that’s a couch cover to protect it from the dogs, not the actual couch. I’m pretty sure nobody’s taste is that bad, although the addition of the inflatable Tony Stewart race car in my parents’ front yard does cast some doubt:

inflatable nascar

I suppose it’s no worse than the inflatable Homer Simpson with a Santa hat I was going to buy them one year. They also still have their herd of light-up deer, although the one with the real antlers attached can’t raise his head because they’re too heavy:

yard deer

Other than visiting and hanging out at the house, my friend Tiff also drove up one day to get me out of the house, as being at home with no car can be a little frustrating after a couple days. I didn’t really have anywhere I needed to go, so we drove around and saw some of the local sights, like the giant Lifesavers roll in the village square of neighboring Gouverneur:


The founder of the Lifesavers company was from Gouverneur, although Lifesavers themselves do not seem to have been invented there. While on the square getting the Lifesavers roll shot, I also snapped this photo that I might use for my Christmas cards next year:


If I actually do send out any cards.

If not, there’s always next year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry (early) Christmas

I leave for the airport in an hour, and don't know if I will be updating from home, so Merry Christmas to all five of you who read this.

merry christmas

I took that last night through the window of my apartment complex office, on my way to the mailboxes. My hands shake a little, so when I take pictures with the flash off they usually come out a little blurry, but I think the effect works in that picture.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


We had a treat day at work on Friday, since it was the last day before vacation. It’s not a Christmas party (we already had one of those) or a holiday luncheon (we had one of those, too), but more of an open holiday grazing. On treat days everybody brings in something, we set it all in the kitchen or on a table in the conference room, and everyone goes in and out whenever they’re hungry and gets something to eat. We had veggie trays, fruit trays, sausage balls, chips, homemade cheese balls, ham dip, and I decided to make cookies with my cookie gun.

Last time I went to visit my friend Sandy we stopped at Crate and Barrel, and I got a cookie press on sale. When I was little, my mom used to make spritz cookies with her cookie press every Christmas, and I remember them as being neat little uniform bite sized cookies. Tragically, as often happens when I try to make things like mom did, something broke down somewhere.

The dough part was fine. I made the standard recipe, than split it in half and colored one half green:

halving the dough

I put vanilla flavoring in the white half and mint flavoring in the green. Next time I do that, I’ll use twice as much flavoring, because it seemed like most of it cooked out. After flavoring and coloring the dough, I stuffed the press and started trying to make snowflakes.

While all snowflakes are unique, I was disheartened to note that mine definitely were. I expected slight differences, but I thought they would mostly look the same. They didn’t.

snowflake cookies

I chalked it up to beginner’s error of some sort, and thought maybe after another sheet or two I would get better. Instead, the white cookies just got worse and worse. They weren’t the same size, they didn’t always stick to the sheets, and I got more and more annoyed. By the time I got to the tree cookies I was ready to just give up on the press and make them round and be done with it, but then I had a breakthrough, halfway through a sheet:

mastering the cookie press

On the left, disaster. On the right, perfection.

It turns out that I wasn’t squeezing the extra air out of the press before starting, which was making the dough come out unevenly. (The instructions never told me to do this, so I had to figure it out on my own. Luckily, I had years of Play Doh experience to draw on.) Then, because I was reusing the cookie sheets (I only have two), it didn’t occur to me to wipe them down in between, so each cookie that baked was leaving a little slick spot from the butter and the dough coming out of the press wouldn’t stick to it. Each batch was, inadvertently, greasing the sheet instead of the capitalized UNGREASED that the recipe demanded. As the picture shows, once I figured that out I was golden, and eventually I had about eight dozen cookies.

so many cookies

Granted, some were a little overdone, and some were a little (or a lot) oddly shaped, but overall it didn’t seem like a bad night’s work. Just as I was sighing with contentment and a sense of accomplishment, I realized I’d forgotten to buy frosting. I didn’t feel like going back to the store, especially after spending two hours fighting with the cookie press, and then I remembered that frosting didn’t always come in a can, and there had to be some way to make it yourself. Rather than running for the internet, I went to a proven source:


The 1949 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, which I picked up a few years ago for two dollars at an estate sale. Since that’s less than the cost of a can of frosting, that cookbook just paid for itself. After a quick perusal of the frosting section, I found a recipe for confectioners’ sugar glaze:


Maybe a half hour later, I finished work on the cookies:

glazed cookies

Everyone loved them. There were less than ten of us in the office on Friday, and we still managed to eat five or six dozen of the cookies on top of all the other food. Next time, rather than trying to flavor the hell out of the cookies, I bet I could just add the peppermint flavoring to the glaze, and it would go a lot further.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Accidents happen?

This morning I managed to catch "Happy Birthday to Me", an old horror movie starring one of the daughters from "Little House on the Prarie". If you ever get a chance, you should at least watch until you get to the big accident scene.

See, all during the movie, you know prarie-girl has been in a terrible accident and had a head injury needing some kind of brain surgery that involved putting a hinge in her skull for some reason, but you don't see the accident itself until a flashback about two thirds of the way through.

For reasons unknown, it's the most elaborate accident ever.

Prarie-girl and her mom are riding in a car, with Mom driving. But it's dark! And it's raining! And Mom's crying! And she's drunk! And a truck almost hits them! But it misses! And they end up on a bridge! But it's a drawbridge! And the opening is right under the car! And the car falls in the river! Mom opens the windows to let them swim to safety, but Mom is trapped by the steering wheel! And drowns! And prarie-girl swimps up and cracks her skull on the bottom of the boat that the bridge was raising for!

And that's how she injured her brain.

All it was missing was something on fire.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

memes, darkness, and centaurs

Nan sent me a meme where you post a picture of your computer desktop, so here’s mine:


It’s a screenshot from “City of Villains”, one of the game that I play on my computer, allegedly to relieve stress. Most of the time the game gets me all stressed out, too. I’m not sure what that picture tells you about me, as I change the desktop on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, but there it is right now.

While I’m posting random things, I stayed late one night this week, and left work after dark. I snapped this on my way to my car:

bright lights, mid-sized city

It’s blurry because I had the flash shut off, and my hands shake. That’s why I don’t take many pictures at night.

In other news, I had a meeting in the library this week, and finally got to see our campus’ (in)famous centaur skeleton.


It was a hoax perpetrated by a campus professor to teach students about gullibility. What I find most amusing is that not only is the exhibit itself fake, but the base is made of fake marble and the sides are faux wood. I guess I’m a sucker for a thematic display. It has its own web page if anyone is curious.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

warm for the holidays

I still can’t bend my head around how warm it is here. Christmas in Tennessee, for me anyway, is a season of absurdities.

Today at lunch, according to the thermometer in my car, it was 75 Fahrenheit, and I saw this on Market Square when I went to meet Lauren:

Christmas in Market Square

If you just look at the tree on concrete, you could kind of pretend it’s cold and windy, until you turn around and notice the wreaths:


Green grass. Lights wrapped around living trees that are not evergreens. The mind boggles.

Fortunately there are wonderful things that can take your mind off of holiday oddness:

vegan cupcake

That tree could have been on fire outside and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Apple Barn

Thursday night a group of ten of us went out to dinner at The Apple Barn in Pigeon Forge, a local restaurant, cider mill, and winery. I’ve heard good things about it ever since I moved here, and never got around to going, so I was very excited.

Pigeon Forge is Tennessee’s Branson. The main road is a continuous strip of hotels, pancake houses (dozens of them; there has to be something I’m not getting about it, but there are Oldtime Pancake Houses, Grizzly Pancake Houses, Hillbilly Pancake Houses, but bizarrely enough no International House of Pancakes), mini-golf places, outlet malls, theaters, and restaurants. It’s the home of the theater that took out the advertisement in USA Today to protest Kathy Griffin, although I can’t get anyone to go there with me, and also the place where we went to that retreat in August. In short, it’s like a tiny Vegas, but without sin.

Ginger, TW, and I drove down early because they wanted to hit the outlets. Ginger was looking for a specific ornament for her boyfriend’s mom at the Waterford Crystal outfit, TW was looking for assorted Christmas gifts, and I was along for the ride. TW didn’t find what he wanted, Ginger found her ornament, and I saw this disturbing Santa ornament at the Waterford store:

halloween santa?

If you don’t want to click and can’t tell at that size, that’s a Santa Claus holding Halloween jack o’ lanterns. What the hell? Is he coming a wassailing or is he going trick or treating? I realize Hallowthankmas is just one big season now, as far as the stores are concerned, but couldn’t we at least pretend they’re separate? And why isn’t there a Thanksgiving Santa? My calendar has a whole other month between October and December, and there’s a holiday in there. Two, if you count my birthday.

While outlet shopping I also accidentally gave a lady at one of the Christmas stores a mini-breakdown. Ginger was buying two large angels that the cashier had to carefully wrap up and bag, and I got curious about what it must be like to spend every minute of every day immersed in Christmas.

“Do you get tired of Christmas, working here?” I asked, smiling. She smiled back, and I thought we might be ok.

“This is just my part time job. I work forty hours somewhere else and then come here for a little extra.”

“Cool. So you’re not really here enough to get tired of it,” I concluded, but this apparently opened some sort of floodgate for her.

She leaned across the register, still bagging Ginger’s angels, and burst.

“It all looks like junk! There’s just, there’s so much of it! Every day another truck comes in, and there’s just more stuff!”

Ginger grabbed her bag of holiday junk and we fled before the lady could snap and kill everyone in the store. All the way to the Old Navy outlet (where everything was at regular prices; does “outlet store” not mean what I think it means?) TW and Ginger were like, “What did you do to her?” and I was protesting, “All I did was ask a question!”

When we finally got to dinner, it was everything I’d heard. The best part, better than my turkey even, was the apple fritters.

apple fritters

They keep the basket filled, and you dip them in the apple butter, and they’re just to die for. It was like having dessert all the way through dinner, and everyone enjoyed it.

housing family

See? We’re all smiling, and we hadn’t even started drinking yet. We saved that for after dinner, when we walked around the barn and over to the winery.

the apple barn

They give out free tastings (you have to tip), and unlike professional wine tasters we swallowed, rather than spit. Most of the wines were blends, traditional wines with apple wine mixed in, so they tended to be on the sweet side. I’ve had hard cider, but never apple wine, and it was good, so I bought the three bottle bargain pack, as did a couple of the others. I picked up a merlot, an applewood white (very sweet), and a cranberry wine, which was very tart but very good.

All in all, it was a pretty good night.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

went for a walk

Parts of my drive to work in the morning are really pretty, but I never really get pictures of them because there are a lot of cars and I’m kind of busy driving and trying not to crash into them. I decided today, since I needed to go to the store anyway, that I would get up early, drive to one of the parking areas on the way to work, and go for a walk.

I only got a few pictures, because I haven’t charged the camera battery all week.

it's early

the water

There were some big birds down by the water that I kept disturbing, but the pictures I got of them were really blurry and indistinct.

I thought the buildings across the river looked kind of New England-ish in their little cluster with the church in the middle.


Of course, in New England that little boathouse wouldn’t be painted Volunteer orange and white.



Next year I should do this when there are still leaves on the trees.