Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Car

If you've spent any time with me in the past year, you probably know that my truck is not as new as it was. I've missed important events because I broke down on the way. I think at one point I was towed 4 times in 2 months. I'm the kind of person who scrapes every last bit of peanut butter out of the jar before conceding that it's empty, so I made sure to get that last full year out of the truck before I began shopping for a new one. As soon as I decided to look, the engine broke out of spite.

When I started shopping, I had a pretty specific list of what I wanted in a new vehicle. At least 25mpg, but preferably better, as much storage space as the truck, better handling in the snow, standard shift, and about $10,000. (I had to let go of that last one pretty much immediately. Everything is more expensive now than it was when I bought the Ranger in '97)

It didn't take long to discover that there really wasn't a truck out there that fit the bill. I had bought the most fuel efficient truck in '97, and no car company had bothered to improve on that over the last 14 years--even better, Ford has decided to retire the Ranger.

It was weird to think about no longer driving a truck, but my needs have changed and the trucks that are still being made don't fit my priorities. So I started looking with a fresh eye. I wanted a new vehicle with 40 cubic feet of storage space, at least 25mpg, better handling in the snow, standard shift, and under $25,000.

I test drove station wagons and crossovers, but I found the answer at a Honda dealership. I had stopped to just peer in the window of a CRV. One of the salesman came right up, but when I asked about a standard shift he just sighed and said that no, it was only made in an automatic, which I had been hearing a lot. Then he changed everything. He said, "I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but MINI Cooper has a new model out called a Countryman. It's bigger so it has the cargo space you're looking for and they're all standard shift." Love it! When the Honda wasn't right for me he actually told me what was.

Behold! My new MINI Cooper Countryman.

New MINI Cooper Countryman

It gets 28/35mpg, should be great in the snow with it's wide wheel base and front wheel drive, is standard shift, fits the price range, and is dimensionally transcendental.* Even better, it's made by BMW, who have been rated the most sustainable car company. Click here, and here. All of MINI's models hold positions in the top fuel efficient cars, not just one or 2 token vehicles like the other car companies. I could go on, but suffice to say environmental impact is important to me, and I did a lot of research before buying.

New MINI Cooper Countryman

New MINI Cooper Countryman
Look, it's bigger than the house!

I had to order it and wait for 3 months, but it was totally worth it. And because it's so small and easy to handle, when we went to pick it up I got to drive it right out of the showroom doors.

*It's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The doctor hasn't used the proper explanation in years.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


knitter on the roof

We finished the roof, and before the snow flies!

And no, there wasn't anything else I was supposed to be doing at this point. I was waiting for Billy and Chris to finish the chimney flashing so we could shingle around it.

Next year we build the dormer on the other side.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Great Job Cassie!

One of our theater student has made it to the semi-finals of a national vocal competition to become the "voice of McDonalds." You can read the article here: Help Music and Theater Major Make Final Cut in Vocal Competition News and Events and please do vote for her, she's a good kid and sounds pretty great too! I'm really proud she got so far in this competition.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Home Improvement

We bought our house almost 2 years ago, knowing that it desperately needed a roof. We moved in 2 1/2 years ago naively thinking that a. buying a house could be done in a month if all parties were willing, and b. we would put a new roof on it as soon as we owned it, that very summer.

So we started working on the roof about a month ago.

It is important to note that since it's construction in the early 40s, our house has been owned exclusively by monkeys who insisted on making all repairs and additions themselves. We knew that the most recent monkeys were also hillbillies based on all the skoal cans, light beer cans, and perfectly useful tools we had to pick up just out of site on the other side of the fence. But now we know it's monkeys all the way down.

Chris and his brother and their friend climbed up on the roof about a week ago (after partially fixing our wiring so that the power tools would work, setting up traps for the possum/large rat living in our garage, and installing decent locks on all the garage doors because apparently people drive around looking for houses being worked on and then go in the garage and steal your tools. Classy.). They knew that there were 3 layers of shingles on the roof, which is against all sense and regulation and began doing a complete tear down. Turns out, there are actually 4 layers of shingles on the roof. This means that every roof including the original must be on there, and because every layer is cheap and installed poorly, no single layer "lasted" over 20 years. As a bonus, I found the one white shingle on the whole roof buried in the first layer, so either I get a prize or it's one of the first signs of the apocalypse along with a perfect red cow and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Anyway, as I may have mentioned, monkeys. Apparently the charming spot where our kitchen sticks out from our otherwise square cape cod is an addition. To add it meant cutting away a section of the (logically) load bearing outer wall, but apparently adding back in the proper support for the roof was less than obvious. So now the guys have to fix our sagging roof which has been carrying twice the allowable weight of shingles for the past 10-20 years. Which means I came home to this:


The basement has been jacked-up and re-enforced, and then the kitchen, so that the roof can be jacked up and permanently re-enforced. Fun.

As soon as the shingling starts I'll be right up there working with them. Until then, don't think I don't appreciate all the work these guys are doing but I'm really not sure how we're supposed to get any silverware out of that drawer...

drawer access

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Well dark, anyway. I had gotten up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom--sometime between 1 and 2am. I don't bother to put on my glasses or turn on any lights when I do this, so I was blind in the dark. Our little cape cod is arranged with the 2 main bedrooms upstairs, and everything else, including the bathroom, downstairs. The first half of the journey was completely uneventful. However, on the way back up the stairs, just as I got to the 2nd floor landing, I put my foot down on...something. Felt like a sock, or t-shirt, or something else a bit soft and no particular temperature. I clicked on the light and saw something loosely coiled on the landing. A brown speckled belt? I bent down to pick it up, and with my face about 18" away it came into focus. A small snake? My stepson has 2 pet snakes, and one of them did go AWOL for about 2 months this summer, but both of them are big and more colorful than the one on the landing. It might be a stuffed snake, or rubber, but he's 20 now and that's a bit old to be leaving toy snakes laying around the house. A garter snake from outside? That came into the house and climbed the stairs just because?

As I contemplated, the little snake tilted his head at me and flicked his tongue. Ok, so it's a live snake 18" away from my face. I heard Christopher's TV on, so figured he was awake. I found out later I was wrong about that assumption, which is why our conversation was so strange. It went something like:

Chris, hey Chris there's a small snake out here.


Is it yours?


Hey Chris, is this your snake out here?


There's a small snake out here, is it yours? Could you come out and get it?

Does it look like it's going to bite?

I don't know, will you just come out here?

At which point he came out rather blearily with a chopstick in his hand, used the chopstick to pick up the snake by the middle, and then carried it back into his bedroom. I went to bed and laid awake for another hour or so worrying about what could have happened to the snake if I had been wearing shoes.

I am so glad he's so much easier to parent these days. We even had a laugh over it the next day.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Asparagus part 2

Back in 2008 I blogged about planting my first asparagus plants at the farmhouse. I followed the instructions in my father's copy of "Sprockett's Victory Garden" but only 3 of the plants came up that first year. I had to fill in the trench when I left (around the end of July) even though only those 3 plants had sprouted.

When I got back the next summer, only 2 of the asparagus plants had survived. Incredibly disappointing, considering all the work it took three of us to dig a trench 10' long, 18" wide, and 12" deep. I'm not sure exactly what went wrong. I have a feeling that I planted too deep--6" of dirt over those original roots.

This summer was my first harvest from those 2 surviving asparagus plants. it was small.

(cereal bowl included to show scale, and because it was morning)

So this summer I decided to try again, and had much better results. I planted a different variety, Jersey Giant in '08 and Martha Washington this time. I have no idea if that made a difference.

I was fairly certain that last time I had planted too deep, and filled in too much too soon. I think I followed the instructions in The Victory Garden book, but it was my dad's and I didn't have it with me, so I may also have remembered wrong. That time I planted 12" deep and initially refilled the trench with 6" of dirt. Since then I've checked more gardening books and websites and none of them say to go that deep. So this summer I followed the directions that came with my asparagus roots and re-dug most of the trench to 6" deep total, filling in with 3" of dirt until the shoots emerged.

That was successful. By the middle of July, every single root had produced a tiny fern, tall enough that I could return the last 3" of dirt to the trench, bringing it back to level with the rest of the garden.

full length of asparagus bed

The tall ferns at the far end of the photo are the 2 original Jersey Giants, the rest are the 10 Martha Washington asparagus I planted this year.

If all goes well I'll have all the asparagus I can eat in the spring of 2013.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Working at the Festival

This is a great overview of what we're doing at Glimmerglass at the moment. There's a quick shot of me cutting at my table, and of course lots of my co-workers are featured too. Only 8 days until the first opera opens--eeek!!!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


This iris opened outside my window at the opera over the course of my workday.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

I Did It!

I finally finished James Joyce's Ulysses. I had started reading it for the first time right after college but only got about a quarter of the way into it before setting it down and not picking it up again. I finally downloaded the audio book about a month ago and read the whole thing right through. The reader, Jim Norton, was great. I can't imagine the work it took to be able to read that book out loud and make sense out of who is talking at every moment. The book is written to cover 24hrs of time, mostly following Leopold Bloom through Dublin on June 16th, 1904. Once he falls asleep in the wee hours of the morning of the 17th, the narration is taken up by his wife Molly, who lays awake after being woken by Bloom crawling into bed. The funny thing is that it takes over 28 hrs to read. I guess that's to cover the extra time we spend with Stephen Dedalus before he meets Bloom.

I was going to say that next time I go to a bookstore I will be looking for a good study guide to see what they have to say, now that I have read the book for myself, but as I checked back at audible for the reader's name, etc, I just discovered that they have a companion study guide available for download for free. Have I mentioned that I love audible?

I'm thrilled that I finally read this book. In the long run, I think I benefited from stopping when I did, and picking it up again in my mid-thirties. Having now read so many more Irish books and plays, and generally having read and experienced more over the intervening 15 years, I understood so many more of Joyce's references, and of the general attitude of the characters.

There have been several accusations against the book as obscene. It was banned in the US in the early twenties. That ban was overruled in the 30's by Judge John M. Woolsey who declared that the book was not pornographic and therefore not obscene.

I'm just as awkward talking about or defining obscenity as many judges are. There are, of course, the famous statements about how ducks look and walk and quack, and after stating that he may not be able to define pornography, Supreme court Justice Potter Stewart went on to famously say, "but I know it when I see it."

It seems to me that there is an element of easy thrill to pornography. It's supposed to be a short-cut. If getting a thrill takes as much work as leaving the house, meeting someone, getting to know them, romancing them and putting real effort into treating them properly and prioritizing their well-being, for as long as it takes until it is appropriate for the relationship to be fully consummated, then you could have just gone out and done that. To me, that fact that the book is 28hrs long, and the dirty bits might cover an hour or 2 of that time total, is proof enough that the book is literature and not obscenity. It take way too much work to get all the way to Molly's soliloquy at the end, when she contemplates past lovers and considers future candidates. More time and effort than some modern relationships, or so I've learned from television.

That said, there were several points when I thought, "Wait, when was this written?" as the particular language which judge Woolsey described as "Saxon" is more blunt and coarse than I expected. Apparently I have been guilty of nostalgia,and have re-painted the past in gauzy white. Not only did my generation not invent sex or drugs, we also didn't invent those words I first heard on the bus or on the playground. Even so, when compared to the other literature of the 20's and earlier, it must have been a real shock to read those words in a novel. I was startled a hundred years later.

The novel was a lot of work, and I am now plunging into a study guide, and an audio download of a "Bloomsday" performance from a few years ago, but it was worth the work. I can see why it is often heralded as the first modern novel, or the first novel of the twentieth century.

And may I say again, I DID IT!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One of the big parts of my job is making patterns for the costumes. The pattern making is what I get the most enjoyment out of, and find the most fulfilling. Of course, like most things in life, it's only about 10% of the work of making a costume, but luckily the work flows quickly, so I get to go back to pattern making once every 2 months or so.

While working on the dance concert over the past few months, it occurred to me that I had a really good illustration of the range of what pattern making is. I could get into details and try to explain the advantages/disadvantages of draping on a dress form vs. drafting using measurements and rulers, but that would bore you.

Instead I have pictures.

simple costume pattern

Even if you've never sewn before, it's probably pretty clear that this is the pattern for some kind of shirt. A simple tunic to be precise.

But this?

complex costume pattern

This is a dress. And to get a sense of scale, I should say that each of those 8 pieces is nearly as big as I am, and that in order to show the whole pattern I had to lay it out on the stage floor and then photograph it from up in the catwalks above the audience.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Have a Rabbit? Getting a Rabbit?

If you have a rabbit, or are thinking about getting one, this is a great event coming this Thursday. The woman giving the presentation is a vet tech who specifically works with rabbit vets. She is great! I will be there to help, but I'm sure I'll learn lots too.
The event is completely free and there is no catch. All you need to do is call to make your reservation before Thursday and then come to the SPCA that night.
(if you click on the image you should be able to see it a little bigger and a little clearer)

Monday, February 21, 2011


The snow receded some at the end of last week. On Sunday afternoon I found signs of new life.

snow drop

an emerging day lilly tip

This snow drop has barely lifted its head out of the snow:

putting the snow in snow drop

Last year my first snow drops emerged in mid-March, so despite the intense cold these are 3 or 4 weeks earlier. Maybe that silly groundhog was on to something.

Also, finished but for the buttons is the "baby sweater on two needles" known to most knitters as the February baby.

February baby and bonnet

I highly recommend this sweater. It was great fun to knit. It's quite easy, and every part of it fits together in that perfect way that Elizabeth Zimmerman sweaters do, thanks to her various percentage systems. I did change it to be completely seamless by knitting the body first, slipping stitches to holders for the sleeves and then casting on again across the held stitches so I could continue the body in one piece. I then picked up the sleeve stitches and knit them in the round on circular needles. I also changed the bottom edge just slightly. I always found the original garter stitch border clunky. I prefer lace patterns that provide their own edge with just a little adjustment, so when I got to the bottom edge I did not decrease as Elizabeth calls for, and I stayed in pattern, but changed the wrong side rows to plain knit instead of plain purl.

In The Knitter's Almanac the sweater is pictured with a matching bonnet, for which no pattern is given. As far as I know, EZ didn't publish that pattern, instead she describes how to add an extension onto the bonnet pattern you (of course) already have to keep the baby's neck and chest warm.

There don't seems to be all that many bonnet patterns to be had now, but this very girly sweater cried out for a bonnet, so I greatly modified the one that I have to make a matching bonnet. If it fits, and I can figure out what age of baby it fits, I will post simple directions.