Chattering Magpie Past Web Log
this way to
Chattering Magpie Past Web Log
  Best of ... Essays KnittingPhotos The Magpie Suggests About the Magpie Site directory

Quick Directory
current web log
<< November 2002
January 2003 >>

site directory

pica pica

December 2002
Dec 31 2002
I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.
A select few Mo Duk Pai-ers were on the banks of the Columbia this morning. We'll be doing our annual New Year's swim tomorrow of course, but for today we got an opportunity to be on TV. Good Day Oregon on KPTV-12 had a two-man crew with us to do a preview. I got a close-up in the water, screaming at the cold. Not very martial.

The difference between a black belt and a sifu:
A black belt yells for everyone to dunk into the water and leads the way.
A sifu says, when the lead guy yells for everyone to dunk, we'll just pretend we're going to then just let the lead guy dunk.

Dec 30 2002
Once more into the breach.
My extended unemployment benefits ran out last week, so I hied myself down to the Oregon Employment Department office downtown to reapply, fingers crossed. I actually thought I would be standing in line for a couple hours, but was in and out, zip zip, just a few moments to fill out the form and stuff it into an near-to-overflowing drop box. Make claim next Sunday same as usual. I've got to hand it to the folks at the Employment Dept. They've got this thing down to a science. Very smooth, very fast, very efficient. That's at least one advantage Oregon has for being number one in unemployment.

I'm unsure about whether my computer problem is solved. I was feeling adventurous last night, so I turned computer off. This morning, same behaviour: enough power to light lights, but not enough to spin up the hard drive. It took a few times of turning off and on to get it started. Oh woe is me. I've run all sorts of diagnostics. Nothing shows up. Bill D. is stumped.

Dec 27 2002
Computers are Evil Holiday Special.
I've been having a bit of trouble with the computer starting up, so I made an appointment with my friend Bill D. to have a look at it. I knew he'd be able to figure out what was wrong. All the symptoms pointed to bad power supply, especially since today the computer wouldn't start up AT ALL.

E and I took off for Fry's Electronics (what an ugly web site!) up I-5 (that's SOUTH - up river, increase in elevation; up = north is only a cartographic convention). What an amazing place that is. They manage to serve an huge number of people fairly efficiently, if somewhat antiseptically. We picked up a fancy-schmancy new 300W power supply, nickel-coated (shiny!) with dual fan. Uh, dual fan. That means it's physically larger than the old power supply, something we didn't think about until we tried to shove the damn thing into the computer housing.

Lucky me, E is a creative thinker. He figured we could push the CD-RW and DVD drives forward and have plenty o' room. We had to pull the bay covers, but it worked. So far so good, fingers crossed.

Dec 26 2002
The ghost of Christmas past.
Well, that's over for another year. So much self-induced stress, so much preparation and all for what? Ah, it's just the post-holiday letdown talking. Actually things turn out pretty good. At least once a year I connect with distant family and old friends. I share home-baked cookies that people just don't get anymore. I get the special joy of buying gifts for young children. And we get books. Lots of books.

I gave E: E gave me: I've still got a few Chanukkah books to read before beginning on Christmas books. Oh joy of books!

Dec 24 2002
Christmas eve hibernation.
I've got crab thawing in the fridge. I've got wassail on the stove. I've got three videos. I've got all my ingredients for more cookies. I've got a stack of wood. What's missing? Beer!

Dammit, I thought I had everything covered, so I wouldn't have to leave the house this afternoon until it was time to pick up E after work. I can't in good conscience drink the last beer, so I better run out now before I get too settled in. Can't have Christmas crab without beer.

Good Christmas eve and day to you all.

Dec 23 2002
Soft beds and weak coffee.
We made our annual pre-Christmas-if-we're-not-going-to-be-there-for-Christmas visit to the coast. We broke from the tradition of staying with family and planted ourselves in a hotel. Very convenient for getting around to see as many people as possible without imposing on any one person. Alas the bed was not up to the fine hotel standard we came to expect after our one lovely night at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Drank a lot of weak coffee, besides.

E got to express his masculinity by slaying ducks. Being a city boy, he starts out at a disadvantage among the locals. Fortunately he vindicated himself by shooting a couple ducks. Plus he had a ton of fun.

This is my favorite part of the Christmas season: a couple days before Christmas and I've got all my shopping, all my baking, all my card mailing, all my visiting done. I've got a couple days to just kick back and relax; last minute tasks become pleasant instead of a burden. Even a trip to the little slice of hell that is a mall two days before Christmas was tolerable. I've got my Christmas eve crab in the freezer. I've made another batch of wassail and have a quart of eggnog in the fridge.

Dec 19 2002
christmas treeWe have achieved tree.
There's our Christmas tree with the blue angel on top. Not E's choice: he prefers Godzilla™. Wait 'til next year. We alternate what goes on top of the Christmas tree.

I do not call it a Chanukkah bush. Heck, I can't even spell Hannukah Channakah Hanuka Festival of Lights. It's a Christmas tree, no matter who puts it up. It had its origins in Northern European Pagan winter rituals but was incorporated into American Christmas customs by German settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries. It's got nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with the basic human need (at least among humans who live where it gets cold and dark part of the year) to have some kind of winter festival. Plus I like it.

I am giving up on trying to make pecan pralines. I tried again last night, but I stirred the mixture too long and it hardened in the bowl before I could get the pecan clusters out onto waxed paper. They look ugly and stupid, which kind of matches my mood right now. I didn't get a job I was quite hopeful about. It would have been a fun place to work and I would have done a great job for them. You watch, they'll be sorry they didn't hire me. Everyone is, eventually.

On the other hand, the krumkake-making frenzy has begun.

Dec 16 2002
In praise of the Postal Service.
Today I mailed five boxes of Christmas cookies at my nearest large post office. The line was long, but it moved quickly. I've had several occasions to mail packages at this busiest time of year and without fail the postal clerks are pleasant, helpful and efficient.

USPS provides a valuable social service, enabling Americans to communicate with their distant friends and families, their elected representatives at all levels, and commercial establishments, for a relatively small cost. Not every aspect of life should be regulated by the market; some goods and services have value apart from revenue they can generate. Be good to your mail carrier.

Some USPS facts, from the USPS web site:
  • Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General, appointed by the Continental Congress in 1775. His salary for the post was $1,000 per year.
  • USPS is one of the country's oldest federal law enforcement agencies.
  • USPS handles more than 200 billion pieces of mail a year, delivering to 138 million homes, businesses and post office boxes.
  • USPS carries more mail to more people over a larger geographic area than any other country.
  • USPS uses mules to deliver mail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
  • USPS is a major employer, employing 750,000 career employees and paying almost $2 billion in employee salaries and benefits every two weeks.
  • Service performance for on-time local delivery of First-Class Mail for fiscal 2002 was 94%.
Dec 15 2002
It's a wonderful life.
Last night we had our annual showing of It's a Wonderful Life. *Sigh*. One early scene always brings me to tears: Young George returns to the pharmacy after failing to deliver capsules into which Mr. Gower, in his booze-enhanced grief, accidentally put poison. "You don't know what you're doing Mr. Gower ... it's poison I tell you! Poison!" *Sigh*.

We had friends come watch with us and eat chili. Brother Jim was with us for the weekend as well. He visits us for the weekend every year to watch It's A Wonderful Life. Then Jim and I go Christmas shopping. I think I'm pretty much finished with Christmas shopping for this year. I do have a ton of cookies to package up and send.

E and his buddy Tom are out killing a tree or several. Every year I get stressed out over the raising and trimming of the tree. This year, I can't remember why.

As I've gotten older I've gotten better at handling stressful events. One thing I've learned is the less time you have to prepare for an event, the less stressful it is because the less time you have to get stressed. Last July was our least stressful 4th of July party, mainly because we kind of decided at last minute. We have the space for the tree cleared, the ornaments are waiting in their boxes, I can't for the life of me remember why I used to get so stressed. I think it was stringing the lights.

Dec 11 2002
Half bubble off plumb.
That's how I feel today: headachy, a little fuzzy-headed, having difficulty focusing and concentrating. spritz cookiesFortunately, I don't have anything more demanding to do than bake Christmas cookies. Mmmmm, spritz.

A sprained thumb is no help in extruding dough through a cookie press. To top it all off, I've run out of green candied cherries and have to run off to the grocery. I only got half my spritz made yesterday, so I want to finish up today. Then I can continue addressing envelopes for Christmas cards. Thank heavens this holiday only comes once a year.

Dec 10 2002
Cookie ookie.
Today's plan is to make Spritz cookies. If you work in an office, you've probably Danish butter cookies from a huge tin. Spritz are way better. Soft, delicate and infused with essence of almond, these little delights are the core of a Scanderhoovian Christmas. Plus, I make mine circular and decorate them with clever bits of green and red candied cherries, like little wreaths (it's a pun on my name - get it?).

If you're an adult, you're getting Christmas cookies from me this year. Having been only marginally productive on the monetary front this year, I'm rather disinclined to be spending money on presents for people who, let's be honest, don't really need them. Let's keep Christmas for the kids.

Dec 8 2002
My swollen left handIn the aftermath.
This is my left hand, swollen and bruised. The bruise on my forefinger was darker and more impressive, yesterday. Yesterday we made some brown belts; we had a kung fu test at which I helped. In the first hour I managed to get my left hand beat up and a fine collection of bruises on my arms. Today I feel as sore as if I tested, myself.

My Palm (registered tradmark handheld organizer) and computer conspired to give me a nasty little scare. The Palm wouldn't wake up. Apparently, when it says batteries are low, it means it. I pressed the power button, no Palm. I changed batteries, no Palm. Pressed reset, no Palm. I had to pull the batteries, push the reset button and reinstall the batteries, resulting in a complete loss of all data and installed software. No worries, mate, I sync up frequently, with Backup Buddy from Blue Nomad Software, a product I can't say enough good things about. It backs up everything on your Palm, or Visio, not just the Palm software channels. It has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

One problem. I press the power button on my PC and it doesn't turn on. The power light is green, but I don't hear hard disk spinning and the monitor doesn't turn on. Oh goody. This is why we make frequent backups. Of course, the chance that any two computers will puke at the same time is "one in a million", which happens nine times out of ten. Still, this kind of grief I don't need. Push the restart button, nothing happens. Try the power button again, computer starts up. Whew! Resync Palm and everything is restored. I am a happy little geeklet, once again.

Dec 6 2002
Roses of December.
December roseWhy yes, I do still have roses blooming in December, thank you for asking.

Here's a Christmas cookie making tip for all you Suzy Homemakers out there: if there's frosting leftover, don't eat it all.

Yesterday I made Lemon Meltaways, a frosted lemon cookie. I'm experimenting to see how well they hold up to freezing. I don't make Christmas cookies (except Krumkake) unless they can be made in advance and frozen. I have three recipes for lemon cookies that are all basically the same: butter, powdered sugar, corn starch (yum!), flour and lemon juice/zest. The only difference is in how they're handled: rolled into little balls, dropped onto a sheet, or formed into a "log", chilled and sliced. I was working with the last one. I additionally pinched the edges to form the cookies into little stars. Very cute, very festive. Frost when cool. My other extra touch was to sprinkle with yellow sugar sprinkles.

About the frosting: there was some left over, I really like lemon, I have a sweet tooth, I ate it all. I don't feel so good now. Still.

Dec 4 2002
It's 3:30PM and that means one thing: Mose is bugging me to be fed. Not that there aren't perfectly good nibbles in her bowl already. No, not good enough. She wants the wet stuff. Yummy, kitty paté.

Got those knitting pages updated if you want to take a look. This is when I start doing a bunch of last minute Christmas knitting. All part of the self-induced seasonal stress that makes this such a happy time of year.

I'm not sure if my dad is going to be here tomorrow or not. I wish I knew, because if he's not going to be here, I don't have to clean up the house.

Dec 3 2002
The madness begins.
The season of self-induced stress has begun with the annual making of the Christmas cookies. So far I've made nine batches of Bourbon Balls and two batches of Wagon Wheels. Still to come: Spritz and Lemon Meltaways. I'm taking advantage of being home by not trying to shove all the cookie baking into one manic weekend. Since I haven't worked much this year, lots of people will be getting cookies for Christmas. Hey, it's a gift from the heart, much better than something store bought.

I've got knitting pages to update, but not right now.