Saturday, November 8, 2008

Meet the Family--The New Cat In Town

In the distant, misty past when I started this random mess of a blog, I decided to introduce you to our "family." Meaning the pets. Because there are a lot of them and I talk about them a lot, I figured it would be helpful for you to know their names, at least. And their names are Mia, Leda, Otty, Pitty Pet, Ella, Benny, Alfie, and Buttercup. The last four you haven't met yet, because they're birds and fish, and, well, I just don't get that worked up about birds and fish. James the cat has since gone on to the Happy Hunting Grounds (sad).

As of Wednesday, we have a new cat. Her name is Belle. And despite the following photo, I'm pretty sure she's not possessed.

On second thought . . .

She was being all cute on the windowsill, but of course, as soon as I pointed the camera at her, she got up and made her herself look all freaky. Cats are like that.

Anyway, Belle is young, maybe two years old. She came from the MiL's mother's (henceforth known as Grandma, because it's shorter) house. Grandma lived on a farm, where there were many barn cats that she fed on her porch. A couple of them managed to finagle their way into the house. Belle was one of them. Then Grandma moved to a place where she couldn't take pets, and most of the cats went back to the barn. Except Belle. She really, really wanted to be a house cat. The MiL felt sorry for her and just brought her home one day.

Our house is a bit of an adjustment for Belle. It's not quite as quiet as Grandma's. Pitty Pet is not taken with his new little lady friend. He stalks her until he gets her in a corner, then he pounces on her, hissing and growling. What a crotchety old fart. She mostly tries to stay away from him. The dogs she will have nothing to do with. Mia saw her yesterday and tried to make friends, but she just ran under the bed. Can't say I blame her, since Mia's preferred method of playing with cats is gnawing gently on their heads.

Belle is a nice cat, with a constant, kind of manic, purr, but she does have that bad barn-cat habit of leaping on counters and eating things. Like the butter. Which I caught her licking yesterday. Ew.

So, there's Belle. She has some settling in to do yet, and we hope Pitty Pet will eventually befriend her, or at least stop attacking her with no provocation. Small steps.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Because It's Mine, I Walk the Line

I have this teeny, tiny, very minor obsession with spelling. To the point that once, when I was at a Wendy's (mmm, Frosty . . .), I noticed a typo on the electric hand dryer as I was standing there drying my hands. And every time I see one of those family name signs in front of a house with an apostrophe before the "s," I want to rip it off and correct it with my red pen. Listen up, all you Smith's out there--no apostrophe before the "s." It's just a plural! Like "dogs"! Or "morons"! NO APOSTROPHE.


But this craziness has occasionally been useful. It enabled me to score high enough on a proofreading test to land the job that supported us while A. was in law school. And just yesterday, the craziness won me a prize.

Carrie over at Sparkerly (isn't that just the cutest blog name ever?) posted a little story riddled with misspellings that she has actually encountered in her work as a lawyer. She offered a prize to the first person who identified all the misspelled words. It was a greatly entertaining little story, and, well, it's not like I don't already catalog all misspellings in my head anyway. So I gave her what she asked for. And I was the ONLY one who did. So I won!

Like my dad says, sometimes showing up is all it takes.

My prize? A $25 Amazon gift certificate. Cha-CHING. Carrie sent it to me yesterday. I spent about two seconds debating whether I should use it to buy a Christmas present for someone else before deciding screw that--MINE. Then I spent another two seconds thinking if I wanted a cookbook, which would enable me to cook delicious meals for other people, or a CD, which would be selfishly ALL FOR ME. I went with selfish.


That right there is four whole CDs of Johnny Cash--pretty much his entire career. Thanks to Carrie, I now have my canning music for next summer, and the Man in Black lives on.

Life is good.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spaghetti with Weirdness

Hey, remember that time I explained how I bastardize recipes*? Well, I did that last night, and the bastard turned out so well, I was congratulating myself, OUT LOUD, in the kitchen. And I'm going to tell you about it.

The MiL wasn't home for dinner last night. Because she has a sensitivity to wheat, I use the nights she's not here for things like pasta and pizza. I wanted pasta. And I had a bunch of leftover butternut squash in the refrigerator. What to do with those two ingredients? To the Internet! Where I learned that it's almost mandatory to pair butternut squash with sage when making a pasta sauce. Well, THAT worked out well, because we have a big bunch of sage still in the garden, and I never know what to do with sage.

But after the Sage Commandment, the recipes varied wildly. Roast the squash, grate the squash, puree the squash? Onions, shallots, or garlic? Butter, olive oil, cream? Cue improvisation!

The squash was already cooked, so that took care of that. I have a lot of shallots, so I caramelized them in some butter, added roughly chopped sage, threw in the cut-up squash, and then added some roasted, ground-up squash seeds that have been lounging around in the refrigerator since I made that lima bean thing.

At this point, it would have made a good side dish, but it wasn't very . . . saucy. So I added a little bit of cream and some of the pasta boiling water. Then I threw the cooked pasta in there, mixed it all up, and stirred in some Romano cheese. Then I tasted it. Then I said, and this is an exact quote, "Holy shit, that's good." Despite the fact that the only one in the kitchen with me was Mia, and she was busy licking the floor so I was basically talking to myself. But really, it was so surprisingly good that I didn't even mind sounding like a crazy person.

In fact, it was SO good, I took a picture of it before I ate. FOR YOU. And you know I don't like delaying the moment when I get to shovel food in my face.

Well, I didn't say it was a GOOD picture.

So what did A. think of this masterpiece? Well, first he poked suspiciously at the squash and asked what it was. I said just eat it, you'll like it. Then, halfway through the eating part, I asked if he knew what it was. And what did he call my gourmet, fancy-pants, DELICIOUS pasta dish?

Yup--spaghetti with weirdness.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother . . .

* Thanks to Finny for the perfect phrase to describe this process.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Um, yeah . . .

I'm bored with my Woodchuck roadtrip story (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, it's here and here), so let me wrap that up.

We stayed at the Genetti Hotel in Williamsport, PA. That's where they had the BAD ASS mail chutes on every floor that led to the (still in use) brass mailbox in the lobby. I think the letters were actually sucked down through the chute to the lobby. How cool is that?


We stay in hotels for two things: central heat (or A.C., depending on the season) and cable. So once we got in the room, we only left it for a brief foraging expedition for food and drink. We returned with a huge bottle of Lambrusco (fizzy, sweet Italian red wine) and settled in for a night of "Cash and Treasures."

We're such hermits.

Next day, we stopped at a couple of random places on the way home, but nothing very exciting. And that's that. Moving on now.

So. Yesterday, my perusal of various news sources and even some personal blogs in the morning kept turning up stories about HUGE CROWDS at polling places and a great sense of camaraderie and civic pride amongst these HUGE CROWDS surging out to vote. I was all worked up to go vote. I would be part of the great and passionate American electorate! I would be part of the HUGE CROWDS!

Then I went. No huge crowds, no camaraderie and civic pride. Granted, I live in a place where a "huge crowd" means three people in line at the post office, but still. After all the hype, it was underwhelming.

Did you experience HUGE CROWDS, camaraderie, and civic pride yesterday when you voted, or is this yet another example of hyperbole in the media?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Woodchuck Roadtrip--Rollin' Down the Highway

Read the first installment, if you haven't yet.

And now, on with the show!

After we sold the walnuts and A. had changed his pants, I stated very firmly that it was now time for lunch. In fact, it was past time, and I am Not Fun when my blood sugar level gets low. So back into Buggy Town, USA, we motored, in search of sustenance. After rejecting several boring chain restaurants and some uninspiring cafes, we came across the Carriage Corner Restaurant. It had buggy wheels and oxen yokes on its fake front porch. Our kind of place. The food left much to be desired, but it had (fake) character, dammit.

So, satisfied if not impressed, we took off for Lewisburg, home of Bucknell University, which interested us not at all, and the Packwood House Museum, which at least interested me. This museum was better than I expected. We've been to many historic homes in New York that are now operated as museums. You know the sort--old houses with old furniture all laid out as if the family were still there using those bed warmers and bread bowls. I like that kind of thing, but after visiting a few of them, I realized that I was paying eight dollars to walk through a house not much different than our own. Not that Blackrock is a museum by any means, but we found ourselves pointing out embroidered chairs and ice tongs and remarking that they looked just like the ones at home. So now, I require something a little more unique.

The Packwood House was unique enough. The building itself is very old and has gone through several incarnations. The couple who had owned it most recently traveled extensively, and the woman was an artist, so there was a lot of art from China, as well as her own artwork on display. Our guide was kind of surly and rushed us through it a little too quickly, but the house is worth seeing. When you find yourself in Lewisburg. Because isn't Lewisburg on everyone's list of 100 Places To See Before You Die?

While wandering around the museum's gift shop, I picked up a pamphlet for a place called Colonial Candlecrafters, just a couple of miles away. I generally hate candle stores. They're always too cutesy, and the overpowering stench of hundreds of scented candles makes me retch. However, we were in desperate need of taper candles for our many, many candlesticks before the holidays. After a particularly disastrous attempt last Thanksgiving to blow out a Dollar Store candle that resulted in spraying red wax on our mostly white wallpaper, I vowed to never again buy cheap made-in-China candles. But finding good candles is kind of hard. Which is the only reason I braved the retching to pick up a dozen candles (only $22.78!). A. waited in the truck. A good decision.

After that arduous ordeal, it was time to find our resting place for the night. We don't do reservations, so the search was on. I should clarify that left to my own devices, I would make reservations. But now I'm married. To A. Who NEVER, EVER makes plans. He used to show up the night before classes began at college with no place to live. Can you imagine? My OCD-riddled brain shudders at the thought.


No reservations, no idea where we might be sleeping Saturday night. The roads that A. tends to choose are usually lined with that relic of the great age of American motoring--the motel. Some of the motels are even still open. These are the sort of places A. actively seeks out. We've stayed in some real gems (insert heavy sarcasm here) in the past. But the one that will live in infamy is the place in the Adirondacks we stayed in a few years ago. This was the last room in town, because of the Lumberjack Festival taking place when we drove through. The room was being renovated. It was filthy AND it had no floor. No, really. The carpet had been ripped up, leaving the sub-floor with exposed studs. We won't even speak of the bathroom. The horror is still fresh in my mind.


After driving for a half hour or so on Route 15, we came to a nameless, characterless "town" that seemed to consist almost entirely of isolated houses and closed auto repair shops. And this is where we saw a motel. It was a fairly standard crappy motel: 10 units in a line, doors leading to the parking lot. What buildings there were near the motel, and there weren't many, were abandoned. There were no cars in the parking lot.

Kristin's Essential Traveling Tip: If your first words upon seeing a motel are, "Is it open?" you will not want to stay there.

But A. was tired, it was getting on in the afternoon, and maybe this place would be cheap enough to outweigh the negatives. So we pulled in. The office wasn't "open," per se, but there was a sign saying to ring the buzzer. So we did. A female voice answered. She said hello. That was all. A. asked if she had any rooms. She said yeah. And five minutes later, The Voice appeared. She was glassy-eyed and vague. Either she had been asleep, or she had been smoking some heavy shit. She showed us a room. It was about as depressing as she was. And the price? Fifty-five dollars. FIFTY-FIVE DOLLARS. For a shithole in the middle of nowhere. What with the lack of amenities and general air of Bates' Place, they shouldn't have been charging more than $20. A. said no thanks. And back in the truck we went . . .

Will our heroes find a place to sleep, or will they be forced to bed down in a hay field? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Woodchuck Roadtrip--PA or Bust!

Yeah, I changed the title. Author's prerogative.

We woke up at 6:20 a.m. on Saturday. By 6:40 we were rolling down the driveway in the dark, travel coffee mugs in hand, on our way to adventure and excitement in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I personally found nothing much adventurous and exciting until the sun came up. Because that's when we could actually see the countryside we were driving through.

I should explain at this point that A. hates freeways with a great and burning passion. Travel writers may purposely seek out the "back roads" when they want to experience "atmosphere" and "local flavor" to enhance their stories--A. wouldn't think of driving anywhere else. He doesn't want the scenic roads built for tourists, either. If a road is full of antiques and cute shoppes, it's not for him. He wants to see abandoned trailers and run-down diners. Luckily, both were in abundant supply on this trip.

We drove through the tail-end of the Appalachians in northern Pennsylvania. It looked pretty much like you would expect the Appalachians to look. Pretty fall colors, undulating hills, and trailers. The last bastion of true individuality is in real rural areas like this. You want to cover your house in hubcaps? Go right ahead! You want to store 10 junk cars in your front yard? Have at it! And of course, these people were not content with those slick, redwhiteandblue pre-printed campaign signs. They have opinions, dammit, and they want to voice them! In the form of spray painted plywood propped up in their driveways. We saw the right: "Proudly clinging to our guns and religion" and "Our Biggest American Mistake Awaits." And the left: "McCain Still Sucks" and the pithy "Obama--yes!!" We also saw many, many discarded truck tires being used as planters, but that's de rigueur for much of rural America.

And now, a break for a photographic interlude!

Ridin' low in Big Red

So. Southward we drove, leaving the Empire State (isn't it nice how humble New Yorkers are?) and entering the Keystone State (Dear PA: Perhaps it's time to re-think your state nickname?). The farm we sought was outside Mifflinburg, the self-proclaimed Buggy Town, USA. I guess they made a lot of horse carriages there. Or something. We skipped the Carriage Museum in Mifflinburg, so I can't tell you any specifics. Though we did eat lunch at the Carriage Corner Restaurant in Mifflinburg. Let it never be said we have no culture.


Before we could eat lunch, we had to dump this huge load of walnuts that was weighing Big Red down and causing him to overheat. So, into the farmland we drove, in search of Edwin Oberholtzer's farm (Dear Edwin: You have a truly kick-ass name, man. And yes, I am being serious.). The helpful bright yellow "Black Walnut Station" signs pointing the way were of great assistance in finding the farm, which was a tiny farm in a valley with one horse, two geese, chickens, and some goats. It did not look particularly prosperous. Of course, Edwin turned out to be not a crotchety geezer with hair growing out of his ears, as I had pictured him to be, but a wholesome Amish kid who looked about 15 years old but was probably more like 20. So I think he has some time to improve the place.*

When we drove into the farmyard, there were three pick-up trucks in line to dump walnuts, and five guys standing around watching Edwin smash at the walnut hulling machine with a sledgehammer. It was apparently being a bit recalcitrant and required some gentle persuasion. The sledgehammer seemed to subdue the machine, however, which was shortly chewing up walnuts again.

Photographic interlude number 2:

Pop quiz! Is Edwin the man in the suspenders or the cut-off t-shirt and ripped jeans?

Here's how this machine worked: The walnuts were dumped in a big hopper, from which they dropped onto a conveyor belt. The belt brought the nuts up into the machine, where a large truck tire spun around, forcing the nuts through grates that ripped the hulls off the nut inside. The hulls were spit out the top and the nuts came through chutes on the side into bags. The hulled nuts were then weighed to determine the price to be paid.

So, when it was our turn, A. backed the truck up so the tailgate hung over the hopper a bit. He dumped the feed bags full of walnuts into the hopper. I used my (gloved) hand to sweep the walnuts towards where they dropped onto the belt, being careful to not get my hand caught on the belt, thereby causing my hand to be ripped off and conveyed into the huller with the nuts. Ew.

We ended up with 430 pounds of nuts after hulling. At $10 per hundredweight, that paid for the gas for the trip, which was really all we were hoping for.

A. was covered in black walnut juices, but had uncharacteristically remembered to bring an extra pair of pants. We stopped in the cemetery so he could change his pants. No disrespect intended to the occupants, of course, but it seemed like a better option than stripping down in Edwin's farmyard.

Thus, freshly attired and divested of our great load of nuts, we headed off to seek further adventures in the vast expanse of central Pennsylvania.

But you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out what those adventures are. Yes, it's a Going Country cliffhanger! Isn't this FUN?

Until tomorrow, duckies . . .

* Edwin appeared to be part of a less orthodox Amish sect. Different Amish communities make their own judgments about which modern conveniences might threaten the Amish way of life and are therefore verboten. Edwin had a big John Deere tractor, though with steel wheels so it couldn't be driven on the road. And the walnut machine seemed to use a bit of electricity. But the house didn't appear to have any electricity and there was no car.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Miss Me?

As I'm sure you all noticed, I did not post yesterday. I KNOW. Shocking.

But because you all read this site regularly and carefully file away all the many mundane details of my life (RIGHT?), you will have remembered that we were going on A. and K.'s Excellent Walnut Adventure this weekend. Which we did. And now we have returned, with many, many fun stories. And even some photos. Which I will share with you. Tomorrow. But here is just a sampling of some of the things that may (or not! who can tell! I'm unpredictable and crazy!) be covered in the next couple of days:

  • Homemade woodchuck campaign signs (my favorite: "McCain Still Sucks")
  • The first time EVER that A. has walked away from a motel because it "lacked charm." And right there he won the prize for Understatement of the Millennium.
  • A hotel that included an antique brass mail chute on every floor leading directly to the main mailbox in the lobby. BAD ASS.
  • Buggy Town, USA
  • Amish people

Tomorrow on Going Country: "On the Road with Woodchucks--The Walnut Saga."