Saturday, February 14, 2009

'Tis the Season for Sentimentality

Yes, we all know what day it is, thanks to the relentless barrage of commercials advertising gift ideas for all the loved ones in your life. So, if I may, I will pass on the usual Happy V-Day wishes and instead go straight to the heart (HAAAA!) of the matter:


In the most platonic, non-stalkerish way possible for a bunch of people I have never actually met in real life, of course.

And now I will sign off by saying that I hope today and all the days to come are filled with love, chocolate, and your hearts' desires, forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Batten Down the Hatches

Have I ever mentioned that I do not like wind? I'm not talking a gentle breeze to cool down a hot summer day, I'm talking about wind. Loud, constant, hard, and unpleasant. The only people who could possibly appreciate wind are those who have a windmill or a sailboat. I have neither of those things, so I have no use for wind.

Yesterday would have been a fantastic day to have a windmill. The wind blew hard and continuously all day long. It sounds like a train approaching when it hits the house. It was also about 40 degrees and alternately spitting rain or freezing rain all day. It was all very cozy. Except for a brief trip out to the chicken coop in the morning, I spent the day huddled inside, listening to windows rattle and watching the tree branches whip around outside. Then I went to go get the mail.

Going to get the mail means walking down the driveway. Toward the lake. Which is the source of the wind. I felt like I was walking into the eye of the hurricane. And then, when I got to the mailbox, I was so impressed by the whitecaps on the lake that I went back up to the house, got the camera, and actually braved the totally exposed beach to take pictures. For you.

You could hang AT LEAST three on these waves.

Okay, so it's not exactly a surfer's paradise, but I bet you could do some fun boogie boarding on those waves. Assuming you didn't mind dying of hypothermia within 30 seconds, that is.

When I went back up to the house, Leda the Fluffball was waiting for me on the driveway. She looked concerned. She also looked a little windblown.

Leda says the windblown look is HOT this year.

And then I (and Leda) went back into the house, because no one should be outside when the wind is blowing 40 miles an hour. The end.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Nosy Shopper

I went to the grocery store yesterday and indulged in one of my favorite past times: snooping into complete strangers' lives by analyzing their grocery choices. Do you do this, or is it just me? Would you like some examples?

1) The guy buying 10 Hungry Man frozen dinners, five cans of chili, beer, and salami--this haul just screams "bachelor. "

2) The woman with the super-size package of Pampers, the variety pack of small Frito-Lay chip bags, and five bags of Goldfish crackers--how happy is she that she didn't have to drag her kids with her to the store today?

3) The elderly woman with two individual rolls of toilet paper, the smallest container of milk available, and 20 cans of cat food--a widow living with far too many cats, perhaps?

4) Anyone with a cart full of soda, chips, and hot dog buns--PARTY!

I always wonder what people think when they see my choices*. But then it occurs to me that most people probably don't make snap judgments about complete strangers based on the items in their grocery carts. But I do. So tell me, so that I may judge you: What do you buy at the grocery store?

* You want to know what I bought so you can judge ME, don't you? Okay, that's only fair: Organic whole milk, broccoli, seltzer, plain low-fat yogurt, 4% milk fat cottage cheese, Triscuits, beer, multi-grain pasta, carrots, dried lentils, corn tortillas, whole wheat tortillas, and reduced-fat Ruffles. And some chicken salad from the deli, because I was STARVING and needed to eat something IMMEDIATELY. The end.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not So Sheepish

Before A. got his first sheep a couple of years ago, I had never actually met a sheep live and in color. And why would I, right? I mean, it's not like people walk sheep around on leashes and let them play in the pet park in Tucson. So I began our sheep-raising adventures as a complete and total ignoramus. I wouldn't claim to be an expert now by any means, but I've learned a few things along the way that I thought I should share with those of you who have not been lucky (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint) enough to have a close encounter of the ovine kind.

1) Sheep can be big. Really, really big. Like small pony big. We have three breeds of sheep: Cotswold, Clun Forest, and Merino. The Merinos are small and dainty and pretty much look like my ignorant conception of a sheep. The Cotswolds, on the other hand, are giants. They are tall and they are heavy. The ewes are over two hundred pounds. This makes them more difficult to wrestle to the ground for shearing, but does invite the interesting possibility of allowing some small children of our acquaintance to ride on their backs. I'm envisioning a sheep rodeo . . .

2) Sheep can be aggressive. Once again, this is mostly the Cotswolds I speak of. They will shove and crowd the person unlucky enough to venture into their pasture with a bucket of corn or mineral. They will push right past a person opening a gate if they want to get out, with no fear whatsoever of the person standing right in their way. They can be very rude, those sheep. Miss Manners would be shocked.

3) Sheep can be loud. And yes, this is (surprise!) mostly in reference to the Cotswolds again. They yell. That's the only way to describe it. It is not a gentle bleat. It is not soft and it is not melodic. It is loud and obnoxious and damn near constant. They can hear us moving around in the house from their pasture outside, so they yell for corn. They can see us through the windows, so they yell for corn. If you step outside or even start to open the door, they yell for corn. It's really irritating.

4) Rams are not necessarily dangerous. I was very, very unhappy when A. brought home our Clun Forest ram. I was envisioning a huge, wild-eyed, horned beast that would run me over at every opportunity. What we got, however, was the world's sissiest ram. He does his duty with the ewes, but he is not at all aggressive. In fact, he's afraid of people. Except for one unfortunate incident last fall when he butted me to get the basket of apples I was picking. Other than that, though, we've had no trouble with him. I still don't really trust him, but he's not at all scary, really. And Clun Forests don't have horns, so that's a bonus.

5) Sheep are really hard to contain. They can jump surprisingly high. They can squeeze through fences and limbo under them. They are impervious to electric shocks because of their thick coat of insulating wool. The big ones will knock fences down and pop gates open just by rubbing up against them. Sheep need good, solid fences. Otherwise they will find a way to get into my vegetable garden and cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And calls to the butcher.

So, there you have it. A sheep primer, if you will. Things no one ever tells you about sheep. The unvarnished, non-storybook truth about sheep. And lest you think this is all so not fun and all you want are the cute, sheepish photos, I can promise you that in about two months, there will be pictures of lambs up on this site. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This Is SO NOT Bourbon Street

Hey, I think it's been almost two weeks since I mentioned that my mom's from New Orleans*. So yeah, did you know that my mom's from New Orleans? (In case you missed it the first five times I said it.) And did you also know what New Orleans is most famous for? Well, actually, now it's probably most famous for that bitch Katrina, but before that, it was most famous for Mardi Gras.

Yes, Mardi Gras. That fabulously bacchanalian festival in which all Catholics (and these days, everyone else of any religious background--ecumenical binge-drinking!) let loose and do all the indulgent, sinful things they aren't allowed to do during Lent. Judging by the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, those things include drinking until you vomit and flashing complete strangers in exchange for cheap plastic beads.

I have never actually participated in that particular aspect of Mardi Gras myself. The last time I attended Mardi Gras, I was four years old, dressed as a clown, and took the elevator in my great-aunt's apartment building down all by myself, thereby sending my parents into full-on panic mode, because then I got off the elevator, and they couldn't find me . . . but they did eventually, and we all lived happily ever after.

So, not exactly Girls Gone Wild material.

However, we always had our own Mardi Gras tradition. A much more innocent, wholesome tradition that involves ingesting pastries dripping with sugar. I speak, of course, of King Cake.

I will not go into the history and symbolism of King Cake, because you can read all of that here. But I will just mention that there is a small plastic baby baked into the cake (symbolizing Jesus, and the person who finds it has to provide the King Cake for the next year) and the cake is actually more like an egg bread and is always covered in diabetes-inducing quantities of sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple, and gold.

Now that that's out of the way, I would also like to mention that the only King Cakes I had ever had were purchased at a bakery. I have never, ever heard of anyone baking a King Cake themselves. My grandmother, Duchess, would always buy us a King Cake at the bakery a few blocks from her house and have it shipped to us wherever we were living. No one ever, EVER, baked one.

Did I mention ever?

Enter that crazy Yankee, the MiL. She had some extra egg yolks and decided to make a King Cake. Except she said she would just do the bread part of it, and then the icing of it would be up to me, because she could not bring herself to put that much sugar on anything. So I did. Yesterday.

It was a pain in the ass. I only had green and red sugar sprinkles, plus The World's Most Ancient Food Coloring. So I used the green, then mixed some yellow Ancient Food Coloring with white sugar, which looked okay. But purple . . . um, yeah. Not so much purple as a putrid shade of maroon that resulted when I added blue Ancient Food Coloring to red sugar sprinkles. It wasn't quite the color of royalty that I was going for.

The King's Cake appears to have a gnarly skin disease.

But forget how it looks (please). The real question is how does it taste? It tastes fantastic. Especially when you warm it up a little and put a little butter on it. Because there can never be enough butter. It is definitely not as sweet as the King Cakes I'm accustomed to, but that's probably a good thing. NO ONE needs to eat as much sugar as bakeries put on King Cakes.

So, yes, a King Cake can, indeed, be baked in a home kitchen. At least, if the MiL is in that kitchen. It goes without saying that this is probably not something I will ever attempt on my own. I leave these things to the professionals. And if this example of my skill with colored sugars is any indication, I should leave the decorating up to the professionals, as well. I'll just stick to the eating. Works for me.

* And don't forget, in the interest of equality: My dad is from Wisconsin. Go Packers!

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Wee Bit Premature

We maybe got a little carried away by the sun that came out yesterday. We were all outside, A. playing with his manly chainsaw, the MiL contemplating pots to be planted with flowers, me sitting on the Adirondack chair on the patio, soaking up the sun like some kind of geriatric invalid. The MiL said it felt like summer. A. took off his fleece vest. I said we should grill a steak for dinner. So I took steak out of the freezer. Then I looked at the thermometer.

It was 38 degrees.

Now, granted, the sun gets warmer in February and has more power to actually affect the air temperature, but still. That's not warm by any stretch of the imagination. Except, apparently, imaginations that are accustomed to ice on interior walls. That is, the imaginations of those who live at Blackrock. I swear, it felt about 50 degrees in the sun. I can only conclude that we were all either suffering from a collective hallucination, or we all had a severe case of Wishful Spring-thinking.

And even though I knew it wasn't warm, and it still gets dark at 5:30 p.m., I still made A. build a fire in the grill to make charcoal to grill the steak. Thirty-eight degrees be damned, porterhouse steaks demand that smoky grill taste.

Nothing promises spring like charred flesh al fresco.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thank God for Old Photos

Those forgotten photo albums keep yielding unexpected pictures that I can post in place of words. Words are hard, man. Words require some thought. Maybe not a lot of thought, at least not the way I write, but some thought. Pictures, on the other hand, are easy. And you know what they say about a picture and those thousand words and all.

So, here. Here are my thousand words for the day. This is a photo I took in an attempt to show some fairly heavy fog we had one morning in August. But fog never looks as . . . foggy in my photos somehow. Instead, it just looks kinda like a fairy tale illustration.

Complete with big, bad (fluffy) wolves.

Maybe by tomorrow I'll be able to string together some words for you in some kind of organized fashion. But I make no promises.