Thursday, August 30, 2007

Smart is Sexy

I've finally discovered the new series of Doctor Who. I saw the 2005 episodes (with Christopher Eccleston) on PBS, then put the DVDs on my netflix queue. I just loved him I did. Goofy smile and all, he just got me. Then I get to the end of that season, and my new favorite fictional love decideds to regenerate! We were not amused. I wasn't too wild about David Tennent until....

he put glasses on! Such a sucker for the nerdy boys, I am. There's a scene where they're all trapped in a room with a monster outside the door. Someone laments their lack of a weapon, but he says "We're in a library. Books! We've got the best weapons in the world." I just about swooned as they started flipping through books on how to fight the monster.

Yes, I'm now officially a Doctor Who dork. But the real question is... am I dorky enough to go put all the old series on my netflix queue? I think we know the answer to that.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Eating Locally.

Inspired by Bezzie's posts about eating from her garden this summer, I want to show off a very locally-produced soup I made last night.

From the PSU farmer's market: basil, eggplant, rosemary bread, tomatoes, bell pepper, and havarti cheese. (as local-boy Homer Simpson would say, "Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeese" drool!). The onions are Walla Walla Sweets from Walla Walla Washington. While Walla Walla is not technically local, a friend from Walla Walla brought a 20lb bag of them with her when she came to Salem for a party last weekend. What a great party-favor! They smell so good, I can't even describe it. I really considered using cheaper non-local vegetable broth, but in the end I went with the slightly more expensive Pacific Organics broth. I skipped the local garlic though, it was $2 a head!!! Eating local foods is not cheap!

Roasted Veggie Soup:

I started by coating my stoneware baking dish & the veggies with olive oil, cut the eggplant in half (cut the stem part off too), put it face down in the pan. I should also have cut the onion in half but I didn't. The tomatoes and pepper went in whole. If I were using garlic, I'd put a whole head (or at least several cloves) in there too. I sprinkle a good bit of kosher salt over everything... but you can add the salt later if you want - or not at all, broth usually has salt in it. The veggies roast at 350F for about an hour.

After I took them out of the oven, I put a little olive oil in the bottom of a soup pot, and added the tomatoes, onion, and eggplant. This is the point when I pull the top off the pepper and scrape out the seeds, I think it's easier after it's cooked that to cut it out beforehand. At this point, if you had roasted garlic, you could squeeze it out into the soup pot. I added several leaves of basil, put a lid on it and just let it cook on a low temperature for about another hour.

Finally I added the veggie broth, pureed it in my blender (small batches at a time) and returned it to the soup pot. Just mix it all together again, and you're done!

I chop some cheese & stir it into the soup when I eat it, and of course, a nice piece of rosemary bread never goes wrong!

Alternatives - you can use pretty much any veggie, and I've made this soup a few different ways. I find that using zucchini & summer squash (instead of eggplant), red peppers and red onions I get a better color and a slightly different taste. Red onions have more of a tang to them. Oh, and I usually add a healthy dose of garlic - yummers! Not only are the ingredients (mostly) local to Oregon, it's a very good meal for Portland weather. I can make up a batch on the weekend and put it in the fridge/freezer. Then when it's cold & cloudy & rainy I can just heat it for two minutes in the microwave and it's done. Roasting the veggies really gives them a good hearty flavor, it's thick, hot, and creamy (if you add cheese) - it's a perfect comfort food.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I'm using this I-Spy to practice my free motion quilting. Surprisingly, the hardest shapes are the simple ones. If you look too closely, you'll see that my square contains no 'straight' lines, and my circle is wonky indeed!

I used a cookie cutter to trace the heart shape... that's actually a bit easier than other shapes because the lines don't have to be exactly straight, and asymmetry isn't as noticeable.

The spiral was fun to try, if not spectacularly executed.

It's coming together slowly but surely. I'm a bit concerned about how I'm going to do the squares towards the middle of the quilt, I need to really be able to maneuver the fabric and it's hard to do that if there's a whole bunch of it crammed up against the neck of the machine... and it's also hard to do if half the weight of the quilt is hanging off the side of the table.

So far I've managed to quilt close approximations of the following shapes:
a maple leaf.

I've also done some squiggles and zig-zags. Can you suggest any other shapes for me to use? I've got like 30 squares to fill, and I don't want to do too many repeats.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Story time.

The problem with posting quilt-top in progress pictures is that when you actually do finish the quilt top, it doesn't look significantly different. But trust me... the quilt is much farther along than when I posted the other pictures. The top is finished, and I've actually started quilting it to the backing. I haven't filled in the blank spots yet, but I have finished the stitch-in-the-ditch part.

I decided that my quilt is not so much an I-spy quilt - because the point of an I-spy is that you have to hunt for the pictures in a 'Where's Waldo' kind of way. I'm going to refer to this as a storybook quilt. You can make up a story based on the pictures. As I was explaining this to Mistress J (who's visiting Portland this week!), I found an unfortunate group of blocks. Starting with the pink cat block, the story I came up with was: "Look the cat goes to France and gets hit by a truck, then it needs bandaids & medicine. But then it dies and comes back as a ghost."

There's a reason I don't have kids, you know. =)

Now a little story from tutoring. We had a very good lesson yesterday, practicing "I like" and "I don't like" my student totally got into the lesson - which was really gratifying. Anyway when I first got there the kids were all saying 'Hello, how are you' to me. The little girl had a yellow hat with an elastic chin-strap. I showed her how to put it on, and told her she was very pretty in her hat. Then the kids went into the back room, and I started working with my student.

Halfway through our lesson, one of the little boys came back into the livingroom. He was wearing his own version of a little yellow hat, a pair of underwear on his head! I started cracking up, as did my student. It was so great, it doesn't matter what country you come from, or what language you speak, or what religion you are - if a little boy walks into a room wearing underwear on his head - it's FUNNY!

Oh, and towards the end of our lesson, all the kids came back into the room and turned on the TV. The Sleep Country USA commercial came on. You know the one. As if I didn't have enough reason to hate that store... all the kids were gathered around the TV singing "Why la la ma ma anywa es - DING." They can barely understand English, but they're already learning brand loyalty. Heaven help us. =P

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Borrowed blog-fodder.

I visited my friend N. today and got to explore her quilt room... lots & lots of fat quarters, a few cool FOs, and this:

She's doing a hexagonal charm quilt - which means every single aproximately 3" diameter hexagon is a different fabric. Oh... and did I mention - SHE'S PIECING BY HAND!!! It's really beautiful, and she's got a ton of fabrics I've never seen before. I donated a few fabrics to her effort, and I can't wait to see the whole thing finished.

I've made a little progress on my I-spy quilt. If I really devoted some time to it, I could finish it in a week or two. But I've got a few other things on my plate at the moment... not fun crafty stuff either... but good stuff. I want to find a good program to get TESOL certified, and hope to be enrolled in a program this fall. That's the plan anyway. Wish me luck!!

Friday, August 17, 2007

I spy with my little eye...

perhaps the lamest I-spy quilt ever.

I'm making it for a friend who's having a baby... but I'm fairly certain that she doesn't actually read my blog. And if she does - well, act surprised anyway. ;)

It was taking forever for me to accumulate character fabrics... doing it by the fat quarters instead of being the obnoxious person who piles up 15 bolts of fabric & asks for 1/8 yard of each. So I decided to use the red fabric as spacer blocks, but this was after I'd decided to do a snow-ball pattern, which makes it a little overwhelmingly red.

That squirrel fabric came from the huge-old bag I got from someone who was destashing, the dolphins are from a pair of PJs my mom made for my nephew, and I picked up the music fabric when I was in Sisters. With the exception of the pink-cat fabric from Sally's quilt, I tried to go with more boy-type fabrics, but nothing is very baby-appropriate. It's just not quite turning out as cool as I'd hoped. But I'm thinking of doing some kind of free motion quilting in the empty squares to make it a little more fun.

Any suggestions?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back to School.

I got an email from my sister today. It was my nephew's first day at kindergarten, and my niece's first day getting home schooled. My sister really thinks her daughter will do better with one-on-one teaching until she can get her reading skills up to par. Coincidentally I signed up for a sewing class today. Really it was more of a free orientation that I got when I purchased my sewing machine, not an official class. Anyway, even though I know the basics of sewing, I thought it would be a good idea to get some hints & tips. And I did have a few questions for her.

It was a fun little session. The woman teaching was a bit of a know-it-all but I guess that's okay, it's not bragging if you can do it. I was really surprised to learn a few things I was doing wrong - button holes for one. But before that, I had to endure a bit of mild humiliation when I set down my machine. I took off the case et voila - Fraulein Peggy:

The teacher asked me if I'd already used my sewing machine and I said "Yes, she's already gotten some gold-stars."

To which the teacher responded "Oh, is this for your daughter in 4-H?"

And I very quietly replied "No... for me."

The mild humiliation came from the realization that I am in fact old enough to have a daughter in the 4-H, and that, well I've just revealed to a complete stranger that I (a woman old enough to have a daughter in 4-H) give my sewing machine stickers when she completes a project. I am so glad I didn't introduce my machine by name!

She showed me how to do free-motion quilting, and quite neatly wrote my name in script, then had me practice. I did pretty well if I do say so myself. Here's a bit I did when I got home.

There should be a bit more of a space between "kicks" and "ass" but you get the idea. ;)

Overall I'm really glad I took the class. I really like teaching myself to do new things, and I feel quite confident in my ability to figure things out. But sometimes it's hard for me to realize that I could actually learn more from taking a class than by trying to learn everything on my own. So I'll have to look into taking a real quilting or sewing class. Who knows? I might even learn how to do a proper zipper!!!

I'm working on yet another secret project. It's almost done, and I hope to post pictures in the next week or so. =)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Adventures in Pan Asian Cuisine

I'm thinking more and more seriously about going abroad to teach English to speakers of other languages. I've checked a few books out of the library, and started surfing the internets looking for other information.

One thing I've learned from my globe trotting friend Mistress J. is that people in developing countries eat 'weird' food. Breakfast pastries containing spicy chunks of fish, dried little fish whole, and most disturbing of all - Pizza Hut pizza ;) . While my tastes are quite a bit more adventurous than my father's - still the most exotic foods I've tried have all been Americanized versions of 'ethnic foods'.

So I decided to start trying new foods. Lucky for me there's a huge pan-Asian market near me. I just started looking through one of the seafood aisle. I saw several things I couldn't identify. Most were called "Fish Cakes." I asked the woman next to me how you eat them, and she said you put them in a soup, you can add a bunch of different kinds (she pointed to a few different packages), chicken, and udon noodles. Sounded easy enough. Oh, and she recommended that I use frozen udon noodles "Because they're really chewy." Hmmm.... Do I want chewy noodles? I wondered. But I figured I'd just do as she said. Now, it's important to point out that I don't really eat fish. I love sashimi, crab, and lobster, but I don't generally eat cooked fish.

The top package is frozen udon noodles with soup, the middle is tempura fish cakes, and the one on the bottom is boiled fish cakes with beefsteak plant. (I have no idea what a beefsteak plant is.)

So I took out a can of chicken broth & just dumped everything in. The noodles came with two packets - one was a sauce and one was like sesame seed crispies.

And here's how it turns out. It was actually really good. The noodles were indeed chewy - pleasantly so. The boiled fish cakes tasted about like you would expect a boiled fish cake to taste. I didn't love it, but it was okay. And the tempura fish cakes were really yummy. They taste like the inside of an eggroll... like shredded carrots & cabbage. And I really liked the now soggy sesame crispies. Very good. My first experiment with new food = A.

Oh, and I picked up this little guy.

It's called a lotus egg bun. Sooooo yummy, it's an egg bread filled with a sweet paste - presumably lotus flower paste, it's a delicate floral flavor, almost like jasmine. This one gets an A+ for cuteness and super yumminess.
Ok - I recognize that these were relatively tame selections, and there were a lot of things I was afraid to try (pickled plums, huge radishes in a cloudy liquid, huge prickly fruits). But you know, baby steps. Any recommendations for what I should try next?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tata Jesus is Bangala!

Jesus is the Poisonwood Tree!

If you've read Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, please comment with your own thoughts & opinions. If you haven't read the book you can skip this post to avoid spoilers, or alternately feel free to judge this book by it's cover. ;)

Wow, this book was incredible. I loved the way Kingsolver told the story from the perspectives of each of the women (girls). She does an incredible job of giving each of the women a different voice. As difficult as it was for me to decipher Adah's voice I really loved it. For all her slant, she was the most straight shooting. Nathan Price doesn't get his own voice in the novel, but I'm okay with that. It seems like he's the only member of the family who gets a voice outside the home - at least for the first half of the book.

Two parts I found especially striking - when the ants swarm and start attacking, and when the villagers set fire to the hill to hunt the animals. Both were on the one hand inhuman tragedies, and on the other hand absolutely necessary for survival. Safe in my apartment with hot & cold running water & a refrigerator full of food, actually being in a situation like that is incomprehensible to me. For all my college degree and technical expertise, I would be completely unprepared to face either of those situations. Kill or be killed. My life is so far removed from this most basic principles of life. Adah echos this lesson at the end when she talks about studying viruses:

"We and our vermin all blossomed together out of the same humid soil in the Great Rift Valley and so far no one is really winning. Five million years is a long partnership. If you could rise up out of your own beloved skin and appraise ant, human, and virus as equally resourceful beings, you might admire the accord they have all struck in Africa. Back in your skin, of course, you'll shriek for a cure." (p.529)

So that was one big theme that struck me, the balance between life & death.

The other major theme is, of course, religion. Nathan Price brings his own brand of God. While he is described as Baptist, I think it's pretty clear that his mission was not exactly sanctioned by the church, and he's pretty far off the deep end of theology.

(In the interest of full disclosure let me admit that once upon a time, in fact on my second date with my High School boyfriend, I stood up in church signifying my willingness to be called as a missionary one day. Good times... good times.)

I hate his character more than I've ever hated a fictional character, more than Snape even. ;) Kingsolver does a pretty good job of painting him as an incredibly arrogant and delusional person. A poisonous combination indeed. I liked that she gave him a little depth, we know why he is the way he is. But I still don't like him!

Orleanna Price is not an altogether sympathetic character. In some ways, she's the classic trapped wife, she's been isolated from friends and families, completely removed from any support network she might otherwise have had. But I still think she had a few opportunities to escape before she lost her child. I'm glad that she did eventually leave, and in the end tried her best to secure the safety of her remaining children. But in the aftermath, she does redeem herself somewhat. She becomes an activist and does what she can to work for justice, and to take care of what's left of her family.

Leah probably does the best job of adapting to her situation, initially by learning to hunt, learning the language, working in the schools etc., then of course by marrying Anatole. It's interesting though that as much as she adapts to Africa, she will forever remain an outsider. She'll always be the white girl while in Africa, but she can never really come home again either.

Then there's really horrid as she seems, I can't avoid the fact that she is really the everywoman. Her concerns are no different than mine if I'm honest. I worry about frizzy hair, and what to wear. It's an important part of our culture, as much as we try not to get sucked up by it.

And poor little Ruth May, so sad. The sacrificial lamb I guess.

All in all, an incredible book, which gave me a lot to think about, not the least of which - the US foreign policy, and such a cheerful topic it is. :(

Between reading The Poisonwood Bible and watching the rest of the Roots DVDs, I've got a double dose of White People are the Root of All Evil. I know we do a lot of bad things... but I have no idea how to fix it all. I do what I can.

Anyway after all that doom & gloom... I started rereading the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the nice little book with "Don't Panic" written on it in big friendly letters. It's cheering me up nicely. Such a deliciously absurd book.

Opinions on the Poisonwood Bible/missionaries/Africa/anything? I'd be interested to hear what other people got out of the book.

Rebel gets political

Honestly, I have not decided who I'm going to vote for in the 2008 elections, and I'm already a bit sick of all the campagning. I think the UK has a much smarter format for elections, the PM says it's time for an election, and boom, they have an election and a new leader is installed. None of this campagning for 3 out of every 4 years. Drives me crazy.

Anyway, I happened to catch a news blurb this morning about Sen. Hillary Clinton. Someone did a poll about how "warm" she was. WARM? Since when is that a presidental quality? Do we honor Lincoln because he gave great hugs or because he signed the emancipation proclaimation?? Did Roosevelt get us through WW2 with his winning smile? WTF???

At this point, I don't care if my presidential candidates are warm & fuzzy or not! I care if they've got the knowledge & experience necessary to run the country, I care that they have respect for the constitution, the judicial branch and the American people. I care if they know the difference between Sweden & Switzerland. I care if they're being influenced by big business or foreign investors. I care if they are honest & ethical. You can like Hillary Clinton or not - and I know a great many people just hate her. Whether you're a Republican or Democrat or Independent or Libertarian, Tory or Whig, please, for the love of your country, please judge your candidates by the qualities that actually matter. I'll get down from my soapbox now.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Portland Rocks

Portland rocks. It just does. There's always something going on, and I love just taking the bus downtown to go to the Library, the Museum, or the Farmers Market, but I never really know what I'm going to find. One time I heard drums, followed their sound & found a troupe of traditional Mayan dancers doing a performance in front of one of the musuems. Who knew?

This Saturday - surprise! The Iranian festival in the South Park Blocks. I wandered through but they were only just getting set up so there wasn't much to see. A few booths with traditional textiles, one with a lot of pictures, maps and other information.

Next I went to the PSU Farmers Market.

Lots of different tomatos!

Pretty pretty flowers!
Unblossomed Thisle.... yummmmy.

I picked up some squash, a pepper, some tomatos, and basil (for a tasty roast vegetable soup) along with some bread & cheese.

Then I walked down to Pioneer Courthouse Square where all kinds of stuff was going on. I should have taken a picture of the title of this project, because I can't remember what it was called. The project took up several blocks - convieniently closed for construction of the green line Max from PSU to Clackamas (or as I intend to call it - the Clackamax ;) ) Anyway there were dozens of these black boxes, which will at some point have back-light pictures of a sporty nature. Yet another thing that was not set up yet. Yes, I guess it was a bit early as I was wandering around.

But there was also a project going on for the Library. It was called 'Chalk it Up for Kids" and there were a bunch of chalk artists drawing, a used book sale, and a stage set up, either for music or a reading I'm not sure.

After all of that I walked over to the library. After reading The Poisonwood Bible*, I decided that since I'm woefully undereducated about geography and the various political situations around the world I should start learning a bit more. However, to be honest, there's no way I could make it through some of the books that Mistress J., the economic genious goes through. So I visited the children's section and picked up several books about Africa. I read the first one today, and what with the pretty pictures & short chapters... they are just my speed. I figure if I keep reading the kids books, I might even end up smarter than a 5th grader!

Altogether a pretty fun & productive weekend.

*Oh I've just finished The Poisonwood Bible, I picked it up at Powells while waiting in line for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As soon as I collect my thoughts, I'll be posting on that.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

My mother's daughter.

So I've entered the part of my life where I've officially become my mother. Not so much in the obvious ways - she was married with two kids by the time she was my age. But in the tiny little details and in deeper, more disconcerting ways. Today at the store I made a sound and a gesture that came channeling through me directly from my mother. I swear it wasn't me. It was her. It was unreal. That kind of thing happens more and more the older I get. I used to hear myself repeating her trademark comments. But now it's showing up everywhere, all kinds of little behaviors. Which is just flat-out bizarre, because I haven't been in close contact with my family for the past 14 years! Weirder still is that I see where her little behaviors come from - it's like I'm getting a window into my mom's emotions through my own, in a way entirely different from the experience of watching her do/say those same things (and feeling mortified, judgemental, annoyed, whatever - as only a teenager can). I can't even describe it properly. Surreal I tell you.

Becoming my mother isn't an entirely bad thing. My mother is a Good Woman, and it would not be the worst person in the world to become. She's quite good at taking care of people. Especially small people, seeing her with my little niece & nephew is great, she's the quintessential grandma. Sewing clothes, baking cookies, playing games with them (my neice cheats at Chutes & Ladders btw). Now that my other nephew - her oldest grandson is in bootcamp, she writes to him every other day. Devoted.

She's raised me with very clear instructions (consciously and unconsciously) on what one *should* do in the world, I know right from wrong, nice from ugly. My mom always uses the word "ugly" to describe behavior. I don't think I ever once heard her say "ugly" in reference to how something looked. She'd be more likely to say "Well... isn't that... interesting." with an eyebrow raise that expressed her true opinion. But if she heard of someone being dishonest or immoral - that was "ugly" and being ugly was probably her worst criticism of a person. Ugly as sin. My mother is a beautiful woman.

So like I said, turning into my mother is far from the worst thing in the world. The problem is, she's not especially happy. She takes her responsibilities and her commitments seriously. So seriously that no matter how unhappy she is in a given situation, she'll stick it out. She cleans up other peoples messes. I have inherited, absorbed these traits, it scares me. I'll get into a rut and just stay there. It doesn't even always occur to me that something's wrong with the situation. My boredom or unhappiness is just something I need to tough out. Obviously I know how to have fun, and I do things I enjoy. It's just, I don't know, it's not a central part of my personality. Being good was always more important than being happy.

I've never been especially skilled at generating my own hapiness. But I'm working on it. I'm trying to temper her committment, devotion, her morals, with a little more balance, a lot more joy, and a degree of selfishness I have never seen her display. And... more openness. My mom stuffs a lot of her emotions, most of her unhappiness. She complains (a lot! I come by that honestly I tell you!), but it's rare for her to really express disappointment or sadness or anything like that - especially to the person causing her sadness or disappointment. And it's even rarer for her to do anything about it. I don't want to be like that.

I don't know really what made me post all this. I guess part of it is reading The Poisonwood Bible - I haven't finished it yet, but there's a lot about the complex relationship between a mother & her daughters.... that combined with channeling my mother at the Fred Meyer fish counter just kinda all came together.