30 December 2007

We Love Santa!

That probably goes without saying, for those of you who have ever been around me at Christmastime, but Santa was very good to all of us this year.

Didn't our Christmas tree look nice? (It's a real one. We'll probably try to have a live tree until we are too old to be able to deal with it.)

Garden Kitty and Jetsam were especially anxious for Santa's visit. GK chose the under-the-tree-with-Rudolph route, whereas Jetsam figured it made more sense to keep watch out the window.

Tess did not seem terribly disappointed that Santa brought her a penguin rather than WMDs ...

The boys were thrilled to get their very own Cozy Cushion (Tess will not share hers - don't even think about it!): This picture was taken after a brief scuffle as to who would sit on it first. Which of course resulted in no one actually sitting on it ...

I received a lot of knitting books, among other nice things, and The Tim and the kitties bought me an MP3 player. Which was a coincidence, since Santa brought one for The Tim as well! The Tim was nice enough to have mine all set up, ready to use right away. (Santa, like me, did not have a clue as to how to get it set up, so The Tim also had to figure out his own ...) I had never asked for an MP3 player, but I do love mine, so it was a nice surprise in more ways than one. It also led to this conversation:

Me: This is so cool - now if I can figure it out, I can listen to knitting podcasts.
The Tim: It figures this would somehow end up involving knitting.

We had a great day, talked to friends and family, and generally made sure to eat, drink, and be merry. (Not that we've stopped doing that. Yet.) But this picture pretty much sums up how we all felt by the end of the day.

(Jetsam actually sleeping. A Christmas miracle ...)

I hope your day was as great!

27 December 2007

A Little of Everything ...

Which is, incidentally, what I had for Christmas dinner - YUM! Our Christmas Day was just perfect, the only thing that could have made it better would have been a couple of inches of snow. But, as I am not in charge of the weather, there wasn't a thing I could do about it ...

Booking Through Thursday

I've missed this for a few weeks, but today I had no excuse not to participate.
Here's the question:

It’s an old question, but a good one . . .
What were your favorite books this year? List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

Here's my list, in no particular order:

1. Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak.
2. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky.
3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.
4. House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende.
5. Some Danger Involved, by Will Thomas.
6. Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad .
7. Letters from Yellowstone, by Diane Smith.

As you can see, no particular themes or relationships. But to me that's part of the joy of reading - it can be whatever you want, whenever you want it!

Happy Kwanzaa!
Today is the second day of Kwanzaa, and every year I think of a story that makes me laugh. Let me say in my defense, that though I know a lot of African-Americans, I do not know any who celebrate Kwanzaa. So this story is funny for that reason, not because I am trying to offend anyone!

A few years back, The Tim spent a year teaching 5th grade in the Philadelphia public school system. He had, as I recall, about 30 students, and all of them were African-American. He loved the kids (well, most of them at least), and from what I could tell, he was pretty popular with them. Anyway, one of the things he tried to do throughout the year was familiarize them with different holidays, who celebrated them, and why.

So it got to be the time of year for the winter holidays, and they were discussing Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Before he could even get to the topic, one of the kids raised his hand, and when The Tim called on him, he said, "Hey, Mr. _____! Can you tell me, what is the deal with Kwanzaa anyway???" To be honest, I don't remember what he told me his response was, but I'm sure it was very informational and responsible. But the story makes me laugh whenever I think of it.

A Gift Decided ...

As you may recall, I had been thinking that the felted bag I finished a month or so ago would make a good gift for someone, but I wasn't sure who might like it. The more I looked at it, and thought about it, the more I thought it would be a good birthday gift for my niece La Liz, whose birthday is December 25. So I wrapped it up for her, and sent it to my sister's house with all the other birthday and Christmas gifts, since all the nieces would be there for Christmas. La Liz called on Christmas to say how much she loved it, and how she couldn't believe that "the bag on the blog" was hers! It made me very happy to hear her say that, and regardless how she decides to use it (or not), I'm glad I sent it to her.

Sad news at a happy time

I felt bad to her about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto this morning. I had just read an interview with her in a magazine last night, and though I'm not 100% sure how I felt about her in the larger sense of things, I think she was a very courageous person. I would like to think that I would be willing to take on people who wanted nothing less than my death, believing that I could help others, but I'm pretty sure I would wimp out in the end. The world is not a happy place unfortunately. Though I'm not sure that it ever was.

I am purposely not watching news reports, because I fear that I will hear someone say something to the effect that she should have realized that being a woman would automatically mean that some people would think she had no business in politics. Because that is crazy talk, and also because I didn't want it carried out to somehow ending up being about Hillary Clinton. Of course, it would be coached in terms that made it seem like the eggheads were only thinking of their safety, but in the end, it seems to me that any woman - anywhere - who is "too smart" has something wrong with her, and by extension, really invites any misfortune that comes her way. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the head of the Hillary Fan Club, but I do think she is a smart woman, and I admire her for having skin thick enough to play with the others who want to be president.

I have thick skin to a point. Then everyone must pay.

Yep, everyone.

25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!!

24 December 2007

Christmas Doors

No part of the house escapes being decorated for Christmas around here.

For instance, our "official" front door:
Our "other" front door:

The French doors that lead to the garden are where we display the cards we've received:

And on the third floor, there is a door that leads out onto our roof deck. The cats enjoy sitting on the step right below it, in the summer because you can keep a good eye out for birds and squirrels, and in the winter because there's a heat vent right under it. For logistical reasons (steps), I couldn't get the whole thing in one shot, but you get the idea:

Off to make the Holiday Cheeseball!

*Note: the outside doors are always red - we don't paint them for the holiday effect!

23 December 2007

Some favorites

Well, here we are - tomorrow is Christmas Eve !! And as promised ('cause I'm sure you lost sleep last night), here are some of our decorations. This little tree is on the wall right next to the coat closet when you come in our front door. The decorations belonged to a little live tree that someone sent us one year.

When you turn the corner to head into the living room, these shelves are to your right. I could only get the first three top ones in this shot:

And here's the bottom shelf. The only things missing are some of the Misfits (from the Rankin-Bass production of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." A few years back, CVS sold small plush versions. Would it surprise you to know that I have them all??) Anyway, they usually get distributed throughout the house

This is a ceramic Christmas tree that my nephew and his wife in Arizona sent us last year. Liesl always sends us something that is made by their four kids, or involved them otherwise.

The top of the tree is an imprint of the oldest girl, Anya's hands. Then as you go down, you have Jude's hands, Lola's hands, and finally Naomi's hands. I think it is fantastic, and it looks pretty hanging above the fireplace in our bedroom.

You may remember this Rudolph and Santa from a blog post last year. The Santa is one that I made about 15 years ago (back when my sewing machine actually worked), as a present for our cat Hannah's first Christmas with us. The Rudolph is even older, as we got him when we lived in suburban DC (before we moved into the District). We had bought batteries, and there was a mail-in offer for a plush Rudolph toy whose nose lit up. The funny thing is, we've never changed the battery (I'm not even sure you can), and every year, his nose still lights up! (It's a Duracell battery, btw. Not even the kind the pink bunny promotes!)

Speaking of Santa and Rudolph, here they are again, as a cookie jar. We don't put cookies in here, but use it as a decoration on one of the tables in our living room. Neither of them seem to mind. :-)
That's it for today. The Tim just got home from work, and it's time to take some cough syrup, so I will leave you to enjoy the rest of your day, your decorations, your family, and whatever else makes it a happy time for you.

22 December 2007

Do You Hear What I Hear?

If you do, I apologize ... it's me coughing my head off. And the only thing more annoying than hearing it, is being the one coughing, trust me!

So last week, The Tim had a really awful cold. He was just dragging to work each day, and then coming home and basically crashing. Oh, poor The Tim, I thought. But hopefully he'll feel better by next week, so he can feel back to normal by Christmas. Lucky The Tim, he is recovered, and Christmas-ing away.

Apparently, just catching his cold was not enough for me. No, I had to get the sore throat, upset stomach, fever, and who knows what else to go with it. And, like him last week, I couldn't miss work this week. So I dragged myself to work, and yesterday was our Christmas party/luncheon, and I made it through that. Then I came home, changed my clothes and went to bed! Since then, I have alternated between feeling kind of OK, and being sure that I am in my last moments. I had to cancel with a friend for tonight, whose Christmas party we always attend, and that was really disappointing. And I'm pretty sure now that my cough has become bronchitis.

Fortunately, I am having more with-it moments today, and have been able to function better. I do have some prescription cough syrup from a previous bout of bronchitis, and that is at least keeping the coughing somewhat under control.

But the whole thing is annoying, you know?

And there's music ...

Now that my whining rant is finished, I can say that we did go to two concerts this week which were great (and since my cough wasn't too bad at that point, I wasn't even impersonating a lousy tuba). The one on Tuesday night was a Holiday with Brass and Organ concert, featuring members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which is always a treat, and even more so at the holidays for me. Wednesday night was Sebastian's school concert, and they did an awesome job! Plus, Seb looked very cool in his new shirt, tie, and cuff links, and since he was in the first row, we could see him the whole time. (He could probably see us, too. Hm, maybe not so thrilled?)

But stay tuned, because ...

As requested (well, at least by Claudia), I have been taking pictures of some of our Christmas decorations for your viewing pleasure. I'll post them over the next few days.

In the meantime, I leave you with this picture of the Anthropologie store in Center City Philadelphia. The building is an old mansion, and the main entrance is actually around the corner from this side of the building. But this is their holiday decoration, and though from far away, I couldn't figure it out, upon closer inspection:

I saw that those "things" hanging from the second and third story windows are varying sized balls of yarn! It's really pretty cool-looking, and if the battery in my camera hadn't died right after I took this shot, I would have tried to get a close-up. (I'm guessing it's extra-extra-extra bulky weight ...)

17 December 2007

Christmas Still-To-Do-List

Well, this time next week, it will be just a matter of hours until Santa will be stopping at our house to deliver presents. I think we've all been good this year, so hopefully there won't be any coal-filled stockings. (Though I must admit, I hope he goes with Tess' alternate requests ...)

I am doing pretty well, since most of the gifts I had for friends and family were going to be sent, and the last boxes went out today. Amazingly, the boxes that were mailed last Thursday, that were traveling the longest distance, have already all been received!

But there are still things left on the to-do-list, named here in no particular order:

1. Bake more cookies! Especially some spritz, or cut out sugar cookies, as those are what really seem like Christmas cookies to me.

2. Wrap gifts for The Tim and the kitties. Because they don't need to get shipped, they usually are done at the last minute. I have decided this year, I'll get it done before the afternoon of Christmas Eve!

3. Wrap gifts for co-workers and Secret Santa pal. This has to be done by Friday, since that is our last day of work before the Christmas break. Let's see, the next two nights we will be out, maybe I should be working on them now? Nah.

4. Attend Sebastian's holiday concert at his school. This is on the calendar for Wednesday night. We are looking forward to it, especially since it's the last time we'll get to see him until New Year's or after, since he and his mom are headed to Oaxaca, Mexico, on Friday evening.

5. Make sure I have ingredients for Holiday Cheeseball. This may be the most important thing I have to do every Christmas. My mother was not much of a cook, but she made a cheeseball every Christmas, and it is yummy! Apparently, my sisters are both physically unable to make one, and I think that is the only reason they miss getting together at Christmas ... ;-) My niece Amanda has taken on the honor for her generation, so at least one family group has a proper Christmas celebration, even if The Tim and I are not there!

6. Dig out recipe for Christmas Eve Risotto. The Tim always has to work on Christmas Eve, and does not get home until around 7:00 in the evening (thankfully the bookstore does not stay open late on Christmas Eve!). A few years back, he found a recipe for risotto that has broccoli rabe and red pepper in it, which of course means Christmas colors, hence Christmas Eve Risotto!

7. Put Christmas cards on the door. We have French doors leading out to the garden, and ever since the first year we have lived here, I've always taped our Christmas cards on it, and it looks extra festive. But I can't do it until we have received the "right" number of cards. How many cards is that? I have no idea. There is just a point when I know it's time to hang them up ...

8. Take a walk through the neighborhood, and enjoy the decorations. Since I am fortunate enough to not usually be running around like a crazy person at the last minute, I love to go out and take a walk, and look at the decorations, both on individual houses, and at the stores. I enjoy the hustle and bustle when I am not required to be buying something!

9. Brush the cats. Because they want to look their best for Santa!

10. Put on my pjs, turn out the lights, and sit with a drink to enjoy the Christmas tree lights with The Tim and the kitties. One of the very best parts of Christmas Eve, and the whole holiday season.

14 December 2007

November Book Report

Yes, I know it's nearly the middle of December, but I have been making an effort to get packages wrapped and sent, so that they will hopefully arrive by Christmas. I have two more to send out, to West Virginia, which will go on Monday, and I'm hoping that will be enough time. But the ones to the other coast are on their way, and I'm feeling quite proud of myself. Which inevitably leads to some kind of downfall ...

Anyway, in November I managed to finish two books, so even though the number was lower than October, both were excellent.

Clara Callan, by Richard Wright. This one was part of my Book Awards Reading Challenge list, and was the winner of both the 2001 Governor General’s Award (Canada), and the 2001 Giller Prize. The book is a journal/series of letters from Clara Callan, who lives in the family home in a small town in Canada, to her sister, who has moved to New York City to become an actress, and a few other people here and there throughout the book. It takes place just prior to World War II, and Wright has really captured the attitudes, language, and spirit of the time.

While Clara is living her relatively average life as a schoolteacher in their home town, her sister has gotten a job in a radio serial, and is living a more "exciting" life in New York. The contrast between the sisters is interesting, and not totally predictable, the more you keep reading. Several times Clara, who starts out seeming like the "safe" sister, needs to rely on her sister and friends in New York to get her out of jams that would have been extremely scandalous in a small Canadian town during the time period. How they deal with one another, the ups and downs of their respective existences, and the way it ends made it a book I didn't want to put down. I would especially recommend it if you are interested in the everyday events of that time period.

As the second-to-last book on my list for the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, took me to Chicago, beginning in 1890. The story revolves around the World's Columbian Exposition, which took place in 1893, and the book begins as Chicago is making their bid for the honor of hosting it, in 1890.

There are two parallel stories in the book. The first, the story of the Exposition, and the men who were involved in its planning, development, and eventual success of it, includes characters such as Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frederick Law Olmstead, and details their personal and professional involvement in the whole event.

The second story, that of H. H. Holmes, a medical man who also owned several businesses and properties at the same time, and developed his own macabre empire, is less familiar but no less interesting. At the same time the city and its more famous citizens were creating a vision of beauty and wonder, Holmes was slowly but surely charming young girls who had come to the city for adventure and employment, only to have them all mysteriously disappear. As the book continues, you become more and more appalled at his plans and behavior, but at the same time, you have to keep reading because it is all so fascinating.

Without going into a lot of detail that could ruin it for those who may want to discover the book on their own, I can say that I enjoyed this book on a number of levels.

In a previous life, I worked in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago, and became familiar with much of the works of Burnham and his contemporaries, besides being surrounded by examples of amazing architecture, just by being in Chicago. (I loved that job!) Chicago is a great place for history, for buildings, and for larger-than-life legends. So I devoured that aspect of the book.

I am also fascinated by urban planning and the choice of any given project at any given time. The background on how Chicago fought to get the Expostion, and the desire to prove that they could do it successfully, was fascinating.

Learning that George Ferris (of Ferris Wheel fame), was a) from Pittsburgh, and b) created the design to "out-Eiffel" the Eiffel Tower, was also news to me.

Holmes was also incredibly fascinating, and his pure unadulterated joy at planning and executing the murders of so many young women, for so long, without any suspicion or serious investigation, was fascinating in the proverbial train wreck kind of way. The fact that he met his demise in Philadelphia was an unexpected point of interest for me as well.

So, two very different books, but two that were excellent reads.

And just in case you aren't paying attention ...

there are only 11 days until Christmas!! Things are shaping up here at Chez Ravell'd Sleave, though I am a little bit disappointed, because a get-together that had originally been scheduled for here tomorrow, got rescheduled someplace else next week. On the one hand, now I have a good part of the day for more baking, wrapping, decorating, etc. On the other hand, I was looking forward to having people see our house decorated for Christmas. Now I will have to lure strangers in from off the street ... sigh, I hate when that happens, don't you??

Of course, it's gonna be hard to top the first activity of the morning - a visit to the dentist! Nothing says Christmas like getting your teeth cleaned, huh?

07 December 2007

Cats' Letters to Santa

Dear Santa,

Hi, it’s Tess. I thought I’d write a note, since it’s Christmas and all, and I’m taking a little break from my kitty jihad and world domination plan (KJWDP).

I have been a good girl this year. Mostly. Many of the bad things were not totally my fault, or even half my fault. Think about it – why, if I’m comfy on my Cozy Cushion, does that Gray Menace have to even LOOK at it as if he wants to try it out??? Really, Santa, that is just asking to be attacked, don’t you think?

Anyway, if you are so inclined, here are things I would like:

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (not the audio book, as my hearing isn’t what it used to be).
At least one weapon of mass destruction.

If you are not comfortable with these requests, please at least bring some tuna and some crunchy treats (soft treats are for wimps).

Love, Tess

P.S. I know where you live.

Dear Santa,

Hello. How are you? How are Mrs. Claus and the reindeer? I think you are so brave to leave your house and travel the world, even if it is just on Christmas. I once ran out the front door of our house, and there was a bus on the next street over! I can’t imagine flying all over the place in a sleigh, and at night.

I have tried to be good this year. I miss my Abigail so much, but she made me promise to take care of our Da after she was gone, and I think I’m doing a good job of it, because my Da has not been trying to kill me as much as in other years. There have been periods as long as an hour where I have sat next to him on the couch, and nothing terrible has happened, can you believe it?! I wish Abigail could come back. She was the best sister, and would sit with me on the bed when I was scared because we had visitors downstairs. But I’m glad she is not sick anymore, because that made me very upset.

I would like to have one toy that Jetsam wasn’t interested in, so that I could play with it and he wouldn’t steal it. I am not sure what that toy would be, but maybe the elves could think of something. It doesn’t have to be big.

I would like a brush for my fur that would keep me from getting mats. We have a Furminator, but sometimes it scares me, and I can’t get brushed for very long. Every year, my Da and Ma make up an anti-mat motto, and I feel bad when it doesn’t work for the whole year. (I think next year’s is “Mats meet their fate, in 2008.”)

I like treats, but Jetsam jumps up and gets the bag, and then tears it apart and eats them all, so for me to get any, it would have to be a flavor that he doesn’t like. So far there doesn’t seem to be one. I like the soft ones, by the way.

I hope you have a good trip around the world this year. I promise to be fast asleep when you get to our house, but if Jetsam is awake, please try to come back later when he is finally asleep.

Merry Christmas, Santa.

Love, Garden Kitty

P.S. Please do not bring anything to our house for The Dog Next Door. It only encourages him to come over. Thank you.



Wow! I am so excited that you will be coming to our house! I love Christmas! I have been helping with decorations and cookies and wrapping paper, and it’s so much fun!

Do you like treats? I love treats! Any flavor, soft or hard! I hope you will bring LOTS of treats for me! Toys are also fun! I love to catch balls, or chase string, or attack catnip mice! Garden Kitty always says we have plenty of toys, but I think that you can never have too many toys, because I like to play with them at different times, and sometimes Garden Kitty has one I like, and he gives it to me! He is a fun brother, and sometimes pretends that he doesn’t want to play, and will growl at me! It’s so funny! So I just jump on top of him and act like I’m fighting back! I especially like it when we can play that game in the middle of the night!

Catnip! Oh how I love catnip! Sometimes when we get some catnip, Garden Kitty pretends he doesn’t want his, so he gives it to me! Then he tries to get it back, but I know he is pretending, so I jump on top of him and act like I’m fighting back! It’s so funny, I know you would laugh at us!

Also, please bring us bigger food bowls! The ones we have are so little, I have to gobble my food, and then go and finish everyone else’s! Tess and Garden Kitty eat so slow, there is always more in their bowls. They act like they are mad, but I know they are just pretending! They are so funny!

Oh, and bigger water bowls too! By the time I splash some of the water out of my bowl, it’s almost all gone! And our Da and Ma won’t leave the faucets on all day for us to have a drink, so I really need a bigger bowl!

That’s all I can think of right now! I’d better run downstairs, because I think I hear the boxes of decorations being opened, and I should really help with that!

Bye Santa! I’ll stay up and wait for you on Christmas Eve! (It’s OK if you want to pretend that you are mad at me, and then still leave presents!)

Love, Jetsam

P.S. I can’t wait to try the cookies we leave out for you!

04 December 2007

02 December 2007

3 Projects, 2 FOs, 1 WIP

... and a partridge in a pear tree!

Not really, just a little Christmastime humor there (yeah, I know, very little). But I hope you are sitting down (and if you are, why not have a little drink?), because I have some knitting to show you. Most amazingly, it's MY knitting!! Three - count 'em, three - projects for your viewing, and my blathering, pleasure.

First up, two FOs (Finished Objects, for those of you who don't speak knitting): the Fetching mitts, and the Dancing Leaf Farm/Sophie bag.

Pattern: Fetching, from Knitty, Summer 2006.
Yarn: Karabella Aurora 8. I used all of one ball, and about 3 yards of another. The color is listed as#2 on the band, and is described elsewhere as "Cabernet."
Needles: US 6
Started: September 2007.
Finished: December 2, 2007

I really like this pattern, though when I make another pair, I will make them just a tad longer, to go up my fingers above the knuckle just a bit more. I finally got another ball of yarn in the mail this past Friday, from Flying Fingers Yarn, after going to Sophie's Yarns on Tuesday, to learn that they had no Karabella at all! I had bought the original ball of yarn there, last December, and I have no idea where the ball band was. But I wanted to finish these, so I wasn't going to be picky about dye lot. Well, I think I may have ended up with the same dye lot, because you can't tell which is which! A nice bonus, no?

Here is my Sophie/Dancing Leaf Farm felted bag, post-felting. I really like the way it turned out, and other than trying to decide how to put a clasp of some type on the top, there was nothing else along the way that was a problem. I think I may give it to someone as a Christmas gift, though right now I have no idea who may get it.

Pattern: A combination of Sophie, from MagKnits, and the Felted Bag kit from Dancing Leaf Farm.
Yarn: The main yarn is Peace Fleece, in a dark teal shade. The accent yarns are Aloha, and Oh La-La, both hand dyed by Dalis at Dancing Leaf Farm.
Needles: US 10 1/2.

Finally, the WIP (translation: work-in-progress), which is my Clapotis (or as The Tim says, my "Chipotle"). It's sad when you are the organizer of a KAL (knit-along), and not only have some people finished, but some are on their second or third Clapotis since the KAL started in September, and this is all you have to show:

But I do like the way it is turning out, and I've actually made significant progress (for me at least) since being able to knit again after my hand surgery. I seem to zip along some days, and then others, I end up ripping out a row for every two or three that I knit. Needless to say, those are the days I put it away sooner rather than later. I like the pattern and the yarn I'm using, and I can't wait to get to the part where you drop some stitches because you are supposed to! (Now that's my kind of project ...)

Other than knitting, I did make a batch of cookies yesterday (oatmeal raisin with toffee bits), and got started (as well as nearly finished) with some of the Christmas shopping. Today we worked on some Christmas preparations around the house, and watched the Eagles game, which was, needless to say, tres disappointing. Trying to make lemons out of lemonade, at least the score was close, and not one of those losses where the score is so lopsided, it would have been better just not to show up at all.

Oh well, the important thing is that it's December 2, which means Christmas is on the way!