Thursday, September 29, 2016

Running Away

If my recent past were a Seinfeld episode, it would go something like this: "My family left one too many messes for me to clean; yadda yadda yadda; I ended up wandering around a Reykjavik municipal building, having mistaken it for a museum. Could happen to anyone. (I thought I was in the National Museum of Iceland. It had a large relief map of Iceland and a small gallery of paintings and after finding no other museum-type stuff, I approached the woman at the information desk and said, "Where should I start?" I was met with a blank stare, so I clarified, "I mean to see the exhibits. Where's the best place to start viewing the exhibits?" She said, "This is Reykjavik City Hall." So that was embarrassing. But also good, because the building sucks as a museum, but as a city hall, it's pretty rad. Too bad I didn't bump into the mayor of Reykjavik, who I've read is something of a sex symbol.)

Reyjavik City Hall

But to backtrack, last spring, life was pretty miserable* and one morning I thought, "Why not run away from all of this and go to Iceland?" Of course it was impossible. I couldn't selfishly take a vacation by myself while my family languished at home, but the idea of Iceland was stuck in my head. And then a miracle happened: our whole family was invited to visit a friend in Germany. It would have been difficult for all six of us to do this, so I volunteered to stay home and take care of the dogs so that Jon and the kids could go. And I would get to go to Iceland, alone.

It turns out that solo travel is a thing for women my age. Middle aged men buy a sports car, middle-aged women grab a backback. And for years, I've thought about doing just this: buying a ticket somewhere and taking off on my own. Why Iceland? I have been really interested in it for a long time. It's geologically fascinating, it's beautiful, and it has a long and interesting history. I requested the time off from work, bought a ticket, arranged accommodations, and the trip was set. I'll write about my adventures there in the next few posts. I'll just say, I was quite nervous about this trip, but none of my fears were realized and it was an amazing getaway from start to finish. (There was a disaster at the end, but I was already back on US soil by the time it happened.)

*It wasn't just about messes. There's a lot of really stressful stuff in my life that I don't blog about.

Monday, September 19, 2016

On the Soapbox About Swag

I'm sure most of you have attended events or conferences which give out little gifts to the attendees. The gifts are usually something that bears the name or logo of whatever institution is hosting the event. I don't intend to be ungrateful, and I appreciate the intention behind the gifts, but I'm unhappy about the harmful effects of these gifts on the environment and on our quality of life.

Jon now has regular speaking engagements and he always comes home with something: tote bags, tee shirts, water bottles, key chains, ID fobs, pens, tiny reading lights, spiral notebooks, coffee mugs, nylon braided bracelets, etc. Kon Mari would tell me to get rid of these, but they're not mine to dispose of. (OK, I have snuck a couple of the tote bags out to the Goodwill but I don't want to face the day when Jon says, "Where is my Aircare 5 nylon braided bracelet? Did you throw it away?") Any major event that my employer hosts - the employee picnic and the like - has some kind of swag. I once went to a conference with over 10,000 attendees at which everyone received a large messenger bag. (I think I heard that this company no longer gives out swag, but I would have to confirm that. I do know that they stopped serving bottled water at their conferences and instead provide small cardboard cartons of water.)

It's so dispiriting to have this constant stream of stuff coming into the house, not to mention the fact that every time I see swag being given out, I think of all the waste and pollution that its manufacture caused. Follow the #conferenceswag or #eventswag hashtags on Instagram and you will find nearly 2,000 posts. And yes, reusable water bottles are environmentally responsible, but not when you own fifteen of them. There is such an excess of stuff in our society. Enough of this insanity.

Jon did a lecture at an event this weekend and the swag was a container of peanuts. The container's label had the university logo, but otherwise it was no different from peanuts that you might buy at the grocery store anyway. How perfect. If you must give out swag, why not have it be something consumable - not necessarily peanuts - rather than plastic that will clutter our houses and landfills? And look into getting boxed water instead of plastic bottles if you MUST have single-use drink containers.

I realize this is a minor issue compared to, say, the disgusting rape culture in the US, our deep-seated racism, or the fact that many thousands of Americans would like to elect a deranged man to the presidency. However, I think it's a real problem that needs to be addressed.

What do you think? Does event swag bug you as much as it does me?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Puerile and Productive

How shall I amuse you today? Would you like to hear how I mistook some firemen for strippers? My office doesn't have its own receptionist and my cube is closest to the door.  At the tail end of Friday afternoon there was a knock on the door and two firemen in full regalia came bursting through and said, "Someone reported something burning?" Well. It was manifestly clear that nothing was burning. And doesn't the fire-in-office scenario start with general panic and someone pulling the fire alarm and THEN the firemen show up? (I'm thinking of the two fire scenes in The Office.) So I assumed they were strippers.

It was a beloved colleague's the last day of work, and it was somewhat (ok, just barely) plausible that someone ordered strippers as a final sendoff. And I was giddy because it was fifteen minutes before I could escape for the weekend. I didn't say anything inappropriate. (And certainly there are a lot of responses that come to mind if a stripper shows up at the door and wants to know where the fire is.) However, my manner may have seemed a tad flippant. A small crowd had gathered by this time. "The fire alarm's not going off," I said, slightly challenging, waiting for the boom box to appear. "That's because NOONE PULLED THE ALARM" one of the firemen shouted. I thought: These strippers don't have much of a sense of humor. I thought: These strippers have very realistic costumes.

So I shut my mouth and did the only thing I could think of that might be helpful: I emailed the entire department with Who Called the Fire Department in the subject line and text about did someone smell something burning. And I got flippant responses: "It's just the Thai food we ate for lunch" etc. So at least I wasn't the only one who mistook the whole thing for a joke. And then it developed that one person did smell something burning and did call the fire department and then other people started to notice a burning smell but that turned out to be the firemen themselves who had come straight from another fire. The original source of the burning smell was never discovered.

To make up for being an idiot on Friday, I worked very hard all weekend. I bought twenty-five pounds of canning tomatoes at the farmer's market and had them all peeled by late afternoon. I took a break from the tomatoes to make homemade pizza for dinner, and then turned some of the tomatoes into salsa, using this delicious recipe. It was after 10:00 pm by the time I finished processing the salsa. I left one jar unprocessed to eat right away and it is really yummy. Sunday, I asked Ian to do a blind taste test of my salsa compared with a high-end commercial salsa and he said mine was better and had a more interesting flavor.

SO tired after peeling all those tomatoes
Total yield from 25 pounds of tomatoes.
They were very juicy, so lost considerable volume once they were drained.

Sunday morning I was up at 5:00 am and this is what I accomplished by 11:00 (before breakfast or coffee):

  • Cooked down and pureed the tomatoes that hadn't gone into the salsa. (Yield - 3 pints for the freezer.)
  • Made piri piri marinade for the chicken I was planning to cook for Sunday dinner and started the chicken marinating.
  • Cooked up a pint of chicken stock from the giblets and wings.
  • Washed all the dishes from the canning projects
  • Read twenty pages of Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her?
  • Washed the kitchen floor
  • Washed the floor around the toilet in the upstairs bathroom
  • Blocked a piece of knitting
  • Did a twenty-five minute HIIT workout
  • Walked and fed the dogs - cut up the cooked chicken giblets as a garnish for them
  • Picked up all the dog poop in the back yard
  • Pulled up a small patch of poison ivy in the yard and other light weeding.
  • Talked to my dad on the phone
  • Swept the front patio
Then I collapsed and drank coffee for a while. In the afternoon I baked this plum tart with marzipan crumble. (Recipe)

This is absolutely shameless bragging; I'll be the first to admit it. I've had a lot of energy lately. A few years ago, I spent a lot of weekends napping and staring at the computer.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Yarn Bombed

Our park has been yarn bombed. It started a few weeks ago, when a cluster of trees on one side of the park were seen to be wearing jaunty knitted tubes. Since then, a few more trees each week have received the same treatment. The identity of the Belmont Park yarn bomber is unknown. Actually, a few of my neighbors have seen the yarn bomber in action, but it isn't anyone I know and I wouldn't want to betray the person's identity.  Indeed, a couple of people assumed it was me, because I'm known to knit and to live near the park. It's not me, I assure you, but I think it's an awesome project.

Are you familiar with yarn bombing? It originated in Houston, Texas but has now spread worldwide. Wikipedia describes it as a form of graffiti. I see it as performance art. If it is graffiti, it's benign, since the yarn does no harm and can easily be removed. It certainly makes a statement and I have been mulling the potential of yarn bombing as a form of civil protest. Imagine the most egregiously ugly civic or commercial eyesore in your community. Wouldn't it be satisfying to cover it with a colorful knitted tea cozy? Imagine Donald Trump muffled by a giant knitted tea cozy. There are some tempting possibilities for this treatment here in Charlottesville.

I wonder if the yarn bomber has enough yarn to do this enormous oak?

What would you yarn bomb if you could? (I'm particularly curious to hear what Charlottesville readers would choose.)