Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Art by M. Sasek, "This Is Paris"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like nonsense ...

... everywhere you go.

There's a snowman on my neighbor's lawn ... not far from her Halloween decorations.

For the record, Penny and Pearl cried and cried and CRIED this morning until I finally let them outside.

I feel like Pearl's face mirrors the face of every person waiting for a Septa bus or train today.

The Fluffs were only out for three minutes and I had to drag them both inside kicking and screaming.  They weren't interested in coming back in. At least my new lounge chair serves some purpose when it's not 90 degrees for weeks on end.  Seriously, did I really buy this thing over Memorial Day weekend?? How long ago was that again? When did the summer happen again?  Did summer really happen? I don't remember.

Oh well.  The cake pops are done, but I'm not sure if I'll ever bother making them again.  It's not that they were hard, but if you want them to look the way they do in the magazine, it requires a TON of effort that I'm not willing to do for something like this.

Yeah, there was quite a bit of trial and error.  Oh well. We managed to salvage most of them.  (Yes, "we": Ron had to swoop in and help because it was a messy process that required three or four hands.  Of course they don't mention that in the directions.)

Like I said yesterday, my back up plan was to coat them in sprinkles if I couldn't bother with the faces. I totally wanted to make the ghost faces, but the coating set up really quickly and would drip everywhere if you let it.  You can see that they're still sitting on the cooling rack with all the drips cemented onto the foil below.  Now, when you try to peel them off the rack, the white chocolate peels off the bottom and stays behind.  When they're sitting on a plate, you won't see this ... until you go to pick one up to eat it.  Oh well.

At least they still taste good.  Basically, you make a box cake and bake it in a 9x13 dish. When it cools, you crumble it into a large bowl and add one cup of frosting (preferably from a can).  You mix it all up until it forms a paste.  Roll the paste into 1 inch balls. You stick the lollipop sticks in them, and then you freeze them for an hour. (I refrigerated mine overnight because there was no room in my freezer, and I was like, "I'll be damned if I'm cleaning out the freezer at 1am on a Friday night. Not happening."  Luckily, we haven't gone food shopping in two weeks, so there was plenty of room in the fridge.)  Then you melt the coating. I didn't want to use those nasty "vanilla chips" you buy at Michaels, so I bought white chocolate chips.  They coated nicely, but the whole "drippy while they dry" thing is annoying because they dry onto whatever surface you place them on.

In the end, they taste like chocolate munchkins from Dunkin Donuts.  (I did chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.)  They're cute, so whatevs.

Meanwhile it is just snowing, snowing, snowing outside.  Really, it's no weirder than (or just as weird as) a 100 degree weekend in the middle of March.  At least little kids don't have to worry about covering up their awesome costumes under winter coats tonight ; )

Oh, the weather outside is frightful ...

... because it's ALLEGEDLY going to snow on HALLOWEEN FREAKIN WEEKEND in PHILADELPHIA.  Seriously, people: I was swimming two months ago.  I was still sweating a month ago.  And now it's snowing.

In October. In. Philadelphia.

If you think global warming and climate change is a joke, you must live under a rock.


Art by Becky Kelly

(Before I go further, a BIG Thank You to my friend Laurie for fixing the photo in my banner! YAY! The title actually looks the way I want it to look!)

I'm making cake pops for the first time tonight.  My friend Amy served something similar at her baby shower a few months ago, and you can buy them at Starbucks too.  Mine will be chocolate on the inside and covered in white chocolate on the outside. The idea is that you're supposed to decorate them to look like ghosts and monsters, etc.  The ghost faces looked easiest to make: Use chocolate chips for the eyes and Raisinettes for the mouth.  You'll see what I mean when I take a picture of them.  I also bought Halloween sprinkles so that if I think, "Oh, whatever" halfway through, then I can just roll them in sprinkles and be done with them.

Want to hear a funny story? My sister called me around 5:30 tonight from the train station: She took Septa all the way home, got back to her car ... and realized that she had lost her car keys somewhere on campus in Philly.  She had already called my mom to pick her up, but then Leslie said, "I don't know--I think I threw the keys away by mistake."

"Threw them away?"
"Yeah, on the train platform this morning. I had a bunch of stuff that I needed to throw out, so I just tossed it all in the trashcan on the platform ... I think I threw away my keys too."
"Wait, the same trashcan on the other side of the tracks you're standing next to?"
"You've seen that trashcan!! I'm not sticking my hands in there!"
"OMG Leslie: go see if your keys are sitting right there on top."
"But, I have five law books in my arms and they're heavy! ... ok fine, here I go."

I hear her trudge across the parking lot, under the tracks, all the way up the stairs to the platform.  And then Leslie goes, "Oh my God. They're sitting right on top.  I HAVE MY KEYS BACK!!! YAAAAY!!!"

Yup, you're not living life until you have to search a Septa trashcan for your car keys with an armload of school books.

(For the record, I left my house/office keys in the bathroom at my school three times in two years.  Luckily, I got them back each time ... Mostly because I called our department admin--from my house, a 20 minute car ride and one hour train ride away--in total panic going, "Sonia: PLEEEEEEAAASE can you go see if I left my keys on the ledge above the bathroom sink? PLLLLEEEEEEAAAASSE?"
[Heavy sigh]: "Yeah, alright."
[Five minutes later]: "I gotcher keys. Don't worry--they're right here."

Those were the days.)

One thing I wish I had time to do this weekend is reread--for maybe ... I don't know ... the fourteenth time?--my favorite, favorite childhood book.  Since I've been in college, I've made it a point to reread this book every October. I haven't gotten around to it yet this year.

The only appropriate time to read this book is October, right before Halloween.  Most of what happens occurs in the fall.  I love, LOVE John Bellairs' writing style.  I first read this when I was in third grade. The cover totally freaked me out, so I brought it home from the library.

All of the illustrations in the book are done by Edward Gorey. (He's not responsible for the cover.) My sister and I LOVE Edward Gorey. I don't know if that's his real name or if he worked under a pseudonym, but his work is completely ... gory. No, not gory: creepy.  (You can easily search for his work on Google.)

I've read most of Bellairs' books, none of which are written for adults.  I've asked myself many times, "Why do I love this book? And why did I love it when I was eight?"  My answer is, "Because I'm complete weirdo."

In the movie You've Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly says to Joe Fox at one point, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." And I could not agree more.  At the same time, I really don't like it when I catch myself adhering to some form of determinism. You know the stuff: "Your fate is/was inescapable"; "It was just meant to be"; "Everything has a cause; everything happens for a reason."

That being said, I think about the general framework for most of Bellairs' books: young tween-age kid is sort of ostracized at school because he/she is too grown up to relate to his/her peers, so each kid finds he/she can only relate to old people.  Additionally, most of the characters--young and old--are weakly Catholic, strongly superstitious, and (no way of getting around it) totally nerdy.  These are people who read lots of books because they feel like it.  People who do research for the fun of it. People who allow themselves to ask dark questions about life because if they don't, they may go crazy.  Sad but true: Even at the age of eight, I knew I was normal in this fictional world.  I knew how to act "normal" in my real life (ie, "Research papers? I HATE them!"; "Tour another museum/church/art gallery? Strangle me now!"), but the truth is that I was dying (DYING!) to spend just one day wandering around one of Bellairs' fictional little towns and living life with the "normal" people in them.

Anyway, sometimes I think about Kathleen Kelly's observation from that movie.  Would I have become the person I am now if I had never read those books?  I don't know.  I like to think that it doesn't actually matter: I've made all the choices I've made because they were real alternatives that I could select.  But, then I'll catch myself saying, doing, or valuing something that weirdly reflects a Bellairs character from long ago.  Sadly/Oddly, I most closely identify with one of Bellairs' senior characters: A crazy history professor who constantly complains about grading his students' term papers. He's grouchy, somewhat irratic, a complete know-it-all, and slightly scattered.  Yet to my eight or nine year old mind, there was something oddly glamorous and completely cool about his life: A teacher who goes by "Professor," teaches adult students, grades important-sounding things called "term papers," knows tons of random facts about stuff like the Crusades (whatever those are), can translate a handful of foreign languages, and enjoys baking chocolate cakes on the weekends? Sign me up--that sounds awesome!  Can I be a grown up like that?

Be careful what you wish for. (Then again, I can't do most of that stuff, except for the cake part and grading the term papers.  So I guess that makes my outcome... worse?)

So what's the truth: Do we really channel the energy of all those childhood books into our adult lives? Or do we house something within ourselves that would've been attracted to the adult lives we've shaped for ourselves regardless of those books? Maybe if I never had seen the Bellairs book on the library shelves all those years ago, I would be a totally different person today?  I don't know.

So anyway, I typically save October for this book, but I have a late start this year.  Then again, it hasn't felt like fall too much this year (not because the weather hasn't turned, but because my head's not in the game of the changing season).  Hell, with 2-4" of snow coming this weekend, I guess we're just skipping to winter?

I'll update soon with the finished cake pops.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The big cabinet reveal

This is a project two years in the making.

Two years ago, I sat in the kitchen and stared at the cabinets while muttering to myself, "Why do the damn things NOT reach the ceiling? What is the point of the big gap between the top of the cabinet and the ceiling? What is the point? Why?? WHY???"  When Ron and I moved into this house in 2006, we assumed we would be here until, oh ... say, 2011, and then we would move on to greener (ie, larger square footage) pastures.

But then 2008 happened, and we quickly realized, "Ohhh, we're moving nowhere fast."  To be honest, this wasn't really a big disappointment.  I love, LOVE this little house and our neighborhood.  But because it's little (at least "little" compared to my childhood home and my friends' childhood homes), I'm constantly challenging myself to make the best use of shelf, closet, and storage space.

That's why it really killed me that the cabinets didn't go to the ceiling.  I didn't expect Ron to do anything about this--I wasn't really committed to spending a ton of money on cabinets.  But then Ron said, "I'll build the cabinets."

"I can build the cabinets."
"With wood and tools. What else would I use?"
"But you've never BUILT cabinets.  Isn't that like me saying, 'Oh don't worry: I'll just sew you a wedding dress'?"
"Don't worry: I'll figure it out."

Two years later, here it is.  And THIS time, I remembered a Before Picture--HA!  These are from March 2008, the weekend of my bridal shower.  We had spent a whole day putting away the new kitchen items we had received. It was completely overwhelming, but so much fun. We set the camera up on a tripod on the kitchen table and took a picture of our efforts.

Minus the spices and condiments, most of the things in the cabinets were not there previous to this particular weekend.  Eighteen months later, as I sat cursing the short upper cabinets, I was really concerned about hypothetical sippy cups: "Holy crap: If we have a baby in this house, where are we gonna put the damn sippy cups?  Because I'm not parting with my china and Ron will not part with his pots and pans.  Those cabinets need to go up to the ceiling."


Aesthetically speaking, I have two favorite things about this. One is the glass cabinet:

I like the idea of being able to see the pretty things that you use everyday.  (Anyone who's seen my bedroom knows that the walls are dripping with costume jewelry.)  What's the point of hiding nice things behind doors?  I don't think it shows up too well here, but Ron picked out speckled glass for the doors because "I know you like stuff that seems ... umm, vintage? Is that the word?"

I also like that I have open shelves next to the sink:

Believe it or not, the kitchen is brighter because a cabinet no longer comes right up to this edge of the window.  The light reaches further toward the stove now.  Plus, as it gets dramatically colder out, I can put my plants on the shelves rather than directly in front of a freezing cold window.  I'm hoping that makes a little bit of a difference with my botanical survival rate this winter.

What still needs finishing is the bottom cabinets.  The only thing that will be replaced on the bottom is the doors.  The actual structure of the cabinets will stay intact.  The goal is to have those finished by Christmas.  The top cabinets have glass knobs now, and the new bottom doors will have glass knobs to match.  (btw, I bought my knobs at Home Goods--so much cheaper than Anthro.  I found mine near the register at HG. I was surprised by the variety that they had.  Pier 1 is reasonable too.)

What's funny is that I feel shorter than ever when I stand at the counter.  I'm 5'2"--I'm totally accustomed to feeling absurdly short. (If you look carefully at these pictures, you can tell that I had to shoot them looking up.  Sometimes that really bothers me, as if my height can be helped or something.)  Now I feel like everything REALLY towers around me.  I'm used to feeling that way when I'm out in the real world, but usually not in my own house.

I guess maybe I should've taken pictures of the insides too?  We had to swap the location of some everyday things, so now I still reach for cereal on the left of the microwave when it's now on the right, and I reach for spices on the right side of the microwave when they're now on the left.

Anyway, my hat's off to Ron.  He taught himself how to do this stuff.  TAUGHT HIMSELF.  Meanwhile, I've had my mom teach me how to do a weaver's knot a million times and finally had to take a video of her doing it to remember how.  Ron watches three episodes of "New Yankee Workshop" and figures out how to build freakin cabinets.  AND, during this whole project, he only mangled his finger on the tablesaw ONCE.  Overall, that's amazing.  Suddenly, my crocheted baby blankets seem extremely unimpressive ; )

Thanks Ron!  I love you!  If you ever want me to crochet something for you, I owe you one.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend inspiration

I'm very aware of the huge pile of bluebooks and papers stuffed in my school bag.  BUT, I successfully managed to procrastinate further on grading them this weekend. (Seriously, that's why we have weekdays.) Instead, I spent a lot time taking in things that have nothing to do with metaphysics essay questions.

I love this glass display at the Anthro near my school.

Pulled over to photograph these trees on my way home from school on Friday.  This used to be somebody's driveway.  Now it just leads to a golf course (because we need more of those).

The fountains are officially turned off at Longwood.  

The idea garden has been ripped out and replanted with spring bulbs.  Except for snow, there won't be anything here until mid-April.

Thousands of white tulip bulbs are sleeping under here ...

I can't decide if these black pumpkins are spooky ... or moldy-looking.

"I'm sorry: but I just don't like those warty things." --Mom

Slug or snake? You decide.  (I vote slug.)

Even the parking lot is pretty.

The drive home.
(I wasn't driving.)

*sigh* I miss you Simon Pearce.  I totally would've hung out at your bar Friday night.  If you still existed.

I've been locking out the Fluffs at night lately because our bed is too small for two adults and two average-sized Fluffs. Last night, I caved.  I guess it was worth it ... for them.

Beautiful afternoon for Terrain.  It's a little schizo there right now because they have a big Christmas display along with all of the gorgeous fall stuff.

I see you momma!
Love this lantern display--I hope they never take it down. (It's not like anyone can afford it, so there's no excuse.)  My mom and I love to play "Guess How Much This Is??!!" at Terrain. It usually goes something like this:

"Guess how much this bar of soap is?"
"ummmm, $8?"
"I give up."
[in unison]

This weekend's winner?  A $248 tote bag made out of a "vintage" (I'm assuming--it was old-looking) grain bag.  Wow.  Well, it WAS made in France so I guess that justifies the price.

(HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!!! A $248 "vintage" grain bag TOTE!! HAHAHAHA! If you can't laugh at that, you must be dead.)

Let's play another round of GHMTI? Guess how much the SMALLEST pumpkin on this table is?

$10? No.

$15? No.

It's $26.50!!!


Ok, in all fairness: My mom and I are obsessed with these things.  I bought her one for her birthday last year (the dusty orange color) and we dried a bunch of jack-be-little stems so that we could make our own this year.  We really need to get around to that before it's Valentine's Day.  If if I had a ton of money, I would buy a whole basket of these and not think twice about it.  BUT as long as I'm an adjunct prof, I will laugh hysterically every time I flip over one of their adorable little price tags ...

My iPhone could NOT focus on the olives to save its little life. Do you see them?
This gorgeous olive topiary with a beautiful twisted trunk gave my mom and me great hope because it actually has olives on it!  We both have olive trees from Terrain (they are really small and mom's looks a lot better than mine), but didn't actually believe that they could ever REALLY grow an ACTUAL olive.  Maybe one day ...

Just like California: warm enough--and yet cool enough--to eat outside.  The fire pit made the air smell like crisp leaves.

A gorgeous weekend. I cannot believe next weekend is Halloween.

I have the big cabinet reveal this week! I just need to clean up the damn kitchen before I take pictures of it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sweet potato biscuits & Laurie's bun in the oven

I'll do the more boring stuff first.

I've never made biscuits before, but I gave them a try for the first time on Saturday night.  Grilling season is nearly over, so while Ron prepped a steak and put some rosemary potatoes in the oven, I got to work on the biscuits.

My inspiration for the biscuits came from here and the recipe itself came from here.  I haven't really worked with breads in general, but it didn't take me long to realize that these would be pretty easy.  The one part that was tricky was smashing the potatoes.  Ron just pushed them through the ricer for me, and I can't help but think I would've struggled with that part on  my own.  I guess if I make these by myself next time I'll just put the potatoes and 1/4 c. of milk in a blender and see what happens.

The recipe suggests using a 2" round cookie cutter or glass to cut the biscuits, but I really wanted hearts so they were double the size. Rather than bake them for 12 minutes, I baked them for 18.

To say that I was happy with them is a big understatement.  They were GOOD.  Really good.  You know why?  Because of all the budd-ah.  I love butter.  They were subtly sweet--not sweet like a pastry.  And the 1/4 tsp. of cayenne adds the nicest hint of I-don't-know-what.

I will def be making these again.

We haven't really cooked anything decent in awhile. Who knows when we'll do something like this again.

Unrelated side note:  If any of you ladies need some ho-ed up Halloween costume, I found one for you.

The unzipped fly is a nice touch.  And you can get this for your man:
"Pittsburgh? That city sucks!"  No, it does NOT. But I don't really follow hockey, so maybe in that respect it does.

And now, the grande finale of the weekend: my first ever pregnancy portrait session with one of my bestest friends, Laurie.

Four years ago, Laurie asked me to do her engagement photos for her and her fiance, Nick.  We picked Sunday, June 17, 2007 to do the photos ... which coincidentally became the day that Ron proposed to me.  I met up with Laurie and Nick literally four hours after the proposal--I had only told my parents about the engagement.  I barely opened the front door after hearing the bell, and Laurie gasps and goes, "OH MY GOD. What are you wearing on your hand??"  It was just a funny, weird, happy day as I snapped over 300 (God help us) pictures of Laurie and Nick two months before their wedding and a year before my own.

So Laurie's big joke yesterday was, "Hey, if you got engaged the same day as our engagement photos, does that make you nervous about doing my pregnancy photos? "  HAHAHA!!

Laurie said, "I don't care if everyone online thinks this photo is a cliche. I want to do it!"  I think it's cute.

We took all of the photos at her parents' house.  They have a gorgeous sun-room on the back of their house, and the late afternoon lighting was just perfect inside and out.  Of course, I forgot my tripod (it was just dim enough to need one), but thankfully Laurie's brother was there and knew where he could find his dad's.

Luckily, I know these guys well enough that we can all relax after a few minutes of picture-taking.  Nick's a good sport.  When I'm not giving him orders, Laurie is--he just does whatever we ask him to do.  This time, we "only" took 80-something photos which I managed to cut down to 67 once I could go through them on the computer.

At one point, I accidentally set up the shot with the unintended effect of giving Nick a huge green 'fro.  (See the Boston fern in the background?) Yeah, I ended up not using most of those.  Oops.

Laurie mentioned that she's hoping to use one of yesterday's shots for her Christmas card.  "But the baby is probably coming around December 20th.  Aren't you going to use a baby shot?"  But Laurie pointed out that it would be unwise (or downright crazy) to put together Christmas cards after the baby is here while Christmas is going on.  When she mails her cards out in seven weeks, she'll still be pregnant.  In fact, she is convinced that she is going to be one or two weeks late.  Maybe her baby will be a 2012 baby?

I brought my Fuji Instax with me so that they could take home a consolation prize.  All of the good photos were coming home with me. I edited through their pictures pretty quickly this morning, so Laurie can go through all of them later this week.  But in the meantime, they have one shot ready to go.

Thank you so much for letting me do your pictures, Laurie!  Has it really been four and half years since your engagement pictures??  Remember when we sat on the gym bleachers in our big, ugly, red gym shirts, cramming for our English vocab tests in between speculations of what we would be like when we had our first babies?  It took thirteen years, but one of us is there!  I cannot wait to meet your little girl ; )

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall leaves and a surprise

Before lunch today, I came home from running errands and noticed that the trees in my neighborhood had finally started turning.  It was warm and sunny out, so I pulled in front of my house and went inside and grabbed my camera ... and when I reemerged 2.5 minutes later, things outside had changed.  A lot. Basically, it was storming.

But, I still got my pix!

(This is the part where you say, "Yaaaay!" for me.)

I wouldn't say our neighborhood has "peaked" yet, but we're getting there.  I'm pretty sure that most (if not all) of these trees are maples.  Every year, they are the most gorgeous combination of bright red, orange, and green.  It's like candy ... or a combination of paint cards at the Home Depot ... or a stack of cashmere cardigans in the JCrew catalogue.  Or a bin of clearance-price yarn at Michael's.

I grabbed a few pictures right before it started to pour rain and then drove into West Chester to meet up with mom, Leslie, and our friend Eileen for lunch.  If you haven't tried Limoncello's lunch buffet, people, then you haven't lived.  Because it is lovely.  Of course, walking through the pouring rain (and hail, depending on where you were) and then slogging through the sidewalk that has become a river is not as lovely.  But, it's worth it for Limoncello.

But, the best part of today happened around dinnertime.  After sitting for an hour or two and watching trashy reality TV, Ron and I heard the doorbell.  Neighbor Sean (who is married to Mandy, who you would remember from this post) stood there with some pretty big news: The baby is here--five weeks early!

Of course, what did I do? I screamed and jumped up and down.  Ron, the real grown up in these situations asked, "How are you?  Do you need anything? Do you need to assemble baby furniture?"  I continued shrieking, "I don't believe it! I don't believe it!"

So now I'm over the top excited with almost nothing to do.  Ron is assembling a pinhole camera that I bought at Home Goods today ($6 ... although after reading the manual, I think it's one time use? I don't know. I hope not).  I think I may make myself start a new crochet project.  Of course, I have a HUGE PILE OF STUFF in the middle of my hallway that needs to be wrapped up and boxed for Good Will.  Let's see how long I can procrastinate on that.  Don't hold your breath.  I can put off stuff like that for years.  (When I cleaned out my desk drawer back in February, I found my 12th grade SAT scores.  Not proud of that ... not proud that I accidentally kept them for TEN YEARS and still not proud of my score, which took me five years to forget.)

Congratulations Mandy and Sean!  Stop by and say hi when you're ready!