Saturday, December 31, 2011

The very last day of the year

Today was a quiet sort of last day of the year.  In the morning I worked on finishing weaving the scarf while Bruce fixed breakfast.  The meal starred the crab cakes that Liz and Kiichi brought us.  When Bruce called me from my loom, this was waiting:
I love having a husband who enjoys cooking

The three dogs and I trucked up Gopher Ridge just after the sun went down and the moon came up.  The sky was soft and opalescent and it was very quiet.  It felt like I was walking through a watercolor.
Back at home, Max was waiting for me in the garage.  He's settling in more and more and now he has his own wicker basket to sleep in.  He's a happy boy.

All best wishes to everyone for a great 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Hobbit Hole

Our neighbors with the llamas are only up here sporadically -- they live and work in the Bay area, so most of the time the house and property are alone and unloved.  They come up here on holidays to party, target practice, and  ride noisy four-wheelers  -- I have my not-so-charitable views on this.  However, I must admit that Bob has cut some cool trails that twist through the hills and trees of their 20 acres, and we have permission to ride or walk over there any time we want to.  This has become my trail of choice when out walking because the views constantly change with every step --there is the illusion of walking somewhere way out in the woods instead of merely  in the lot next to our house.  It satisfyingly feels like I'm really going somewhere (even though, in reality,  it's just in very convoluted circles). The  path takes so many serpentine turns that it takes 35 minutes of brisk walking to do a complete circuit.  I'm thinking that this is about a mile  (I just ordered a pedometer so I can find out for sure -- I'd hate to think it took me 35 minutes to walk less than a mile). 

Just as you walk in through the gap in the fence from our property to theirs is this strange little structure dug right into the hillside.

 I'm not sure how old it is or what it was used for.  All of this land used to be part of a large ranch, so most likely it was built to store canned goods or cure meat.

 But to me it is mysterious and intriguing and I refer to it as The Hobbit Hole. 

From inside, the view is of our lower pasture.  I'm so jealous that "my" hobbit hole is on the neighbor's property.   So unfair.

I ask you, would they really notice if I shifted the fence line 300 yards over to their side??? 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tartes and Cats

Today I did absolutely no weaving at all.  Instead, I (with Bruce and daughter Liz's help) made a quince tarte tatin.  The quince were picked from our own trees.  The fruit, heaped in a lard bucket, has been perfuming the air in the garage since October --  it was time to do something with it.  Liz and her boyfriend Kiichi came for dinner (and brought crab cakes made from crab that they just caught.  They didn't want us to eat them tonight -- we'll fry them up tomorrow.  For breakfast!).

Anyway, for desert we followed a Martha Stewart recipe for the French upside-down pie known as tarte tatin.  I'd never made one before but have encountered them in just about every French travel/cookbook I've ever read.  Come to think of it, I'd never eaten one before either.  I'd bought the correct French tarte pan to make it in, but in the end chose to put it in a simple cast iron crepe pan.  This made a smaller tarte, which is what I wanted.  I'll admit right now that my pie crust came from a package from the freezer section of the grocery store.  I;m willing to bet that Martha Stewart made her own, but I'm also pretty sure that she had someone else to clean up her kitchen afterwards. 

When the tarte came out of the oven and had been flipped onto a plate, it didn't look exactly perfect, but close enough (for me, at any rate.  I'm not sure about Martha).  And the fragrant sweet/tart quince flavor was divine!

While we ate, Arby (doing his best to ingratiate himself with both Kiichi and Liz) sat between them -- rear end on Liz's chair and front end planted on Kiichi's thigh.  I'm not sure what was going on in his little head, but he looked pleased at his stunning success at being such an excellent bridge.

Meanwhile, out in the garage, there's Max, who appears to be our new cat.  We've seen him hanging around at the bottom of the drive for over a month now.  He was shy and ran away if we approached him.  He chose Christmas Eve to move into the garage where he made himself at home on some Christmas stockings piled on the freezer.  His timing was perfect -- our own little furry Frogpond Christmas gift.  Bruce brought him a dish of food and Max said thank you by winding happily around his legs and purring like mad.  To our immense relief, the guy's already neutered and isn't feral, so he should fit in with our feline crew.  I think that Max (the name may change) will be staying.

 Tonight Bruce brought him out some canned food plus a bowl of milk to which I'd added a little cream. 

I think he liked it.

Weaving Progress

Early morning view from my loom: Mulligan in the window

I started unweaving the scarf yesterday to see if I could figure out why the sizes of the rectangles were different, but stopped after a few rows -- the yarn was showing wear from all the manipulation.  Besides, in the morning light I was absolutely certain that I hadn't made a counting or treadling error.  I decided to leave well enough alone and keep going forward.  I'm glad I did; I got in the rhythm of the pattern and the weaving went much more quickly and easily. 

By mid-afternoon I'd made it to the warm hues in the color sequence.  I'm enjoying the color changes, even though this means a lot of beginning and endings with the yarn.  That first funky stripe of green is now rolled up and hidden away until the end of the project when the entire scarf is cut from the loom.  I already know that it won't look quite right, but that's OK.  In my mind I'm already planning color variations for the next projects  using this pattern -- I'll have plenty of opportunity to get it right.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Weaving Woes

A pretty winter sunrise

This morning I woke up early, fed the cats, got my coffee and went to work on my scarf project.  For this one, I'm using eight harnesses instead of the usual four and a twill weave that requires keeping accurate count of all 240 threads at one time.  Counting out threads is sort of like playing Sudoku, where you keep repeating the same numbers over and over to yourself.   When my mind wanders (and, believe me, it does), I have to backtrack to a starting point and begin again.  Weaving is not for impatient people.

Last night, I'd gotten this far before I got sleepy, began making mistakes and went to bed. 

It took me all day to get the warp properly threaded and tied on, the harnesses and treadles tied up and the the weaving started.  Then I discovered some twisted threads and had to take out my first few rows and retie.  I wove again and, this time found that I'd tied three of the harnesses up incorrectly.  Unweave again, fix the harnesses and try again.  This time everything looked good other than it turns out that the twill draft I'm using is for a different type of loom than mine -- no big deal except that the pattern is coming out on the bottom side of the fabric.  In order to see it, I have to crawl underneath the loom and look up.  It isn't the most convenient way to weave, but, hey, it's keeping me limber.
I'm now two color blocks along in my weaving.  More bad news -- the second colored rectangle is definitely smaller than the first.  I've counted and recounted the threads and I come up with 16 for both rectangles -- how can one be 1/8" larger than the other?  More counting, recounting, studying the rectangles, checking the yarns.  I simply can't figure it out.  I had enough of counting threads -- at least for today.  I'll look at again tomorrow and will figure it out in the light of day.  I'll also have the patience to unweave yet again what I've already woven twice. 

I stopped for the day and took a brisk walk with Bruce and the dogs. 

At last: A three-egg day

When we got home again, the hens had a surprise for us:  

Perhaps not the most productive day I've ever had, but I got to spend it doing exactly what I wanted. That'll do!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

We had a quiet sort of day.  Bruce has come down with a cold -- no doubt helped into being by his chilly Christmas Eve visits to the well.  He spent a good part of the day on the bed while I began my next weaving project.  The loom is set up in the bedroom and most of the time I wish I had a separate weaving studio.  But today I was happy to have the company of a bear (even a sick one).

My new project is the most challenging (and expensive) one I've attempted in a long time.  It's for yet another scarf, but this one will be woven from a silk/wool blend yarn that's incredibly soft and lustrous.  The jewel colors on the cones will be woven into rectangle shapes framed by black.  This pattern uses all 8 harnesses of my loom and is a rather complicated twill.  I'm double-checking all my numbers and threading the loom very carefully.  It's one thing to make a mistake with a cheap yarn like rayon, but quite another to wreck up fiber from cones that are almost $15 each. 

We have a neighbor, Faye, who is elderly, small and feisty.  She has a poodle named Muffin, who is also elderly, small and feisty.  Yesterday Faye stopped by for a glass of wine and a visit before going down the hill for dinner with friends (Muffin didn't come -- the cats were grateful).  I don't see Faye often, but I always enjoy our get-togethers.  We made quite the pair as we sat on the sofa together:  Faye all decked out in gold and bling and wearing tiny sparkly high heels.  Me in my comfy gray stretch pants and sheepskin slippers. 

We'd sent her one of our Cornelius Christmas cards and she told me something that had me laughing.  She confessed that she's taken to feeding Corny carrots.  She now buys them in five pound bags and sounded a bit bemused as she told me that Corny now comes running whenever he sees her.  I should think so!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Frogpond Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve started out relaxed, with everything in place for dinner at the house with Mama, Ian, Becky and Alan.  The house clean, presents wrapped, decorations up -- all, amazingly and most atypically, done.  In mid-afternoon, Bruce and I, with nothing left to do, drove up to Angels Camp to pick up a few last items at the grocery store.  We lingered and enjoyed ourselves because, of course, we had plenty of time. 

However, when we got home, the day decidedly changed tone.  There was a message on our machine from a neighbor telling us that she had been walking her dog on the road and saw a fountain of water spouting from the pipe that leads from our well to the water tank.  This is bad news to hear at any time, but is infinitely worse towards sundown on a Saturday.  And the bad news factor is exponentially compounded if this sundown on a Saturday also happens to fall on Christmas Eve.  The people who service our well were out on two other repair calls when Bruce called them (wells have a perverse 6th sense about these things and tend to break down on the holidays).  They couldn't come.  As we walked back up to the house, I was considering the option of perhaps putting off the festivities until the following day when, hopefully, the pipe would be repaired. 

Even as I was thinking about calling our dinner off, Bruce was pondering the situation and decided that he could probably fix the pipe himself.  This was provided he could find a hardware store still open and that they carried the pipe sizes he needed.  Lots of "ifs" there.  Just as we reached house, the phone rang and it was Mama telling me that she and Ian were about to leave for our house.  The plan had been for her to come up and prepare the meat for the rouladen here.  Without water, things were decidedly looking more problematic for preparing a Christmas feast, not to mention having four guests (two of whom were spending the night) in a house where it wasn't possible to flush the toilet.  I suggested that perhaps it might be more prudent to postpone our dinner until Christmas Day.  But Mama, bless her heart, was adamant that a lack of water shouldn't spoil our Christmas Eve.  So I took a breath and said to come on up. 

All the hardware stores in Copperopolis were already closed, so Bruce immediately drove down to Manteca, about 45 minutes away, to get the pipe parts that he needed. 

The Spirits and Spices for Glogg

 This year I'd heard a lovely interview on Public Radio with a woman from the Danish consulate.  She described a drink of hot mulled wine called Glogg.  I was intrigued with a  recipe that's supposed to make the house smell like Christmas, with its spices of clove, cardamom, orange peel, ginger and cinnamon.  It also contains one cup of Aquavit,two cups of burgundy and two cups of port.  Good times!  I decided that I would have Glogg steaming in the pot by the time Bruce got home.  I got to work putting together one of the most fun recipes I've ever followed (and it didn't require any water to prepare).


The Danish woman on the radio spoke the truth: the house absolutely smelled like Christmas by the time I was finished.  Naturally, I sampled it to see if it was up to par. 
It was.

Bruce got home after dark and I was able to hand him a glass of the hot brew before he got to work.    I love the Danes! 

Bruce gluing together pipe joints on Christmas Eve

And then my stalwart husband glued together the pipes and, fortified by Glogg, he and Alan set off down the hill to repair the damage.  I stayed up in the kitchen with Mama.  She settled herself on a stool and rolled the rouladen while I busied myself with doing all the other things that needed doing.  Cooking without water in the kitchen is a challenge!  Mama made it work, though. 

Mama preparing rouladen without water on Christmas Eve

 In the end, Bruce the Hero fixed the pipe and water was restored.  He did cut the palm of his hand rather badly on the severed pipe.  On the upside, this injury sidelines himself from any holiday dish washing duty (and only fair for the guy who got the water going again so that dishes could be washed).  A bit of silver lining there!

The dinner was excellent.  Everyone had a good time.  The Glogg flowed.  Presents were opened with enthusiasm. 

And, for once,  it actually was a treat to be able to wash the dishes afterwards. 

Christmas came to Frogpond -- and it was good!

The Austrian Angels




Running water: the best gift of all

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cleaning Day

Today Rosario and Agada came and worked their magic -- the house glows with cleanliness.  Rosario laughed when she saw the naked tree.  She told me that it took her three days to decorate her own -- I told her that mine was going to be decorated before they left.  They set to work cleaning and I commenced decorating.  They always start with with the master bath and bedroom and slowly work their way to the living room and kitchen.  When they finally made it to the hall and I was still stringing lights, I began to get worried.  When they reached the living room, I was in the midst of putting on countless straw decorations.  As they worked ever closer, I asked if I was in their way.  Rosario, glancing at the litter of fallen needles around the tree, told me that it would make sense for me to finish the tree before they cleaned in that area.  So I gritted my teeth and kept at it.  And at it. And at it.  By the time they were finished with the kitchen, I finally was finished with the tree.  Then they swept in and cleared out the litter on the floor and mopped around the tree. 

Have I mentioned how incredibly grateful I am to have these good ladies help me take care of the house????  They chatter in Spanish and laugh as they work and fill the house with good feelings.  And, as usual, they brought lunch for us -- homemade burritos, made that morning and still warm.  Blessing, on blessing, on blessing.  I gave them plates of our Christmas cookies and hugs as they left and hope that they know how appreciative I am that they come and make the house beautiful.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


The morning began with Bruce getting caught in a mousetrap.

 He's had two set on the kitchen counter way in the back for several weeks now.  I don't like to see them in plain view like that, but Bruce has this theory that mice run along walls and that by placing the traps there the mice will step into them without having to use any bait.  The traps have been sitting around gathering dust since he set them --  the mice either packed their bags and left or else  haven't heard of Bruce's theory .

We'd decided to do our Christmas baking this morning,but the first thing I wanted to do was clean up the kitchen a bit before we started.  I told Bruce that those traps had to go.  Naturally, he immediately sprang to do what he was told;  then there was a sharp "snap!" and  Bruce dancing around the kitchen swearing up a blue streak. 
I was rather surprised and asked, "Why did you put your finger in the trap?" 

 "I didn't do it on purpose!" he yelled, continuing to hop around and cuss.

My next question was going to be how he managed to catch his finger in a trap that he knew was set -- but decided to let it go:  there were cookies to bake and I didn't want to do it by myself. 
Besides, I knew that I could blog about it later.  :)  


Even the fake plastic cheese is having a laugh

Here's the Bear trap:

Bruce, trooper that he is, soon pulled himself together and we spent the morning cooking up Christmas  goodies.  

Spice Cookies (for Mama!)

Thumbprint Cookies

Glazed Almonds

Tomorrow Rosario and Agada come for the monthly house cleaning marathon.  As always, I'm immensely grateful to have these two women walk through the door to spend the entire day methodically cleaning every room.  Christmas does present its special challenges though:  I've got boxes of ornaments all over the living room, an undecorated tree up by the double doors and wrapping paper and unwrapped presents stacked in my office.  The house is in dire need of cleaning, but it's not readily apparent because every surface is covered with Christmas clutter.  Plan A had been  to have the house completely decorated, gifts wrapped and everything in order before they arrived to clean tomorrow.  Obviously this was overly optimistic.  And so,Plan B will be taking effect instead: I will put on my Grinch hat and haul everything Christmas (except the tree) out to the garage before they show up tomorrow morning. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Weaving and a Christmas Kiss

Today went by quickly.  By the end of the day, I'd woven 35 inches of  a scarf project on my loom, cleared away all of the dry weeds from the front of the drive and hung a Christmas wreath by the gate.  The weaving took three hours, and clearing the dead brush took several more.  Hanging the wreath only took about 2 minutes, but since this job was also on the list, I get to mention it too.  Not on the list was the game of cribbage with Bruce, the nap, working on the NY Times crossword puzzle, and watching two episodes of Anthony Trollope's "Barchester Towers."  I don't mind allowing myself to stray from the list -- it was a relaxing day.

Here is completed scarf #1.  Wrestling the warp onto the loom was frustrating and very slow.  The variegated purple and turquoise stripes are chenille and that stuff is the devil to work with -- clinging to everything and twisting and knotting like crazy.  I couldn't get it to wind on with an even tension and had to completely unwind it and start over.  When I finally got it all tied on and began actually weaving, one of the chenille threads broke and I had to splice in a repair thread.  But once I got all of these problems  settled, the rest went uneventfully.  This is a long warp, so I have a second scarf to weave before I can cut them both off and finish them.  I plan on giving them as Christmas presents, so completing them is the first thing on tomorrow's list.  We'll see how it goes.

No pictures of clearing the brush, but here is Zelda giving me a kiss after I'd hung up the wreath. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cards are in the mail -- Woot!

The morning started slowly and normally enough.  Both cats on my side of the bed and my feet with nowhere to go.  Lay there in the dark for awhile, thinking about the Christmas cards waiting to be made and mustering the strength to extricate myself from the feline weights on my legs.  This was eventually done.  No cat woke up in the process.

And then I made my cup of coffee and got to work on those cards.  We've made our own for most of the past 6 years or so -- perhaps it's because we don't get out much, but both Bruce and myself enjoy our yearly ritual of decorating the horse as the focal point of these works of art.  Cornelius has become used to wearing hats, bells, bows and all other sorts of Christmas frou-frou-iness.  This year he got off easy:  all he had on was a table runner tied around his neck at a jaunty angle.  Even more to his liking --  this year the props included edible items, which he made every effort to eat.  Somehow Bruce got a several good shots and (through judicious enlarging and cropping) we ended up with a few pics we could use. 

The photo shoot was on Saturday.  We picked up the photos in town on Sunday and bought some colored pens with which to decorate the cards.  And today we got all the cards finished and off in the mail.  I thought that this project would be stretched out over the next few days, and, in darker moments, wondered if we'd even get it done this year.  This morning the plan was just to start and see what happened.
Everything of importance to the task spread out on the table: cards, lists, poinsettia, candle and cat on pillow.  Got the envelopes addressed, and began embellishing the margins of the cards with red, green and silver Sharpie pens.  Time consuming, but sort of fun.  Mama had spent the night, so when she came out for her morning coffee I handed her a pen and nudged a few cards her way.  We got down to coloring in earnest and  became a Christmas card  assembly line as we filled in the embossed areas of the cards.

Arby taking a bit of a break to smile for the camera

Mama taking a bit of a break to smile for the camera

Mama back to work.  Arby back asleep.

We had such a good time.  I played my winter Sting CD that has "The Cold Song" on it and both Bruce and Mama indulged me.  I love this strange, ghostly song (we refer to it as "The saddest song in the world") and, perverse as I am, it absolutely puts me into the holiday spirit.  Bruce cooked up some eggs and toast for us as we worked away, laughing and talking and having a lovely time.  I don't think I've colored with Mama since I was about six.  I shouldn't have waited so long!

Cornelius, the Christmas Horse

Eventually Mama had to go home.  Bruce and I finished up not long after that and the whole lot got stamped and dropped off at the post office.  Most of them will arrive late for Christmas, but, with Corny's big mug beaming from the front, I think we'll be forgiven.