When I started the "Home Sweet Home" section of this site my intent was to chronicle the process of fixing up what was formerly known as The Fortress of Solitude. What actually happened was, well, nothing, and this section of the site hasn't been updated in years. Since then, I've gotten married and moved to a new home, which also needs "fixing up" (it was built in 1896). That's all for now...
Pictures of the tree and other decorations here soon, but I wanted to put up pictures of one of my favorite Christmas traditions: the best biscotti I've ever tasted.
Lenny's homemade pistachio and cranberry biscotti. Fabulous.
Linger over coffee with one... or two!
My Birthday, 2004
Featuring some pictures taken by my niece, Susan.
Our first Halloween in the new house called for festive, welcoming jack o' lanterns.
Drawing the design.
Performing the seedectomy.
Performing the incision. One down, one to go.
The finished jack o' lanterns with candles installed.
Ready for Trick-or-Treaters!
Posts in “Home Sweet Home”
Talk about timing. We happened upon the massacre pictured below moments before police arrived. I can’t imagine what horrible weapons could cause such wholesale destruction or the reason for such a senseless loss of “life.” So much for peace on earth and good will toward men.
Right after I took this next picture, the police arrived and one objected to me taking pictures of the crime scene. So I did what any citizen journalist would do—I called him a name and then punched him in the face.
We had a wonderful Christmas this year with visits to family and friends that started four days ago on Saturday. Each Christmas seems to tilt the balance more towards the social and spiritual and away from the commercial, and this year I felt like we struck a good balance. We went to church on Christmas eve and that short service was the highlight of the season. I admit that the handbell choir and the standing-room-only crowd helped make the service special. Presents were mostly modest this year, although I splurged and got my brother a GPS.
Today we shared brunch and dinner with dear friends. As much as we enjoy cooking and hosting, it was nice to enjoy a day off without any culinary pressure. And besides, food just tastes better when someone else makes it! Here’s a shot from tonight’s dinner; it’s the schedule our friend Scott (who is an amazing cook) made for the day. I had always heard that it was a good idea to make such a schedule, and next time we host I will definitely be using one. When we hosted Thanksgiving, I was over confident and almost missed some important steps. A schedule would have made for a much less stressful day.
By the end of the evening, the schedule had suffered stains from virtually all the food and beverages.
I hope that your holiday was everything you could wish it to be. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Speaking of WHYY, one of their regular sponsors is Sit4Less.com, where you can get such paragons of modernity as the ergonomic and stylish Aeron chair, now available in “True Black” (I’m tellin’ ya, black is the new black). And you can get it, that’s right, for less! Not for cheap, mind you, just for less. Aerons and their ilk aren’t cheap. Fortunately, I am not in lust with the unaffordable Aeron, as my philosophy has changed somewhat over the years. I did own a less-worthy but still nice sculpted chair for years and was satisfied until I gradually realized that the secret of comfort was not being locked into one perfect posture, but rather having the freedom to change positions. One of the most comfortable office chairs I have ever used was a plain affair with a mostly flat seat and back. This design made it easy for me to sit on one leg (which I do until it falls asleep and I have to switch to the other leg).
We’ve been lucky to acquire a couple of nice, plain chairs recently, saved from the trash by friends who didn’t need them (hence sit4nothing.com).
Neither of these chairs is “ergonomic” in the way the Aeron is, but both are surprisingly comfortable. Both feature solid oak construction, classic retro design, and authentic “distressed” patina. The one on the left is my current office chair. All I need now is a matching oak desk and a battered Underwood and I’ll be a real writer.
Second Bee Hive
Anne started keeping bees last year, and in short order she harvested almost two gallons of honey. Her bees not only made it though the winter, but this year she is adding another hive. Saturday we went to pick up the new bees.
In the morning we attended a hive-loading demonstration. Here Jim shows how to “pour” bees into the new hive.
Later in the day, Anne pours her own bees into the new hive. The original hive is on the left.
It’s not quite as simple as it looks, but all went smoothly. Yesterday was the first warm, sunny day, and the new hive was already buzzing with activity.
The Christmas Post
Probably should try to get a Christmas post up while it’s still Christmas... I hope you had a great holiday; here are a few random notes and pictures from ours.
It didn’t look like we were going to be able to have a traditional celebration with the entire family under one roof at the same time, but things kind of fell into place at the last second by the expedient of moving Christmas up two days to Saturday. We hosted dinner at our place for 9 people and built the menu around a spiral-cut ham from Niman Ranch. To help cast a warm glow over the proceedings, Anne’s sister brought along the “Happy Holiday Hearth” DVD, which features video of a crackling fire as well as classic Christmas music. You could almost feel the heat coming from the iMac.
A week earlier, I helped decorate our Fraser fir and gave a prominent position to my newest ornament from Flax Art Design, a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. (I already have the Leica R8 ornament.) Collecting classic cameras has never been cheaper!
I had to work a cat picture in here somewhere, of course. Here’s Julius in mid-yawn. Isn’t he kyoot?
Christmas eve and Christmas day were spent visiting friends. Here’s the dinner table from tonight’s party while everyone was still in the next room cheering the Eagles on to victory over Dallas. Even though they had an early lead, I doubted they could win. They’ll just never be the same team without Iverson.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
First Honey Harvest
Anne reaped the sweet rewards of her beehive yesterday with her first honey harvest, extracting about two gallons. Her hive is more about supporting a bee colony for its pollinating benefits in the garden than in honey production, but the bees are workaholics and make way more honey than they need. For more details, read her post all about it.
OK, everybody, tall jars in the back. Everybody squeeze in close. Good. Now say “bees!”
When Houseplants Attack...
...they’re vewy vewy kwiet. (You were expecting maybe explosions?) Consequently it can be weeks before you realize they’ve breached your defenses. Here are two terrifying tales from the front lines. The assailant in both cases is epipremnum pinnatum, commonly known to law-abiding citizens as pothos, but in underworld circles as the “marble-leaf ninja.” Swift, silent, and deadly. OK, maybe not swift.
This pothos obviously resented the solitary confinement of the mantle. In a daring attempt at escape, it has sent out an exploratory runner, attached itself to the wall, and starting climbing.
On the right, you can better see how firmly the plant has attached itself. It won’t be long before it will be able to make its escape. You can almost hear it boast, “There ain’t a pot built that can hold me!”
A friend sent me a link to the picture below. It’s an iMac under attack at the University of Minnesota by another pothos. This pothos realized it was hopeless to escape, so it sought revenge by sabotaging the nearby computer. Note the tendrils inside the Mac intent on wreaking destruction. If you have any of these diabolical plants, I urge you to be eternally vigilant. Don’t let this happen to you!
Cutting the Grass
Sounds like what traffickers do when they get a new shipment, but no, I was just mowing the lawn for the first time this season. Exciting and glamorous, no? Well, yes, simply because it was such a beautiful day to be outside. Our cranky old hand-me-down gas-powered mower finally died, so I used the Brill Luxus 38, a nice little push mower. Took all of about 10 minutes.
Being outside under the trees reminded me that I forgot to post about the last tree planting. I did write about our outing to help plant trees for UC Green, but this time it was a local neighborhood effort. I took pictures, of course, and actually helped dig a hole. That was two weeks ago and I still haven’t recovered from the exertion. After a long winter of inactivity, I’m a pasty blob of untoned flesh. Actually I’m that way all summer, too.
Unlike the UC Green trees which were balled-and-burlapped, weighed 300 pounds, and cost $200 each, these were bare root and cost a tenth of that. They were much easier to handle, of course, but because they were bare root, they had to be planted (“heeled in”) in loose soil as soon as they arrived. On the day people came to pick up their tree, each tree was dug up and the roots were dipped in hydrogel to keep them moist.
The roots were dipped in hydrogel, then wrapped in a plastic bag for the short trip to the tree's new home.
This Burley trailer was probably the most practical method anyone used to take their tree home.
Two generations of trees living side by side.
Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night
There’s a bird in a tree across the street singing like he’s on American Idol or something. Just surprising to hear a bird this early in the year this late at night. It’s a quiet night, and he has no competition. Quite a variety of songs, too; he knows all the hits. I’m 99% sure this is just one (talented) bird. Anybody recognize his song(s)? (bird song mp3, 1:51, 1.7MB)
This Just In: Snow
Better late than never, but let the record show that it snowed over the weekend. While this winter has been warm and relatively snow-free, we got an entire winter's snowfall in one day, about 18 inches.
It couldn't have happened at a better time, although I was too busy working on cutting over to Movable Type to take more than a handful of pictures. Thanks to our neighbor, who for some reason owns a large snowblower and actually seems to enjoy clearing the whole neighborhood, it only took a little over an hour of shoveling to free the cars for Monday's commute. Our street leads to the boro's parking lot, so it is one of the first to be cleared. Fortunately, we had nowhere to go.
Dress Your Cats for Christmas and Other Tales
Well, here it is Christmas Eve and our Christmas is basically over already. Yesterday we headed to the in-laws’ for a very festive dinner with Anne’s parents and her sister and husband. After dinner we all got to open our presents two days early. That was fun. Tonight we went to church and when we got home, I had an overpowering urge to mull something. I stifled the impulse, and instead we tucked into a nice dinner of leftovers.
So you’re probably wondering if we dressed our cats for Christmas. Well, we didn’t (why risk life-threatening injuries?), but I see that Mrs. Harridan has successfully dressed two of her cats in holiday splendor here and here. Those reindeer antlers look like they stayed on all of maybe 1/125 second. Still, very cute.
While our cats may not be dressed for Christmas, we’ve been decorating the rest of the house. Two weeks ago we purchased our Christmas tree, a Fraser fir, and decorated it, although not without incident. A cat (or cats) chewed clear through the wires of one of the light strings. Fortunately, the lights weren’t plugged in at the time. We also wrapped the banister and doorways with princess pine garland.
While we enjoy giving and getting presents as much as anyone, this year we decided to do things a little differently; Anne proposed a plan to donate what we spend on each other to our favorite charity. Not long after that, I read a post by Chris in the same spirit, “Take the ten bucks you were going to blow on tube socks for your aunt Beatrice and donate it to the gulf coast releif effort.” That’s what we decided to do this year if only for each other. We didn’t want to deprive our Aunt Beatrice of her tube socks.
Christmas Day will be a whirlwind of visits with relatives and friends that we’re both looking forward to. In fact, I need to make a pie crust before heading to bed tonight, so if you’ll excuse me...
Merry Christmas everyone!
Biodiesel—It’s Not Just for Cars
Announcer: We secretly switched the heating oil they usually use with renewable bio-heating oil that contains between 20% and 50% biodiesel. Let’s see if they notice...
Me: Anne, do you think the house smells like French fries?
Anne: No, why?
Me: Oh, no reason. I just had a funny feeling it should.
I took this picture about 4 years ago of one of the six 1.5-megawatt wind turbines located in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The wind farm is operated by Exelon. That little hatch at the bottom is actually a full-size door--the tower is about 200 feet tall and each blade is almost 100 feet long.
Yep, count us among the households who didn’t notice. This winter Anne switched our heating-oil supplier to The Good Fuels Company, and last week we got our first tankful of blended heating oil that includes at least 20% renewable biodiesel made from vegetable oils. So far, so good. I didn’t expect our home to smell like French fries. In fact I was a little disappointed when it didn’t.
The biggest surprise was that the blended oil is about 20 cents cheaper than the price we were quoted by our regular heating-oil dealer. Can’t complain about that. Our switch wasn’t based on economic reasons. We both wanted to support alternative fuels, and this was an easy way to do it. Who knew it would be cheaper, too?
This wasn’t our first foray into renewable energy. We had been buying electricity from The Energy Coop (instead of PECO/Exelon), who were licensed to sell electricity from renewable resources as a result of deregulation. We paid a premium for several year for renewable electricity until we learned about a new program called PECO Wind, which provides electricity generated by wind. Since I am psyched about wind turbines (see photo), we switched to PECO Wind for our electricity. Again, we are paying a premium for 100% wind power, but it is cheaper than buying electricity from The Energy Coop. Of course, we’re indebted to the Coop for starting the bio-heating oil program in the first place.
(For more biodiesel news in Pennsylvania, see the America’s Hometown piece, “Homegrown Energy Solutions from the Rendell Administration.”)