12/9/2009 Hannuka and St. Lucia Day

Well, in one day we went from the warm (fairly warm, 50s and 60s) fall to winter with snow. I certainly never expected the first snow to stay, but even though it warmed up yesterday, it didn’t totally melt off, and today we are getting more snow (and if Honour is right, some freezing rain after it). We should have gotten our tree before the snow started. As we rarely go out I don’t tend to keep my eye on the weather reports.
I have shut off the west wing (where my bedroom is). One night is all it took of those doors being closed before the hall and studio were noticeably cooler. Still, I am not quite ready to close the window- I do so enjoy the sound of the wind chimes and the birds, especially the Mikela’s rooster crowing. And so far, although it’s been below freezing outside, my room hasn’t gone below 50º. Since there’s no direct heat going to my room (even the vent is blocked), I don’t feel like I’m wasting heat keeping the window open, and my featherbed and furs keeps me cozy (once I’m in under the covers).
I finally got the herb garden put to bed (with Star’s help). We knocked down the old stalks, trimmed back the rose and quince bushes, put the hollyhocks over by the great hall, so that if they for some reason grow, we’ll just have hollyhocks growing there. We put in the last of the bulbs, and covered the bushes with leaves (too bad they are oak- we’ll have to put a lot of wood ash on to sweeten it). I brought in some last herbs- not as good as if they’d been properly harvested, but they look good hanging on the beams in the kitchen. We finally planted the ornamental kale (and had some in our ramen, which is what we get it for). And then it snowed.
(What you see here is a cat coming down the ladder- I left it up, hoping I can get someone to put up Christmas lights for me, and when the cats are outside and I’m in my room, they come up outside my window and fuss to be let in. I did let Zoloft in the window once, but I fear that was a bad precedent, so now I just go downstairs and open the door for them.)

Our first snow hit us on Saturday, and then again today. Honour spent the night on Saturday, she’d left her keys in her apartment, and didn’t want to ask the super for keys until a reasonable hour. (Her toilet has started leaking and it’s backed up against her big storage closet, so she’s had to move everything she’s got stored out into the living room until they fix it. She’s worried that when they see the bins in the middle of the main room, they’ll get on her case again, but that would be awfully unreasonable- clearly, if the closet is damp, you can’t store anything in there.) Sunday, after Quaker Meeting, she stopped at Coll’s Farm and picked us up 100 pounds of potatoes, and 50 pounds of onions (and a bag of potatoes for herself which we’re storing in the root cellar). Apparently the cheaper “chef’s russets” are so called because they are huge. I’d say they were about a pound each. One person can’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) eat one of those in a sitting, although I think they may be wonderful for doing those stuffed or “loaded” potatoes. (A half per person?)
We are hunkered in for winter now- it’s going to be a long quiet spell, which doesn’t really sound that bad (except financially- but maybe I’ll catch up on my outstanding commissions). We’ve been attending to the small chores that need doing. Some aren’t that small. The ramp to the barn was in terrible repair. Since the goats tend to eat every piece of wood they come near, we had it built with non-pressure treated lumber- (there are holes in their walls- one goes right through to the rabbit cages!) with the result that the ramp rotted so much that the nails wouldn’t hold it together. So we put new boards on the list (and Willow decided that the goats shouldn’t ever get a chance to chew on the ramp, and got pressure treated this time. The gentleman at the lumber yard said that they no longer use arsenic, so it’s not as toxic as it used to be.) The day before the snow, Willow went out and pulled up the old boards and nailed down the new ones. Yay!
While she was out there one of the rabbits who had escaped the cages and we’d never been able to catch, was mocking her, so she called to Star for the rifle and shot it. It had been hanging around the barn anyway- probably because it’s warmer, familiar and had lots of food. It was QUITE fat when I dressed it out. Sadly, it was also pregnant, but then, we don’t know if a rabbit that was raised in a cage would have been able to keep the babies alive in the snow- and it it did, I certainly wouldn’t have wanted a family of proliferating rabbits around my garden. (I am still determined to have one.) So I fed what we couldn’t eat to the cats (still too many) who were thrilled with that- and we had a lovely rabbit pie, which we hadn’t had in some time. It was as good as I remembered, although it is a several step process. (First I baked the rabbit, then cut it up and cooked down the bones for stock (MY it was lovely stock!), then stewed the meat and vegetables in the stock, made a suet crust and baked the whole again. As with so many meats (and I doubt most modern Americans will ever know this), older animals take more long, slow, moist cooking, but the flavor is much greater.
Rabbit Pie

Rabbit pie is a great family favorite. Do you remember the children’s song with hand motions: “Little cabin in the woods”? We adapted it to our point of view:
Little old man by the window stood (mime holding cane)
Saw a rabbit hopping by (bouncing hand w/ 2 fingers up)
Knocking at his door (mime knocking)(now THERE’S a disturbing image!)
“Help me! Help me, sir!”, he said (hands thrown up in alarm)
“Or the hunter’ll shoot me dead!” (mime aiming rifle)
“Little rabbit come inside, (beckon)
“I like rabbit pie.” (The original was “safely to abide, with the motion of stroking a bunny in your arms.)
Kat, being the youngest, had mostly heard us singing it that way, and knowing about Bowdlerization, didn’t learn until MUCH later that our version wasn’t the original. Oops.
Of course, that wasn’t all of what Willow did that day- besides fixing the ramp and getting our supper meat, she also started cleaning the living room- taking down and washing the curtains, dusting, clearing. (There were still some bins of Christmas stuff that we’d not gotten to carrying to the attic- like the bin in which our aprons, table cloths, and mats were being collected. I hate to take them up and then discover one more in the wash. I just found another Harvest style tablecloth and cornucopia that didn’t get into the bin when it went up last week.) Even when she slowed down she discovered a computer glitch that had charged her account for $70 and got it put back. Willow rocks! After such exertion, Willow has spent the next several days recovering- doing things she could do while resting in her room.
Kat seems to have taken up the fervor, and has cleaned the front hall and living room. It’s hard for me not to come “pitch in” when I see them working like that, but apparently they want to do it themselves, so wait until they run out of steam (or get distracted- a common problem around here) to come in and add my contribution to the project. For example, I got a bucket and scrubbed the floor in the hallway, then disassembled the heating register to get the dust out. It seems to work by having metal fins protruding from the hot water pipe, and over the who knows how many decades of cats etc, the area between each fin had gotten almost a piece of felt in there- I started, then Willow took over- going between each with a skewer. I’m sure it will heat much more efficiently now.) Today she turned her attention to the dining room- she’s a little manic cleaning machine (possibly trying to get ready for the party- I sure hope somebody shows!).
We’ve also cleaned up the back hall, where we keep trash until we get around to going to the dump and which often gets impassible, which I hate, but if I haven’t noticed I don’t think about it. Once it was clear I could get to the shelves where we put the cookies when getting ready for Christmas- there were some left in tins- including those wonderful home-made caramel-nut chocolates that Kat made last year- hidden away so they wouldn’t be eaten all at once, and then forgotten. We can see the cookies when they’re in jars, but when they are in cans, we don’t know they are there and they don’t tempt us. What a waste! I’ll try not to make too many this year.

I sent out invitations to our Solstice party because people usually respond better to direct invitations than to general ones. At the same time, so many of the people who’ve come to be good friends came with someone else or responded to a general invitation. Sadly, over a dozen of them bounced- and obviously, I can’t write and ask why, because the address doesn’t work for some reason. I’m having a similar problem with cards- I found some really nice ones, and I really like the idea of staying in touch with absent friends, but I’m afraid that most of the addresses in my book are obsolete. (Also, it’s really depressing to look through it and see how many people have died, or I haven’t seen them for years.)
Of course this means that if you didn’t get an invitation, we’d love to see you. Since the solstice itself is on a weekday this year, rather than our usual “sunset to sunrise” celebration, we’re having an Open House all weekend. I’m hoping that some people can find a few hours to come by here, perhaps on their way to or from visiting other friends. As usual, very few people have responded (except for a few who did send regrets). I sometimes get the feeling that people think RSVP is the set of letters that the Romans carried around on their parade polls! 😉
Got the mead started for the party- used blueberry honey this time. We’ll see what that does- the cats, of course, were fascinated by the pouring process, and Zoloft had to be protected from putting her tail through the stream of honey.

I’ve been feeling rather low, and combatting it with trying to work. Black Lotus wanted a set of Kali’s feet in oven bake clay. (It’s a Hindu thing.) Since he’s in a nursing home, he has to keep his possessions small and light. We finally picked some up and I got to making them- but I had an horrible time baking them. I followed the directions precisely- but the red kept darkening too much. (Kali’s feet are blue black with red soles.) I less time than suggested, and tried again at a lower heat, and I’m just going to have to put up with it.
Then I did the sketches of hands for Kathy’s palmistry book- which sent me back to my palmistry books, because we didn’t get photos of all the types of hands she needed. I still have to ink them. I am trying to start living the life I would like to live- doing art for pay, and (in theory) still have time left to do the other things I enjoy. I fear there’s a trade off here. Either you can support yourself doing something you don’t enjoy for forty hours a week, or you do something you do enjoy and have to work twice as many hours. We always talk like the people who do something they hate are foolish, but if they end up with time to actually relax and get other things done, it may not be such a bad thing.
We’re not seeing so much of Steve since he’s working in Rhode Island now. He has to leave at six am to avoid the morning traffic because straight through Boston is really the only reasonable way to get there. Of course this means he’s leaving Rhode Island at four, which I’d think would have him going up 93 through the city at five, but he says that there’s a lot variation from day to day, and sometime it’s not too bad. But as you can imagine- after driving a total of three hours south and back on the commute, driving an equal distance north to see us is not as appealing as it was when he was unemployed and bored. We will miss his quiet humor. Can’t begrudge him working again of course.
As I hadn’t heard from Megan and Dennis in a month, I suddenly got worried about them, emailed and discovered that they’d just gotten back. Apparently Claus had been putting their adventures on his Facebook (I think), so he’d felt that the world knew what was happening, and I felt like nothing had come out of that quarter. Having broken down and gotten a Live Journal account, I have been resisting also getting Face Book, My Space, and other accounts- I don’t even get to reading my friends pages more than often than once a week if that. (And when I do, it can eat a whole day- I love hearing what everyone has been up to!) I don’t know what the answer to that one is. I hate the idea of some universal group where you can find everyone’s blog (if I’m using the term correctly), but, at the same time, it would be so convenient! Anyway, they’re back in time for the holidays. I haven’t gone over yet because I want to give Linda (Megan) time to recover and settle in. At least we got a chance to chat on the phone.
I cannot shake the fear that my hernia repair may come undone, and yet, if I keep not doing anything to stress it, I shall continue to get weaker and weaker and fatter and fatter. I’ve returned to the old standby- make sure to stop eating when I’m full and don’t snack, and try to remember to exercise, but I despair of losing weight, although I fear for carrying this much around.

During this season the epigram “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is being constantly proven wrong. People are so different from one another, the person who wants honesty seems always to be having to deal with the ones who feel that it’s better to offer kind falsehoods (and vice versa), and the more we do as we would have done to us, the more the others do what they would have and we all end up frustrated because the other ones don’t seem to “get” our “good example”. That goes on all the time of course, but during the gift giving season we all seem to think about what we’d love, and give it to other people. I know my mother loved me because she eventually started getting me things she knew were “stupid” and “not worth it” because I wanted them. We have to try, because we want to make people happy (through giving them something). It’s really easy for the people you live with and know well. You can see something they’ve mentioned that they’d been looking for for years, or find things that fill the holes in their collections, or go with everything else they have. But even living with people doesn’t always help- Jonathan, for instance, is not big on sharing his thoughts, dreams, and desires, so it’s hard to know what he wants. We do the usual “look for a pattern” thing- which ends up (for those of us in the SCA) with our relatives giving us little “knights in armor” themed plaques and lamps and other such chatzkis, although most SCAers have developed personae far outside the couple of centuries when plate was worn. You have to appreciate the effort, but still, you wonder how they could have missed that you’re period is so far from that one. (It’s easy to forget that most people outside the SCA cannot seem to differentiate between all of “back then”- they MAY see a difference between ancient cultures when people ran around with bare legs like Egypt and Greece, and the Middle Ages when people wore tights under their tunics, but since I’ve seen so many people who can’t tell the difference between Tudor gowns and those of the American Revolutionary War period, I have to simply accept that history is not America’s strong suit.)
As I look at the rest of my life I am feeling somewhat at loose ends- in school I was on the periphery of many groups (probably because of my many interests), then I tripped into the SCA (after a side trip to the Process) and had something that dominated most of my life. It was able to do that, of course, because as Marian of Edwinstowe pointed out, it included theater and art and crafts and dancing and cooking and so many other hobbies at the same time. I think having several children made the SCA more appealing because it was so affordable- much more so than say Science Fiction or New Age/ Pagan conventions where you have to pony up for hotel rooms and memberships to attend. But after Ælfwine died, and we tried to parlay Cabochons into an income we tried to “follow the money” and found pagan festivals and Renn Faires and Anime conventions. As we are doing none of these venues full time, I once again find myself on the periphery of several groups, and not fully involved in any of them. Having been a “mover and shaker” it feels odd to me, but I’m afraid that I’m going to have to devote almost all my time to one group if I want to be on the IN side again, and I resist doing that. One thing I’ve learned as we have spread around is that there are fantastic people in all of these various groups (there are always jackasses too, but I have found that usually once you get to know them, even most jackasses have something good about them, and at least they’re interesting). I’m convinced that this is probably true of any group out there- from bowling leagues to ladies sewing circles. I just find it hard to turn my back on all the wonderful things out there- yes, I’m into parapsychology, but also history, and folklore, and alternative healing, and comparative religions and religious history. (I split my “wishlist” on Amazon into different wishlist- one on cooking and crafts, one on pagan/religious/divination/magick stuff, and another on history- but it’s hard to figure out where something that’s history of religion or magick goes in that division.) I guess I’m acquisitive (“Duh!” I hear you thinking) I find it hard to let anything go. I have tentatively decided to go for the “specialization” of being an artist/illustrator (with a modicum of writing on the side), but it makes me feel nervous about “giving up” everything else. I suppose one can’t say one is “giving up” something that one has never actually started. But at least if I’m doing one thing, it’ll be like an anchor and I won’t feel so “at loose ends”.
I keep thinking about my parent’s friends the Sweets. Mr. Sweet did the portrait of Mother in her prom gown that presided over our dining room “forever”, and one of Uncle Charlie as a young man too. My grandmother paid for those, and I’m sure it wasn’t charity- they are good portraits. I keep wondering, am I that good? Thinking about the “Captain Gregg” portrait, I think maybe yes. But in my mind I’ve seen myself as the portrait artist for people who can’t afford the “real” artists. If I play the angle of doing “period portraits” I can find the niche market. But I still don’t know how to market myself, no matter which niche I’m looking for. I thought maybe to make a nice slick flyer and send it to every interior decorator in New England and maybe they’d like the idea of having an artist available who was willing to paint to order. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s how things are done these days- I think it’s all done with websites- which takes me back to my having to get mine up and working. No way to get out of having to do that!

I’ve been feeling rather low, and combatting it with trying to work. Black Lotus wanted a set of Kali’s feet in oven bake clay. (It’s a Hindu thing.) Since he’s in a nursing home, he has to keep his possessions small and light. We finally picked some up and I got to making them- but I had an horrible time baking them. I followed the directions precisely- but the red kept darkening too much. (Kali’s feet are blue black with red soles.) I less time than suggested, and tried again at a lower heat, and I’m just going to have to put up with it.
Kali Feet
Then I did the sketches of hands for Kathy’s palmistry book- which sent me back to my palmistry books, because we didn’t get photos of all the types of hands she needed. I still have to ink them. I am trying to start living the life I would like to live- doing art for pay, and (in theory) still have time left to do the other things I enjoy. I fear there’s a trade off here. Either you can support yourself doing something you don’t enjoy for forty hours a week, or you do something you do enjoy and have to work twice as many hours. We always talk like the people who do something they hate are foolish, but if they end up with time to actually relax and get other things done, it may not be such a bad thing.
I continue to read palmistry books. I’m trying to work up the more advanced palmistry workshops for spring. It’s hard to try to develop a workshop when you have no clue what the people who are going to attend are going to already know.
One of them Destiny at your Fingertips annoyed the heck out of me. Part of it is good. It talks about finger prints. There are four basic types- arches, tented arches (which fold up more deeply), loops, and whorls, which can be like bulls-eyes or spirals. The author made a big deal out of ranking the various types, but basically it came down to the whorl is more dominant or energetic, and the arch, while much more rare, is the least. So you see which finger or fingers have the most perfect whorl, (and if you have no whorls, then you drop back to loops, if you have no loops, which would be unusual, you go for the tented arches) and whichever one (or two) has the whorl tells you what your “Life Path” is. I’m apparently supposed to be an artist and innovator. Gee. I am less than impressed because whorls represent 25% of all fingerprints (whereas arches are only 3%- I’d have thought they’d be more common), 70% are loops, the other 2% are tented arches. So whorls are rare, but not all that rare, and the majority of them tend to be on the ring finger. The ring finger is the one that says Artist/Innovator. See why I’m not impressed? There must be a ton of people with that combination. (for example- Willow is supposed to be an Artist and communicator, Kat is also supposed to be an Artist/innovator, and Jon is supposed to be an artist and family-man.) Admittedly, I happen to agree with the assessment, but I don’t like the process. I just don’t think much of any system that purports to tell you what you’re supposed to do with your life from one set of markings.
From Hands (which has a lot more references to modern studies by non-palmists) I’ve got a fun test for you- clasp your hands together. Which thumb is on top? Try doing it with the other one on top- is it hard to do, or not much difference? This is a test for right-brain/left-brain dominance. I was surprised to discover that I am very strongly on the intuition rather than logic side. (If I clasp with my left thumb under the right, I MUST “fix” it.) So is Willow, but Kat comes strongly on the logic side- since she’s got a dual dominance, I wouldn’t have expected that. Jon is logic dominant too. This one was in a palmistry book I got from the library, but isn’t available on the internet that I can find.
I finished the book Psychic Sense, which I can heartily recommend. It is a sensible look at psychic phenomena. Other than that I’ve been bopping back and forth between A Doctor’s Guide to Better Health Through Palmistry, the Idiot’s Guide to Palmistry, Palmistry made Easy, Career, Success and Self Fulfillment, and How to Choose Vocation from the Hand. In fiction I read another one of the Vampire’s Assistant books and some of The Independent Miss Mary Bennet. Kat points out that the various books that explore “what comes next” after a popular classic novel escape being called “fan fic” only in that the original authors are now too dead to complain about them. So far I’m enjoying it, but it’s kind of hard that while they do acknowledge that Mary couldn’t sing, and was acting like a prat (in order to get attention) that she basically wasn’t bad looking- and so far several gentlemen have fallen in love with her. I prefer books where the guys fall in love with the girls even though they are plain, rather than having the girl become beautiful by some variation on the movie trope of wearing lower cut dresses, taking off her glasses and letting her hair down. At least I’m confident that this won’t happen in this book.
I haven’t watched as much this week- after seeing an add for it on Murder by Death, I got The Cheap Detective- a kind of send-up of Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon, so then I watched those (while making Kali feet). I’ve always loved Casablanca, although I can appreciate the Maltese Falcon, it never really grabbed me the way Casablanca does. I don’t much care for the “hero” who treats women like “dames” whether they are like Marlow’s hard boiled detectives or Henry Higgins who “treats a duchess like a flower girl”. I don’t much care for the argument that the incivility is being distributed equally, and that it may mask a hidden respect for (some of) the women. How you treat people is not just how you deal with them, it’s also how you speak to them. We need to be polite (if not deferential) as well as working for their benefit. And beyond that, I always got the impression that they were not just acting, but also trying to not “fall for” the women. Of course, at the same time, the women did seem to be more manipulative than I’m entirely comfortable with. If this is the culture that inspired feminism, I can totally understand trying to get away from it. I suppose the other side is the Stepford Wives attitude, that the wife was simply there as a convenience or possession for the husband. I think a modern woman being transported back in time to such an environment where that sort of attitude was accepted might well be a real horror story. At this point we tend to think people who think that way are simply aberrant and to be corrected and pitied- but history- and anthropology show us that many cultures really feel very differently about things than we find “normal”.
Well, it’s dark already and I should send this off and get to other things. (I smile to think that it is Jon who is cooking dinner tonight.) I hope to get started on cookie making tonight. We’re still trying to whittle down the list of the ones to make this year, but at the same time I’d like to try a couple new ones. Decisions, decisions!
</lj-cut><lj-cut text=”which cookies I think I’ll make this year”>
Rabbit Ears
Little TARTs
Malted Milk Cookies
You can’t be overbooked, only under- read
–John Drybred

Lucia Day is December 13th- you should really make some of these!
proof: 2 tbsp. yeast in 1/2 cup warm water

scald: 1 1/2 cups milk

soak 1 tsp. saffron in 2 tsp. boiling water- add to the milk

mix: 1/2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1/2 cup butter

add: 7 cups flour half at a time- use the second half to adjust the texture so you get a soft dough.

Knead, let rise, punch down, knead, shape into lussekatter, Julgalt, Gulluagn, Praestens Har, Luciakroona, Pojkar and Lilja. These are traditional shapes. Break off pieces of dough about as big as a walnut, roll into a snake and form in spirals, Ss, or twists, combining them. You can garnish with raisins, but I find these become rather hard when they are baked. Glaze with milk or egg yolk glaze before