Thursday, January 18, 2018

King Cake

     A few weeks ago I had an irresistible desire to eat King Cake. As I don't celebrate many Christian holidays, I found convinced my friends N&S that I should make a cake that I could share with their family. Luckily, this was an easy sell, and everyone loved it. In researching recipes, I learned a lot. This cake is eaten any time between Epiphany and Lent and it can be a plain brioche or filled. Receiving the piece with the Baby Jesus usually means that you are "king" for the day, or that you have to bring the cake next year.
     I chose to make a braided brioche version, with a cinnamon-nut filling in the middle of each strand. It was insanely sweet (not a problem for the under-ten crowd, of course) but delicious. I have been eating it all week. A co-worker did hint that if I was going to bring such nice breakfasts to our meetings perhaps I need to bring enough for everyone...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Canada, Part 2

     It snowed something fierce during the first day of my trip. My flight was only delayed a few hours, but then it took five hours to cover what Google had promised would be a three-hour drive. I was ever so grateful that I learned to drive in Ohio and wasn't scared of thickly swirling snow and not-quite-plowed roads. Furthermore, Canadians are more seasoned winter drivers than DC denizens, so I didn't fear for my life in the intersections.
     The next morning, nothing had been plowed. My little rental car would certainly not have managed the streets, so I hiked to the meeting, having wrapped my shoes in garbage bags. (I hadn't packed any boots, of course.) I felt like quite the intrepid winter business traveler.
     Alas, Sunday saw my not-quite-so-intrepid side. After a very nice breakfast at my BnB, I packed up the car and started it up so that it could warm up while I de-iced and de-snowed it. After ten minutes' work I realized that I had a clean, warm car that I had unfortunately locked my keys into. This was the only point in the trip where I came near tears. I had no phone, no ID, no recollection of which rental company owned the car, and no clear idea of how to break into a rental car. In the end, it all worked out. The BnB owner had an account with the Canadian Auto Association. I had to wait about 30 minutes for them to arrive, and then it took them about four minutes to free my car. It is astounding how easy one can break into a car with the right tools (See: air wedge). I will be suggesting to my boss that I earned hazard pay.
     In the end, the trip went fine. This particular conference requires extra attention, so it's important that I attended. I got to use the metric system (I *love* it) and eat Tim Horton's (the Dunkin' Donuts of Canada). I also drank about a gallon of tea, because tea in the UK, Canada, and Australia is always better than US tea (and I really wish I could figure out how to replicate it.) On the other hand, I lived on cheese sandwiches and pizza - undergraduates did the catering - and interacted with people fourteen hours a day. In response, I will spend my vacation day tomorrow sleeping, eating vegetables, and hopefully not talking to another living soul.

Friday, January 12, 2018


     I headed to the great white north this weekend, which will likely bit a bit whiter than usual. As I may have mentioned before, one of the projects I work on runs a dozen conference simultaneously across North America. These always happen on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, and I almost always go to one in the north. This year I'm headed to Kingston, Ontario. You will note that that means I am going to Canada, where they are having ice storms. Thus, I have been hanging out at the DC airport while they continually delay my flight to Toronto. Should I be lucky enough to eventually land in Toronto, I will still need to drive 275 km on ice-sheeted roads to Kingston.
     You might think that the Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel has won this round, but at this point I'm not willing to concede anything more than a draw. Mainly because I don't care. As long as I get there before 11pm, I'll be happy. I have plenty of work, plus two good books and a dozen podcasts. And maybe I'll even get some poutine out of this trip.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Bathroom installation, part 3

The next step in the bathroom installation was to take all the loose rockwool insulation that we had removed from the storage (aka future bathroom) and haul it up to the attic. With 15 bags, at 40 pounds per bag, this was an undertaking. Especially since the crew (my friend M and I) could only carry  small amounts up the ladder and shove them through the hole in the ceiling. M is the only friend I have who is smaller than me, so we're not exactly the buffest construction crew out there. Still, we were able to move all the insulation in a few hours AND nobody fell through the ceiling. That latter point was actually the most critical accomplishment - the only thing preventing a person in the attic from falling through were a few scraps of plywood that we balanced on the joists. I live in fear of damaging my ceilings; I know how to repair things, but my ceiling tiles are probably forty years old and I have no idea how to find a replacement.

More in a few weeks, when I begin pulling up all the floor boards.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

This and that

This fall, I decided I had too much food stored in the house, a gave myself a challenge to buy no more than $10 per week in groceries. This worked, in so far as I spent about $6/week for new food. And I ate up half my pantry, but the freezer was still packed. The problem being, of course, that I am only one, somewhat small, person, and I can't eat that much. I took a break during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but now it's back on the budget bandwagon for me. I'll report back in March, or whenever I give up.
The bathroom installation proceeds slowly but steadily. My father is an amazing general contractor. He's always thinking ahead four steps. At first, this drove me a bit crazy, because I thought, "We don't have to worry about that part yet!" but now I realize that he talks through the process repeatedly, and thereby improves his plans each time. This trip alone we changed several decisions, and I had the opportunity to learn that Home Depot will, in fact, accept a returned toilet even if its packaging has been opened. I forsee that I'll be standing in return lines throughout the year, and have now organized my many receipts into a project binder. It's kind of fun to go old school - I haven't used a three-hole punch in about a decade.
The picture shows my father cutting out my stack pipe. This vents the air in your drains into the great outdoors so that your drains whisk away the liquids quietly. When my house was built, 70 years ago, these pipes were made of cast iron, so cutting it up (twice, because it was too heavy and long to remove in one piece) was a huge ordeal. But it's gone and replaced with PVC, with a location to hook in the new bathroom drain now.
I signed up for a MOOC Spanish course. Not only is this useful for my language skills, but I also have a professional interest in MOOCs. They are all the rage in academia right now - will they destroy universities as we know them? Will they every make a dime in profit? It'll be interesting to experience it from the student perspective, and I'll do my best to make sure that I'm not part of the average 85% of enrollees that drop out before finishing.

Sunday, December 24, 2017


Merry Christmas from a DC suburb! Due to the usual multiple-family tetris that the holidays are, my extended family celebrated a few days ago. I spent the days leading up to the festivities touring DC (pro tip: the holiday lights at the zoo are free, but you will not actually see any animals when it is night), taking the kids to the playground, and talking plumbing with my Dad.
     My brother and his family left this morning, and my parents are staying for a few more days. I absolutely love my family, but hanging out with seven people almost every day was a lot for little ole introverted me. I am looking forward to some quiet at the end of the week. Since I'm still exhausted from all this socializing, some photos:
 Ada looking dashing in her Christmas bow.
 For Christmas dinner, we had homemade fettuccine (which the kids helped make), Italian sausage meatballs and paneer/nut meatballs, a red sauce, green beans, and cheesecake. This had something for everyone but meant I didn't spend all day in the kitchen.
Molly the cat is fourteen years old, but this was her first Christmas. She also received her first ever toy. You might think that a ball in a tray would not measure up to the real live mice she used to catch, but she went crazy for it. I will have to hide this every night because the sound of the ball rolling in its tray at two am will make me bonkers.

I managed to create a separate scavenger hunt for each kid, so that the gift under the tree was just the first clue to the hunt. Surely I must be nominated for an Aunt of the Year award for this.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017


     It has finally started to feel like winter, and there is even the chance of snow this weekend. I'm not quite ready for fall to be over, because I haven't raked up all my leaves and if I admit winter has arrived then I'm a delinquent home owner.
     My winter wardrobe is complete, though. I keep trying to maintain a minimalist wardrobe, which for me means about seven work outfits and two DIY (i.e. blue jeans and paint-splattered shirts) outfits, with everything else packed away in the basement. I made a wool skirt last year and I was so pleased with it that I made another one this year. I'm modeling it in this picture, which I can thank my Spanish tutor for. (When he's not helping me with his Spanish, he's working on his photography business.)
     The other sign of the season is my Christmas party. As usual, I'm throwing a big, formal, dress-up party. This has involved two weeks of decorating and cooking, and it all culminates on Saturday. This time the wow-the-attendees menu item is samosas. I'm planning to fry them all in the morning and reheat right before serving. I might be a semi-professional hostess, but I draw the line at trying to deep-fry in a silk evening gown.