Wednesday, September 30, 2009

For a Knitter, Any Day That Begins Scraping Baby Alpaca Scat Off Your Shoes Is Bound To Be An Excellent Day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Very Wrong Number
(Caution: the audio clip at the bottom of this blog post contains a mention of a disease, and may not be appropriate around small children, or in an office.)

Fall is upon us. Season of pumpkins, crisp air…and wrong numbers, apparently.

A few days ago, a woman left a cryptic message on our business phone asking that someone call her back to talk about our services. Could have been for us, I suppose. But it was more likely the previous owner of our telephone number.

I called her back and got her answering machine.

“You called earlier this morning and left a message asking about our services? I assume you meant to call someone else. If you thought you were calling a massage parlor, they no longer have this number, so you’ll need to look their number up in a phone book. If you wanted to talk about services, then give me a call back.”

The phone rang a few minutes later.

“Hi, this is (name of caller). I’m confused. Do you offer massage services?”

“No,” I replied. “They don’t have this number any more. That’s why I said you’d have to look their number up in a phone book.”

“Well I did! That’s how I got this number!”


“I guess it’s an old phone book,” she finally said.

Do people think that numbers in printed phone books are somehow magically updated to always stay current? They reissue them every year for a reason.

Late last night we received another call.

“Do you make copies there?”


“Is this (name of business)?” (She named a business that had our number prior to the massage business.

“No. They haven’t had this number for ten years.” I’m just guessing on the ten years. But its very likely.

“Oh, I guess I’m using a really old phone book.”

Again, printed phone books aren’t magically updated. Repeat after me: Recycle!

But the best wrong number call by far, was one of the first we received after we relocated. I’ve bleeped out names and phone numbers for the protection of, well, everybody!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Plum Delicious

I’ve been carrying around this recipe for nectarine galette for weeks. Unfortunately the forces of hunting/gathering - and work - have thwarted me at nearly every step.

During the Labor Day Weekend Grocery Store Tour extravaganza, I picked up a quart of fresh-picked peaches to use in the galette. But the peaches needed time to ripen, and by the time they were ripe, we were on our way out of town. I attempted to slice and freeze them, ready to whip up the galette the moment we pulled back in the drive. Or thereabouts. But the peaches and my freezer were not friends. The thawed mess was horribly discolored and quite disgusting.

We did our big back-home grocery shopping sweep in the hours before I had made that discovery, so didn’t know to buy replacements. But my happenstance, two kinds of plums at our community mercantile had called out our names. I forget the varieties, but one was diminutive with green flesh. The other had dappled red skin with a rich wine red flesh.

With no actual purpose in mind for these plums, I decided to use them in my galette.

The next obstacle was a stupid one. I didn’t have any unsalted butter in the fridge, which the recipe specifies for the crust. I considered substituting salted, but was concerned that that would noticeably alter the character and flavor. So the next day we stopped at the local (supposedly very nice) chain grocery store on the way back from the post office. And I was stunned to find that they had every kind of butter and butter product on their shelves except unsalted butter in any brand. Two employees were assembling shelves in the dairy section, so I asked them. Surely it was right in front of me, right? Surely a product that is one of The Basics would be stocked, right?

When I told them I was looking for unsalted butter, they laughed and said they were out. One woman said the kitchen had taken the last case. So what, am I supposed to drive another two miles to another store to buy that one Basic thing I need? I just stared at them stunned, debating on the best course of action. I couldn’t even blame the outage on a sale, because the unsalted butter was not on sale. Finally one of them said she’d go to the kitchen and get it for me.

When she returned with the case, she said that in the hour she and the other woman had been working on those shelves, two other people had asked for unsalted butter. So she decided she’d just go back to the kitchen and get it herself.

So... the other two people. They left without butter??? At a freaking Hy-Vee???

At any rate, the galette went together smoothly. It even turned out that I had the baking stone it called for in my kitchen collection, which I guess I’ve owned for a decade or more but never got out of the box. I couldn’t find my mortar and pestle, which would have been handy for grinding the almonds. If we were at the old house, I could tell you exactly which cabinet it would be in. That would be the one in the cabinets above the sink with the fancy vases and gravy boats. Here? I’m not even sure it has been unpacked.

I’m not known for making beautiful crusts, and this galette is no exception. But it is, more importantly, quite delicious. And the choice of plums turned out to be inspired. It would be hard to convince me to switch to another stone fruit after this success.

I served it in tiny portions with a dollop of vanilla ice cream last night while we watched Glee. Glee-licious!

Speaking of Glee, my shaggy hair was starting to drive me crazy, so I stopped at the local chain for a haircut. A new-to-me beautician worked on me. I had noticed a large poster for Glee in the front windows, and smaller posters were set above each station. I asked why they had Glee posters.

She responded that they buy advertising in blocks during NFL games and other shows, so it must be from that, she said, casually glancing up at the poster, and wondering out loud when that show was on. Because she’d heard about it (It’s about nerds taking revenge on the jocks, right? Uh - no...), but never watched it.

I squinted at the poster. From my chair, I could just make out the word “Sweepstakes.” That was an advertising opportunity missed. Once I got home, I learned that it was a chance to win a trip to L.A. and visit the set of Glee. It goes to show that it doesn’t matter how much planning and effort goes into advertising campaigns in the top ranks of a company, if troops in the trenches choose to remain ignorant of all such matters.

And she didn’t cut my hair quite right. She took it off the top, but didn’t trim much length off the neck. It sort of looks like I’m migrating to a mullet. Which I knew before I’d left. But I was so drained after the day of working on my article-of-frustration before I’d arrived, that it didn’t take much to push me over the edge. Because my regular readers know that I have a low tolerance when it comes to “ignorance born of choice.”

It was worth the entire $14 haircut. And I won’t have to waste precious “Me Week” time on something as pedestrian as a haircut.

Me Week Countdown: 10 days

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There are Days

in my professional life when I feel like stabbing my eyes out with dpns, and tossing my computer through a window. Unfortunately, this is one of them.

Remember a few blog posts ago when I talked about expectations? Well I’m now reviewing an interview, from one of my recent travels, that must be converted into a riveting article for one of my hottest assignments. Hot as in deadline, that is. And it could be a nice article when it’s all said and done.

This extremely nice grandfather already had a preconceived notion of how he would answer my questions before I opened my mouth. I had given him a basic idea of the scope of my questions before we arrived, but he somehow twisted these lines of questions. And almost all of my questions were answered with non-answers or responded to peripheral issues that weren’t germane to my article.

So as frustrating as I found the original experience (continually reining him in and rewording my questions to ensure I have the material I needed), today I’m reliving the entire experience.

And it’s not a situation that I can dismiss as “that guy was such a jerk,” because he wasn’t. But he definitely wanted to be in control of the message, even to the extent that, if left unchecked, he would have made the final article a piece of drivel that wouldn’t have benefited his company or the readers at all.

What makes this even more frustrating, as well as slightly hilarious in an eye rolling way, is that this person received a history degree, but several times he made comments that were obviously incorrect. Like saying that in 1929 there was no California. And citing the origins of the name of the product they produce as being Roman, but on the spot we recognized that that was unlikely because the “Roman” term he was citing was more recently used in the 1970s as a slang term for a house or apartment. Just to be sure, I’ve checked online Greek and Roman dictionaries, and they don’t have a listing for that word. In fact, it seems to have very old German origins, and is related to beggars and street merchants.

So if he was wrong on obvious issues like these, I have to wonder what else he was saying that is completely false—things that I’m not in a position to recognize, nor research?

Two bright spots:
I’m over half-way through listening to the interview, and I know that once I finish this listening I will be down to writing and editing. And that won’t be nearly as painful. I should be done with the listening early this afternoon.

And I’m working on the gusset on the first of my sister’s birthday socks. So as I listen, I’m at least making positive progress on her present.

This assignment is taking its toll on Caper, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blistering Re-entry

Normally when I travel, I try to schedule in a down day. You know, those days when you putter, do laundry, and slowly unpack? Those days when you begin to let the week ahead coalesce in your head ever so slowly, and the biggest part of your day might be laying in a supply of groceries?

Yeah. That didn’t happen so much.

Last night, right after lights were turned out, Michael asked, “were we supposed to go to a winery tomorrow?”

Oh crap. Yes! I think so.

I remembered—just barely—overnight, and around 8 a.m. looked at my notes on the fall-centric article due next year that I have to research this year. Sure enough, grape picking had been on my calendar.

Fortunately we had everything we needed still stacked in a large pile next to the door to the garage where we’d dumped it the previous afternoon. It was a lovely day, and a lovely day to go for a drive in the country. It was also fortunate that the owner is a warm, high energy, down-to-earth lady. It made it easier to tap the much-depleted energy stores.

I got the interview I need for that article (one of several interviews I will need to conduct in the next two weeks), took some great photos, (here’s one with the second sock in progress)

and we shared the road with the Bikers for Babies Ride.

See the headlights? Those are all motorcycles. They just kept coming and coming and coming...

All in all, not a bad day.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Travel Socks
(Warning: there is a photo at the end of this blog post that is, well, disgusting. If you are eating, or have a delicate stomach, don’t read to the end of the post.)

My sister’s birthday socks are coming along beautifully. The blue one is the east-bound sock. Pink is west-bound. Clearly I haven’t had as much west-bound knitting time, yet. That will soon change, and then I will be home. And then I might be finished with my 2009 travel season, save for a quick day trip here or there. I’m relieved.

Because as much as I love my job, and I love all the fascinating people I meet, travel writing has its frustrations, too.

It’s a job of expectations. The hotel expects me to perform a certain way as a guest, as I expect them to perform a certain way.

The restaurants should be clean and food good. Sometimes it is not.

We stopped in Terra Haute on the way east. I apologize from the bottom of my heart, dear Terra Haute, but I have to say it. Your town smells. It has an odd odor that is sort of like Elmer's Glue combined with talcum powder. Maybe it’s your paper plant. Dunno.

This wasn’t our first time staying in that town. We’d tried it about eight years ago on the way to Indianapolis. Yes, it was very apparent that those women who were in the hotel bar were, eh hem, professionals.

This time the back entrance to the hotel (a different hotel), and the one nearest our room, had been smashed into a thousand glass bitty bits.

When we were looking for a restaurant, the clerk suggested a local microbrewery, so with the use of their map and the map on our iPhones (your street signs are faded to a point of uselessness) we found ourselves at the restaurant that was, in fact, not a microbrewery, despite the fact that the sign out front said it was. And the inside of the restaurant stank more than the outside, and the food was over-priced and frankly not good. Decidedly underwhelming, in fact.

No more Terra Haute for us.

On to Ohio where our work was taking us. We had interviews set up. Did we have the right equipment? Did we have correct directions? Were we ready with our questions? All that goes through our minds in the hours leading up to the actual interview, leaving very few moments of pure relaxation.

I have specific editorial needs. If I have a magazine assignment, then I know my editor has specific needs. I know that before we leave, we have to have these needs met.

But the interview subject also has needs and expectations. Sometimes their need to tell their story in their own way is at odds with my needs. And it shouldn’t be. We all want the same thing, don’t we? So I find myself trying to rein them in gently and redirect. And sometimes I leave wondering if any of us—editor, writer, subject—will be happy with the final result. I worry that the family I’m interviewing got their two-year-old with the spiky blond hair up too early for a photo shoot that won’t happen until the end of the interview. That’s at least an hour of increasing upset which will surely make the final photo less joyful for everyone.

And if my visit has been facilitated by a professional public relations person, then they have expectations as well. They want to appear as beneficial to the process as possible, and for their client to feel that without them, they would not have had the wonderful coverage they received. And many many times my visit has been more productive because of the PR aid I’ve received in making phone calls and suggestions.

But sometimes the PR’s need to appear a certain way to their client is at odds with my needs, and if I’m not careful and diligent and voice my concerns and request modifications to my schedule, and be a general PIA, then I run the risk of wasting every one’s time and money. And no one wants that.

Then there’s the odd PR who, in when contacted once in the past was so overly helpful with my assignment that they actually had an unsolicited box of potato chips overnighted to me (which had nada to do with my assignment and she knew it), while this time they won’t even respond to a simple question in repeated phone calls and emails. I have an assignment and a simple question. That’s all. I have no explanation for such behavior.

We went for an early morning walk in the Hocking Hills State Park in a deep ravine alongside a dry river bed, through stairs and tunnels carved out of rock. It was peaceful. We startled a great blue heron where it had been resting in a shallow basin. It spread its wings and silently flew away. That is one of those blissful moments in travel. More people were arriving. Further down the trail we heard the unmistakable sound of a large aggressive dog barking at strangers he had determined where dangerous. The strangers came into view. Just a couple walking the trail like the rest of us. Then the dog and its owner came into view.

Then woman had one hand on the leash of a large German shepherd, and her other hand on a video camera. When the dog saw me, it started pulling at the leash and barking aggressively. I stepped off the narrow trail. The woman kept telling “Scout” to settle down, yanking on its leash. The dog pulled and barked. She finally got her dog past. Her husband followed with a second dog on a leash. This was a smaller dog and seemed to be a mixed breed. It looked sort of like a lab/border collie mix. It walked happily and calmly along the path. The two disappeared around a bend, but I heard her ask her husband if wanted to take a picture. I did not hear his reply. But she responded “Don’t be a jerk!” The next thing I knew, he was walking back along the path my direction. Crap! She finally followed. I stepped off the trail again and put my back to her and the dog. She spoke to me as she went by, “She’s a sweet dog, but she gets over-excited.”

I don’t think it was the dog. I think it’s a bad owner. An owner that hasn’t properly socialized an extremely powerful protective animal. I hadn’t planned to say anything, but since she spoke to me first, “That dog has no business being on this trail with other people.” And then she was gone. But the peace of the trail was gone for the day. The parks employees were hard at it maintaining the grounds with dozen gas-powered leaf blowers and weed eaters.

On this trip I asked a distinguished 70-year-old man about a cherished memory, and he broke into inconsolable tears. What kind of ass makes a 70-year-old man cry?

No matter how carefully I pack, there will almost always be some disaster that will force me to wear the same pair of jeans for a week without washing.

When traveling, we’re forced to use relief stations where ever we find them. Sometimes we—or in this case I—discover another traveler on the road with me is sick. And I wonder what they have touched, and what I have touched, and is there enough antibacterial soap in the world to ward off whatever they have.

But there is still more road for me, and more work to be done. So I push on.

But when I do get home, I put on a clean pair of jeans, make a pot of fresh coffee, sit at my desk and begin to work, I appreciate all of it. I remember the way the sunrise looked over the highway. I am honored that people shared their lives with me.

The end of another memorable travel season is just 24 hours away.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some Days at the Office are More Exhausting than Most

The Untold News

Do you ever read or watch a fascinating news story, only to be left with more questions than answers?

Well I do. Quite often, as a matter of fact. So I’ve decided here and now to start a recurring blog post subject tagged “Untold News.”

The story today is about a thousand-minute extract of a one thousand-year-long Tibetan singing bowl composition that is currently being performed live. Story and video here.

The musical scores for each musician’s part are inlaid into the tables that hold that musician’s bowls.

My question, what does a musical score for a Tibetan singing bowl look like?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Lunch Fit for the Gods

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the most pleasurable.

Take this:

A humble heirloom black Russian tomato purchased from the farmer’s market at 7 a.m.

Top it with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, sprinkle it with oregano, and broil it for a few minutes. (Not certain of the time. I know mine is done when the cookie sheet bangs from heat expansion. Your oven and cookie sheet may vary.)

And then you have this:


Friday, September 11, 2009

It’s an Afternoon Snacking Delight

How did I survive on this earth so many years without knowing the pleasures of this?:

Sage derby cheese served on a crispy croccantini cracker, alongside a steaming cup of Ntingwe Kwazulu tea by Taylors of Harrogate.

Light, crispy, with just a hint of salt on the cracker. And the tea (I drink mine sugared) has just enough punch to give me a second wind. Perfect for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up!

Now where’s my shovel? I’ve got lilies to transplant, dammit!
Spinning, the 28,000 B.C. Way

Found this article on BBC’s web site about 30,000 year old spun and dyed cord that was recently discovered in a Georgian cave. (Pretty sure they mean Georgia the country, not Georgia the state, btw. You know, Georgia, once of the USSR, that straddles western Asia and eastern Europe??)

In the article, the scientists fail to disclose whether the fiber was spun with an S-twist, or a Z-twist. Or if any of it was plied.

Where are these scientists’ priorities?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Periscoping, if Only Briefly

The last week has been crazy. Every day has been more and more complex. The light at the end of the tunnel I should have seen on Project A six days ago, or Project D three days ago, continues to elude me.

Today I have been juggling last minute client requests, producing a video segment on a dinner cruise in Lake Huron, pecking away on a massive business article about an avionics shop, another small article about a microbrewery, and planning a multi-state business trip during which I will need to wear several hats. Figuratively speaking, that is. It’s going to be a late, late night.

But I’ll poke my head outside of the world of aviation for a few minutes to share an update on the sock project for my sister’s birthday.

I initially went to Michael’s, because I wasn’t certain I could keep myself from buying wool if I went to my LYS. But Michael’s selection sucked. So on Tuesday (my LYS was closed on Labor Day) I visited the holy grail of yarn shops, and found this:

It’s three colorways of Panda Cotton, which is a bamboo, cotton and elastic cotton blend.

The pattern is the slipped stitch rib from Charlene Schurch’s Sensational Knitted Socks.
I’m making the ribbing, heel flap, and toe on both socks out of the lime green, and the main body out of blue on one sock, and pink on the other sock.

Because my sister wants mismatched socks, that’s why. No grief! She’s thrilled!!

I’m knitting them up on size 1s, which is unfortunate because I prefer knitting on two circulars, rather than dpns. But the only size 1 circs I have are Crystal Palace, which I hate, hate, hate. The tips are nice and pointy, yes. The feel of the needles is delightful, yes. But it has a nasty join between the needle and the cord, and I was spending 50% of my time fighting the needle rather than experiencing the pleasure of knitting.

(Word of advice, don’t take needle suggestions for socks from someone who doesn’t knit socks.)

And yes I could go back to the LYS to buy Addis or some other preferable needle, but I’m having a tough time justifying the expense this month. Fortunately I found an acceptable set of aluminum dpns in my husband’s grandmother’s kit that appears to date to the ’20s or ’30s. Not perfect, but tons tons better.

While at the LYS, I ran into Anna, who really really needs to return to knit group. We miss you! And she’s starting an a-MAZ-ing lace project. Ambitious and challenging, yet stunning and perfectly useful in an extraordinary way. GO ANNA! I can’t wait to see it, either in process or when it’s done.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I Guess this Makes me... What’s the Word… “Inspiring”, or Simply “Viral”??

It’s the end of the long “holiday weekend” during which I worked the entire time, either organizing an all-day entertainment event for the family, prepping for one of the next-to-last moments that I could quiz elderly out-of-town relatives about mystery portraits (which turned out to be a complete failure since they couldn’t recognize their own sister in a photo), and finally working my hiney off on actual client work.

Now that the short work week has begun, I’m printing and stuffing envelopes with requested hummus recipes (This is a kick-ass one), as well as my question and answer sheets for the grocery store tour. Because it turns out that one of the matriarchs of my old town heard about the contest and thinks it sounded like great fun. Not only did she want the list of places I’d taken everybody (which I’d sent along for her earlier in the weekend), but now she wants to take her friends on my scavenger hunt, too.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when this group storms the stores. They had been expecting my group. But this one? Quite a surprise it will be. And if they’re anything like my family, they will be peppering the staff with odd questions like, “What’s the most nutritious family cereal in South Africa?”

(It’s ProNutro, btw. At least according to the packaging.)

If only I could figure out how to get this much public enthusiasm behind projects that actually pay, I’d be rich. Or at least comfortable.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Simultaneously a Sock Knitter’s Dream, and a Sock Knitter’s Nightmare

A smaller set of the family came to visit yesterday, among them Sister #1, who had not been to my home since the week we’d closed. Wow had it changed! My mother had at least seen it more recently—this time last year, and only a week after we’d moved in. The ceilings had been de-popcorned, and we’d replaced several of the worst offending light fixtures. But even then it was minimal living as we turned our attention to the old house to get it on the market, and the house was still filled with blondness from floor to ceiling.

The family had directions, an address, and landmarks. Still, they almost missed our house. And not because they weren’t paying attention and missed the cross street. But because it no longer looked crappy. We have successfully de-crappified the home. There will be more de-crappification that will take place when funds and time allows. But we’ve at least accomplished enough that if one were looking for the crappiest house in the neighborhood, one would not find it at our address.

My sister’s birthday is coming up. She had given me my much-belated birthday present on Saturday - and it was a lovely framed needle punch that she’d clearly labored over for some time. So what to give her?

While she was here on Saturday I took the opportunity to discuss socks. Would that possibly be something she would like? OMG - YES!!! The wilder the better, and mismatched would be perfect.

Yes, you read that correctly. Mis-matched would be perfect. Mis-matched is what she’s been wanting for a long time, but the mis-matched socks she’s been eyeing at the store are $20 a pair and she just can’t justify it. (Throat clearing.) So I’m on a mission to make a mis-matched pair of socks. No second sock syndrome for me!

Now here’s where it gets nightmarish:

A: she has an extreme paisley phobia* that washes over into any fabric with a repeating pattern. That means I have to forget about that cool fair isle sock pattern that would have been shockingly fabulous in its mis-matchedness. Instead, I will be doing variegated yarn and letting the yarn create a wild patternless pattern.

B: she has an extreme aversion to wool of any kind and any blend. Even Tofutsies are scratchy to her. So, I am forced to look for cotton, or a cotton/acrylic blend.

There will be fiber shopping on my plate today, but not necessarily in a gratifying way.

The sock project this is doubly good, because I have several days of passengering in my near future when we head to Ohio for business. Socks are fantastic for travel knitting.

*You think I’m kidding, or at least exaggerating. But I am so not. We stopped in the fabric store on Saturday where my uncle bought a lovely chrysanthemum Japanese print for his wife to make into a caftan. My sister had to actually turn away from the fabric because it repulsed her at a very visceral level.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

In the Event of a Tie, a Winner will be Chosen by Random Drawing

I don’t know what I was concerned about—except that every thing from past experience pointed to impending disaster. But it turned out that the Grocery Store Tour of 2009 went FABULOUSLY!!!

I think that everyone had a good time, and there were memorable fun moments and not as many memorable embarrassing moments. A few, yes. But what’s an extended family outing without these?

We met at the crosswalk in front of the Farmer’s Market shortly after 8 a.m., and visited it and a nine other places by 3:30 p.m. Seven of eight people participated in my scavenger hunt. They were all extremely competitive, yet at the same time compassionate and helpful. Like when niece #3 stumbled on the Asian grocery store question, which involved a product made of yams, and she was unaware what a yam was. That made finding it in the store especially difficult, but sister #1 steered her in the right direction.

Sister #1 shared a glass of bubble tea with me (her first) and got the surprise of her life when five tapioca balls slurped up her straw in the first gulp. She didn’t want any more bubble tea after that, but she was delighted to find packages of tapioca at the Asian market, as well as the super-large straws that are necessary to consume such drinks.

And niece #3 ate sushi for the first time in her life. She almost backed out after her mother (sister #2) and her eldest sister (niece #1) attempted to talk her out of it. But Michael and I rallied around, and she ended up eating and loving it.

I noticed a certain apprehension by the store owners when we first walked in, but I had warned most of them when I did my pre-shopping and question research earlier in the week. When all of them saw me, they smiled in recognition and waved. I think they had a little fun with this, too.

I also made a point of buying something from most of the stores, especially ones I guessed no one else would likely buy from. That way we weren’t taking advantage of any one.

Every participant got each of the questions correct, so I had my mother (the only non-participant) draw names out of a sack. Niece #2 was the winner. Her prize was a reusable shopping bag from the community mercantile.

Tomorrow afternoon many members of that group will return to visit my renovated home, and see the family furniture for the first time since it’s been restored. Much cleaning has to take place between now and then.

But not now. Now I’m enjoying a fine greyhound and thinking strongly about my dinner-and-a-movie options for the evening.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Bitten by a Flea (Market Bug)

Today we left the house early and drove north for several hours to the White Cloud Flea Market. This is an annual much-cherished event, though I had only attended once six years ago and only because it was going on at the same time as a Lewis & Clark press tour. Michael’s been there exactly zero times.

The White Cloud Flea Market is not a place to go if you are interested in fine antiques and collectibles, and nothing but fine antiques and collectibles. But if you are interested in junk and treasures disguised as junk, this is the place to be.

We started out first in White Cloud. This is a tiny riverfront town with mostly decaying buildings on narrow streets. We shopped alongside Amish folk (yes, I know the difference between Amish and Mennonite and these were definitely Amish), they searching for scythes and hand trimmers, us searching for...well... more unusual and less-useful items. See what I found in one store?

Yep. These are boxes of creepy old doll parts: hands, limbs, boots, and faces.

Surprisingly we passed on this treasure. But boy howdee, if I were an artist that did modern installations, this place would have been the mother lode of all antique stores. We asked about the price of one item, which wasn’t in very good shape, and was missing its moving parts. The cranky man who ran the store (I think it’s actually one of the few permanent stores in White Cloud, but so old and gross that you literally walk across the crunchy shells of dead insects to see some of the merchandise) quoted us a price that was ridiculously inflated. He wanted $100 for something that maybe maybe was worth $20. We left White Cloud with ideas, but no booty.

From there we went a few miles west to the ghost town of Sparks which also holds a flea market. Wow. What a difference! This market seems to go on forever—literally acres of booths with generally better merchandise than we found in White Cloud.

Our favorite stop, and the last for us, was this place:

where we found bins full of artsy treasures like this:

and this:

and where we found a similar item to the one we passed on in White Cloud, but in much better condition, in a much cooler design, with all its parts and pieces, and for the same price Mr. Cranky quoted us.

More on what we bought will follow in a later post.

For now I need to rest up. Tomorrow is slated to be a day-of-torture, and I am woefully prepared. You see, I have family coming to town.

It started out as an excuse my mother cooked up for my uncle, who is coming to her town for his once-a-year visit, not to drag her to the same high-end antique and accessory store located several hours away, which he has done faithfully for about two decades. She decided that what they should do is come to my town instead, and I could take them to some of the co-op and ethnic grocery stores in town. At the same time, he could visit the family furniture. This will be the first chance he’s had to see it since it’s been restored. He bought into this idea hook line and sinker. Trouble is, so did six more people, and one of those people I don’t allow in my home.

So tomorrow morning I am to meet eight members of my family at the farmer’s market, and will spend the rest of the day dragging them around town.

To make this fun-nish, I have also cooked up a contest. I’ve written quiz questions about most of the places we will visit, and the person who answers most of these questions correctly will win a prize.

Sound fun? Sure, it might be. But if you think I’m snarky, you haven’t met my family. My snark comes from the family snark tree, but it pales in comparison to Sister #2’s brand of snark, or her eldest daughter’s.

They snark for entertainment, both for their own entertainment and those around them. And their best audience are the people from snark-ville aka my family.

So, I anticipate them saying things that are both embarrassing to me and insulting to the families that own and run the groceries.

There will be a lecture when we meet up, and a discussion of rules of the game.

Rule #1, if you think a store smells like an open sewer and you feel compelled to share that with other people, then SAVE IT FOR THE CAR.

Yes, honest to God, I’m going to have to say that.

I’ll be making sure the beer fridge is well-stocked for post-family recovery.

Pray for me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I put my Iraqi Bundles of Love (IBOL) in the mail this afternoon.

The process was pretty painless, though I get a rash filling out customs paperwork—a necessary for sending to APOs, though the postage is otherwise same as or cheaper than domestic.

The mail clerk suggested that he give me a stack of customs forms that I could fill out in advance of coming to the Post Office next time.

“No thanks,” I replied. “This is a one-off.”

I half-noticed a puzzled look on his face, but he continued to chat while he worked. Eventually he flat-out asked “One-off. I’ve never heard that. What does that mean?”

I told him that this would be the only time I’d be shipping to an APO because... and then I explained what IBOL is.

He continued to look puzzled. “Where are you from?”

At that point it was me that had the puzzled expression. “I’m from Kansas,” I replied to him, standing in a Post Office in Kansas. “Do you know where that is?”

He joked. “I’m not sure any of us know where that is. No,” he continued. “I’d heard of ‘one-time,’ and ‘it’s a one-shot deal,’ but I’ve never heard of ‘one-off’.”

Hmmm. It’s a term that I’ve used for so many years, that I’d never given it a thought. Where had I first heard that term? “Well, I’ve worked in manufacturing in the past, and it’s a manufacturing term. Maybe that’s where it comes from.”

Well, you sound like you’re from Kansas, but I thought maybe you were an army brat and traveled around a lot growing up.

He got the brat part right (on certain days in particular), but not an army brat.

Have you heard of one-off? I googled it as soon as I got back to the car, and found this very scholarly history of the term, which appears to be British in origin. According to this entry, it has since become widely used in the US. Even Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has an entry.

I find it’s an extremely useful term, though it (apparently) sometimes requires explanation.
Finished Object, and Synchronicity

Finally, after nearly two full years, I have finished the Serviceman’s socks. These were purchased in kit form from the American Red Cross in December, 2007, and are made in the drab green wool using the same vintage pattern handed out to volunteers by the Red Cross during World War II.The instructions even requested that I label them with the chapter labels and size made, and turn them in to my local chapter. Though this certainly isn’t an expectation in 2009.

I'm not 100% happy with them. They were sized for a man, and I did my best to adjust them down. Well, semi-best. Well, I sorta made it work.

I also made a mistake in the grommet of the last sock which I chose to overlook, instead planning to fix it at the finish stage with scrap wool and a tapestry needle.

But they are done. Woo HOO.

I finished these on the same day that I finished In Retrospect, which was a memoir about the foundations and escalation of the Vietnam War written by Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson . I have known next to nothing about what started that war, but it took a story on NPR’s Fresh Air to stir me out of my complacency. In Retrospect was an extremely interesting read, but also frustrating in that way where you want to build a time machine to go back to the Situation Room and throttle a few people with facts that seemed to elude them at the time.

Oddly, war seems to be a trending topic in my world. I read a recent Mason-Dixon post about Iraqi Bundles of Love, or IBOL. This is the personal effort of one of our servicemen currently in Iraq, to distribute bundles of sewing and knitting supplies to the people of Iraq who have had so little for so long.

And I happen to have a significant quantity of drapery fabric left over from the living room window project. You may recall that I had bought a sufficient quantity to make pencil pleat floor length drapes (in other words several bolts) but ended up making Roman shades instead (in other words, almost none.) The fabric is thin, and yardage plentiful, so I'll be shipping it off to IBOL’s APO before the holiday weekend begins.

The deadline is fast approaching. His deadline was the 7th for shipping, but the 7th is a holiday, so he's sort of extended it to the 8th. But it needs to arrive before his unit’s pull-out, and around Ramadan (which is going on now.) In other words, I need to get moving - fast!

Mr. IBOL has suggested bigger pieces of fabric, bigger spools of yarn (I think he means cones or hanks rather than spools), He also said that green is a favored color in that culture.

If you're interested, IBOL’s blog is here, which also explains his kick-ass way to build a bundle.