25 December 2008

Happy Christmahanukwanzasolstivus

May the coming year find you exactly where you need to be, and may the root vegetables protect you through all trials.

Parsnip_creature

Batata_chicken

Carrot_king

23 December 2008

The Night of the Root Vegetables

Tonight we might have gone to our friends Molly & Don's annual root vegetable party to welcome the solstice (delayed a day because of the ton of snow we got over the weekend) and honor the humble root vegetables which provide us northern folk with sustenance through the long, dark winter.

Considerable quantities of food and wine might have been consumed.

Fantastical sculptures might have been created from root vegetables.

Illegal fireworks might have been lit, amid much fanfare.

A giant effigy of a parsnip might have been set ablaze to welcome the return of the light.

I can, however, neither confirm nor deny any of this.

What I can confirm is that we had to shovel most of the knee-deep snow out of our driveway ourselves because a) the ^&**&%%# plow guy never showed up, b) Wendy & Paula's plow lady pushed a huge mountain o' snow up in front of the shed where their snowblowers reside, and c) Paula's tractor (with front-end loader) was occupied most of the time getting a stupid farm visitor unstuck after said visitor decided to drive down a snowy embankment to the barn. In a station wagon. And then proceeded to run said station wagon into a snowbank every single time Paula got her unstuck.

I can also confirm that the Japanese sweater is finished! In time to wear it to breakfast with Franklin and Sue on Wednesday morning! Pictures to follow.

Oh, and don't be too surprised if photos of strange root-like creatures should appear here without warning.

20 December 2008

A Few Photos

Things have been scarily slow at work lately. There's usually a bit of a slowdown going into the holidays, but I've not seen anything quite this bad in recent memory. I have no doubt that it's the economy. I was looking last night at state unemployment data over the past several years. There's typically a transient increase over the winter months, as seasonal positions close, but for the past 6 years, unemployment in the month of November was in the range of 4.5 to 4.8%. In 2000 it was 3.1%. This year it was up to 6.2%. There's not much to be done but ride it out, but it's still worrisome.

One of my patients last night, though, was this young barred owl, who had apparently been hit by car. As it turned out, there was a very nasty open fracture in one wing that was in a location that couldn't really be repaired, which is an indication for euthanasia. Because owls and other birds of prey are federally-protected, however, it's not an entirely straightforward matter. As a veterinary facility, we have a bit of leeway when it comes to providing emergent or short-term care until these birds can be transferred to a rehabilitator, but without the requisite federal permit, we risk running afoul of federal law if we perform euthanasia. So I didn't have a good option other than to keep the bird quiet, warm, and as comfortable as possible until I could transfer it to the Center for Wildlife (click on the button in the sidebar if you're looking to make any year-end donations).

122008Barred_Owl

Other than that, I had plenty of time to work on the Japanese sweater front. This is just before I cast off the underarm stitches:

122008Sweater_front

I'm now on the raglan decreases, so things are speeding ever faster toward the end of the main kniting. I may even be done with this in time for Christmas Eve breakfast with Franklin and Sister Sue. This will be the third year in a row we've gone out for breakfast on Christmas Eve, so I guess that makes it a tradition. Hopefully Sue's husband Phil (now our state's Senate Majority Leader) can join us again this year, too.

And lastly, a little Tuck update. The good news is that he's been with us for one wonderful year as of this week. The not-so-good news is that his initial tracheal wash culture yielded a somewhat nasty strain of E. coli, which is resistant to several common antibiotics. I'm still hoping that I can knock this thing out, though, and have ordered a nebulizer to try delivering drugs directly into his lungs to break up the mucus and to get a third antibiotic right in to the source. If this doesn't work, then there won't be much option other than managing it as a chronic lung disease - similar in some ways to dealing with cystic fibrosis in humans. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that, as I've watched two cousins die from CF and know what a slog that disease can be. Still, I'd do anything for this little face.

122008Tuck01

16 December 2008

Just Another Night on the Job

It struck me that I haven't showed any gruesome work photos lately. Due in part, of course, to the fact that there haven't been a lot of really good gruesome work photo opportunities lately. Last night made up for it a bit, though, with a very nice older border collie who came in for being inappetant and generally not herself for a couple of days. Something felt wrong when I palpated her abdomen, so we took an x-ray, which I've annotated here for you:

121608Radiograph

So I took her to surgery and removed this:

121608Tumor

Given the location of the mass on x-ray, I figured that it would most likely be either a splenic torsion (not terribly common, but we see them occasionally) or splenic mass (very common). It was neither. This mass was attached to her large intestine pretty close to where the colon enters the pelvic canal and turns into the rectum. Odds are that it is either a leiomyoma (benign) or leiomyosarcoma (malignant), which are tumors of smooth muscle and fairly uncommon, but we won't know until a pathologist evaluates the biopsies. The mass weighed in at a hefty 4.7 pounds (2.1kg), which is about 12% of this dog's body weight. That's like a 150 pound person having an 18 pound mass. Impressive stuff.

This oddity aside, the last couple of nights have given me enough time to get a bit of knitting done. I've gotten through one full pattern repeat on the cable panel of the Japanese sweater front. Only 7 more to go.

121608Cables

I also darned a couple of holes on Tuck's first sweater. I don't think I have any more of the original yarn, so I used some of the C220 I'm using for the Japanese sweater, since it was handy. I haven't done a lot of this sort of repair, but it looks pretty good. Reminds me a bit of those commando sweaters with the shoulder patches.

121608Patches

And speaking of Tuck, his pneumonia has come back. When I got up yesterday afternoon, I noticed that he was breathing a little bit harder than normal, so I checked and he had a low-grade fever. X-rays confirmed the pneumonia, so I did a transtracheal wash to see if we can figure out exactly which bug is causing this and started him back on antibiotics yet again. This time I'm thinking a 6 week course is in order. Meantime, I'm seeing if I can get any additional input from specialists on an online forum for veterinarians. I'd like not to have to put him on antibiotics every month, but I'm worried there may not be another option.

14 December 2008

The Ice Storm

Written Thursday at around 11:20PM:

At the moment, I'm writing this on battery power. We're getting an ice storm, and the last hour and a half has been one of listening to transformers explode and branches crack, while the power blinks off and on. Now it seem to have gone out for perhaps 40 winks, so candles are lit and we wait to see what happens. It's only just below freezing, so the house should stay warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing overnight, should the power decide to stay out for a while. Still, it makes me wish we had a way to heat with wood.

We had friends Kit and Melissa over this evening for a while, which was nice, and Kit's wife Sue and son Jesse also put in an appearance for a bit. For our guests, I made a lentil/quinoa tabbouleh which turned out fabulously and was easy peasy to make. Here's what I did, more or less:

1 dried cup green lentils
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup chopped parsley (I used flat leaf, which I like better)
juice of one lime
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (Okay, a couple of glugs. You know I don't measure things)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt to taste

Remember to rinse the quinoa in cold water first to remove any residual saponins, which are very bitter. Bring the lentils and the quinoa just to a boil in separate saucepans, each with 2 cups water, then reduce to simmer until expanded but still a bit firm - this should take 20-30 min for each, so monitor closely. Rinse with cold water, then mix with a mixing spoon in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients. Enjoy!

I also sliced up some pears and kiwi fruit with some cheese my mom sent us for the holidays, one of which was a stinky cheese that the very same variety that figures in my worst cheese experience ever. It's a stilton from the little village of Colston-Bassett, in the East Midlands of England. I've actually been to Colston-Bassett, so when I saw some in Whole Foods several years back, I had to buy it. It smelled like the bottom of the manure piles at farms I also visited in that area, though, so I could only manage to choke down a couple of bites before giving the rest to me friend CJ. I'm pretty sure my mom didn't remember that this was the cheese, but this particular chunk was much more edible - drier and more crumbly -so long as I ate it in small pieces with the fruit and crackers. I was pretty sure that Kit would love it, though, and I was right on the money.

Oh, and speaking of kiwis, I got a package in the mail today from James, that contained an Irish linen tea towel with prints of different Aran stitch designs, some Jaffa candies (yum!) and a skein of some gorgeous sock yarn from his shop. Hopefully soon I'll be getting a package off in his direction with a little something special. I've been told it should be ready before Christmas, so I await patiently.

And now I must be off to see if I can scare up some more tea lights.


So, now it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm at the clinic. Shortly I'll be running off to shower and shave and generally make myself presentable to the general public. As of 2PM, when I left the house this afternoon, we were still without power, but the rising temperatures mean that we're less likely to have to worry about pipes freezing at this point.

Despite the inconvenience, we've done quite well overall. Being on municipal water, we didn't have to worry about losing water supply, though it's noticeably quite chilly. This storm has, though, driven home how badly we need to have a source for wood heat. Fortunately, Paula and Wendy do, so we've spent a good bit of the past couple days at their house enjoying the wood stove. I've also learned a few things I thought I'd share:

  • Our house doesn't cool down as rapidly as I feared it would, which is a good thing. When outside temps drop into the teens, however, a 2 liter bottle filled with hot water can help keep the pipes from freezing.


  • Hot water bottles, thermal underwear, and lots of blankets are enough to stay warm, even when the bedroom temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing.


  • Split pea soup (cooked on a wood stove), good wine, and good company are a really good way to make the best of a not-so-great situation.


  • One quart of hot water is all that's needed to take a decent sponge bath. It's also all you need to steam up the window and mirror in our bathroom when the temperature is about 46 degrees (That's about 8C, for the metrical folks).


  • When the hot water is gone, though, and you're all wet, 46F is very, um, bracing.


  • So is the toilet seat at 42F.


  • At a certain point, the refrigerator becomes redundant.


  • As previously mentioned, we really, really need wood heat. And a gas stove. Those two items would have made all the difference in the world.



In other news, I finished the back of the Japanese sweater! By candlelight! So now the front is in progress, which should be much more enjoyable, despite - or actually, because of - being a bit more complex. At the moment, though, I think I hear the shower calling my name. Mmmmmmm, hot water.

UPDATE: Just talked to David and we got power back at around 5PM!

10 December 2008

A Very Memorable Evening

Before I left for work Monday afternoon, I called David at the warehouse to decide whether or not to take Tuck to work with me (I did) and just to check in, since he's usually home when I'm leaving. One of the first things he said to me when I called was, "You need to make sure you don't get home too late tomorrow, because we might have plans. And you're not allowed to ask any questions." I'm kind of used to his surprises and not the type generally to get to wound up about it, so I dutifully didn't ask any questions other than, "What time is 'not too late'?" He told me by 6PM, which is usually quite doable even when I feel the need to sleep at the clinic, and so I went along to work knowing something was in store.

Fast forward to this morning, when it was snowing and the roads were getting a bit slick right at rush hour, and I was dead, dragging tired. I did the prudent thing and took a nap at the clinic, after calling home to check in and let David know I wasn't heading home right away. Plus I confirmed again the "home by 6PM" plan still stood.

When I woke up from my nap in the afternoon, however, I checked my e-mail and saw one from David saying that we needed to be leaving the house by 5:45PM and wearing nice-ish casual clothes for an evening out. So suddenly getting home by 6PM had turned into home, ready, and heading back out the door by 5:45PM, with me unshowered and leaving the clinic with no time to spare. Eep!

So I rushed home, called ahead to have David pick me out some appropriate clothing, and still took a shower (since I was in no condition to be seen in public otherwise). And then we started driving. All he would tell me was that we were heading to Manchester, New Hampshire, about an hour away, and asked if I had ID and my cell phone. Then as we neared Manchester, he got a phone call from an unidentified source and began discussing a meeting place.

I ran down a mental list of possibilities and had a bit of a short list of who the mystery person(s) could be, so I wasn't terribly surprised when it turned out to be his production manager, Christine, along with her husband, Michael. At the rendezvous point (Taco Bell), they hopped into our car and I was informed that we would be heading from there to Concord, the state capital another half hour away.

After we got back on the road, Christine let slip that she had just talked to her brother. This was a huge clue. Christine is originally from Buffalo, and her brother Art runs a nightclub there and has a second business as a concert promoter. He's a very well-connected guy, and Christine has all kinds of stories about the famous people she's met through him. Anyway, I knew that Art had promoted a show once before in Concord, for someone I'm a longtime fan of. So when we got off the freeway and approached the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, I was not at all shocked to see the name David Sedaris on the marquee.

Since Art was the promoter for this event, we had comp tickets for the show, which was especially nice given our current budget crunch. The best part, though, is that we all went out to dinner together afterwards. I got to spend an hour in a restaurant seated across from one of my favorite authors.

I actually saw Sedaris do a reading once before, back when I lived in Pittsburgh. I went with my friend Eve, and we waited afterwards for well over an hour in a very long line to get my books signed. Because of the sheer number of people, he had very little time to chit-chat and could only really make a brief inscription and sign the books, but he had a little rubber stamp with him and stamped each book when he opened it with something in Thai. I was told later that the word translates as "Inspected". He told me at dinner that he got the stamp from an office supply store in Bangkok and plans to do the same in Tokyo.

One of the things I always wonder about celebrities is whether they're genuine or if they've let it all go to their heads. The few I've met have generally been decent people, which is always nice to see, and David Sedaris doesn't seem to be an exception to that. The dinner conversation ranged all over - from the phenomenon of people constantly misremembering that my David and I are from the Norths (Dakota and Carolina, respectively) when we're actually from the Souths, to learning new languages, to kids vs. pets, to his irritation at Hugh painting his office lavender while he was away on a book tour - and I found the author to be quite delightful company.

It was, I think, the best surprise ever.


p.s., if there are any Torontonians reading this, he'll be doing a reading at Massey Hall Wednesday night (That's tonight!).

08 December 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Last night forecast low was 17F/-8C, but when I went to bed the thermometer read 12.4F/-10.9C, and the power had gone out twice from the high winds. The second time it was out for about a half hour, which was a bit disconcerting. Although we have an oil furnace, the thermostat and ignition are electric. It will be a happy day when we have a masonry heater (Finnish style, rather than one of those Baroque ceramic numbers) and rely primarily on wood.

Today, the National Weather Service was calling for a high of 28F/-2C, but it barely managed to squeeze up to 18F/-8C before I left the house. And I set my mittens down to get something and then walked out of the house without them. Tonight, we're getting single digits. All of it is good incentive to work on the Japanese sweater, which I did for a while last night by candlelight.

Meantime, I am continuing to play around with SketchUp. Look what I've done with the upstairs!

Upstairs Plan 02

Currently, the rooms on either side are divided up into two smaller rooms, so this plan will necessitate taking out a couple of walls which, IMO, have no good reason to be anymore. I suppose when the Tobey family were raising their eight kids (yes, eight kids, in a 1500 sq. ft. house), it gave them more of a sense of privacy, but for us, it just doesn't work so well. This also moves the east bathroom wall (this is standard N-is-up view) a further foot and a half eastward to allow some rearrangement there. And what is now our TV room/stash storage/retiring room, will, at least theoretically, become a combined office/crafting/retiring room. And the wall dividing off what we're currently using as a giant walk-in closet disappears for a more open bedroom floor plan.

Of course, the plan also requires raising the roofline to create a shed dormer, since the south face currently has only a half-wall and no windows. I hate this for several reasons, but the biggest are that it means we get less light in the winter time and we have poor airflow upstairs in the summer. Also, raising the roofline a bit on that side should open up a bit more attic space, and I really, really think we need to finish the attic to use it for storage. And insulate it a lot better.

Of course, it's much easier to sort it out in a freeware computer program than to come up with the money to execute the plans, but I figure it'll be another 25 years or so before we retire, so there's time. In the meantime, it's a fun exercise to think about how to make the best use of the space we have. David and I are fans of Sarah Susanka and her Not So Big series, and my ideas are largely informed by her ideas, though I'd say that, on some level, it's an aesthetic principle that I already understood intuitively.

In a nutshell, it's about using smaller spaces smartly (intelligent design?) - open floor plans, multi-use spaces, creating spatial divisions with fewer walls, creative approaches to storage, etc. Right now, as I've mentioned, our house suffers from some serious flow issues. Our nominal guest room is cramped and only accessible by navigating through David's very cluttered studio; the studio has no built-in storage; the kitchen is cold, poorly laid out, and only accessible through a very narrow doorway; and because the washer and dryer take up much of our side mud room, which is the main entry we use, the mud room has been essentially shifted into David's studio, which makes it even more cramped. Among other things.

So what I've tried to do is identify changes that will, again theoretically, rectify those problems and leave us with spaces that we actually use, instead of a lot of cluttered, cramped areas that aren't so fun to spend time in. Since it's a very old house that's had a lot done to it over the last 300 years, I'm sure we'll run up against all sorts of unexpected issues, and I'm anticipating needing to consult an engineer at some point to discuss the feasibility of some of our ideas. Still, it's a very intriguing project and one I'm enjoying the hell out of.

07 December 2008

Nom Nom Nom

120608Aloo_mattar

Proof that yummy food doesn't have to be pricey. Since I was short on foodstuffs here at work, I stopped by the local supermarket to pick up a few items and got fixings to make this tasty aloo matar (आलू मतर). I used curry paste, which makes the prep work much faster - always a good thing at work - and I left the potato skins on, which is my usual personal preference.

Speaking of Indian food, we went to our local Indian restaurant for dinner Friday night. It was the first time we'd been there since they remodeled and put in the dining room. Before, it was takeout only, but now it's a hopping place, which was very good to see. Raj, the chef, is a very sweet guy, and it's good to see him doing well. It was also good to see him and learn that his family in Mumbai are safe.

Progress on the Japanese sweater has slowed a bit, as I've been a little distracted by a new toy from the folks at Google. SketchUp is a 3D modeling program that's both way cool and a major time suck (Thanks, Leela! I think). I've been using it to try to create mock-ups of what I'd like the interior of our house to look like someday. This is my WIP for the upstairs:

"Upstairs Plan

If I had the $495 to shell out for the pro version I could make an animation of the model, but times being what they are, you're just going to have to settle for 2D. The big long-term goal is going to be to open up the floor plan so that we can really optimize our usage of the space we have. Right now the flow is very poor, but by moving a few walls around - and removing a few outright - we should be able to have a huge impact on the feel of the house. And since it's timberframe construction, none of the interior walls are load-bearing, which will make moving them a cinch. Relatively speaking, anyway.

In the meantime, we've got a little bit of a dispute on our hands over some replacement sashes we ordered from a local building supply store for David's office. We were looking for and expected clad exterior with wood interior and tried to make that clear. What we got was described as "stainable interior" but turned out to be vinyl with cheap wood-print veneer.

The window sales guy is trying to convince us that it's a great choice, since it was his fuck-up to begin with (We think he didn't do his homework and didn't realize that it was veneer.) and he doesn't want to get stuck eating the cost of custom sashes. We don't have any intention, however, of settling for something we didn't want, especially when it's liable to get dinged up and look like shit within a few years. So e-mails have been sent, and we're waiting to see if he's willing to make it right or if we're going to have to push harder.

And if it comes down to it, it really won't take much to put me in a fighting mood.

04 December 2008

A Dull Dullard

That'd be me, it appears. I just haven't had much to talk about lately, or at least haven't been very good at blogging about it. Part of the reason, not surprisingly, is work. I took on four extra shifts in November, which meant spending a lot more time at the clinic. As we've been experiencing a seasonal dip in cases, there's been very little of note there - an apparent uptick in immune-mediated anemias and thrombocytopenias, which is really the kind of thing that would only interest people like me, but little else.

Things on the knitting front have been similarly boring. I plug away on the back panel of the Japanese sweater, which gets longer a little at a time, but there's only so much potential blog fodder in a slowly growing mass of stockinette. Perhaps when I get to the front and begin working the cabled section it'll be slightly more riveting, but for the moment and considering I've been quite monogamous while working on this project, it's just not that blog-worthy.

The only real excitement of note lately is the effect the bad economy is having on David's business. Let's just say that things aren't looking particularly rosy at the moment, so I've been working on an austerity plan in the event that we're reduced to a single income for a while. Thankfully, that situation doesn't appear to be imminent, but I did sort out a workable budget that will allow us to get by on just my income for the time being and shift David's income into building a contingency fund, just in case.

If you're in our neck of the woods and want help us keep the contingency fund as just a contingency, or if you just need some nice holiday gifts (like alpaca socks!), David is planning a two-day sales event this Friday (10a-8p) and Saturday (10a-4p) at his company warehouse (click for Google map). Otherwise, the website (see the link over in the sidebar) has an online store, so go buy some socks for the people in your life who don't wear only handknits.

Meantime, I'll be here trying to think up something more interesting to write about next time.

25 November 2008

Away and Back Again

I had a far-too-brief visit with my grandparents in South Carolina last week, a fair chunk of which was spent working on the final for my epidemiology class. I also managed to get David to follow me down a day later - his first trip ever to see where I grew up. I pretty sure it was the promise of cheese grits every morning that did it.

Anyway, what with all the finalizing of the exam and the visiting and the knitting of the sweater (I'm working on the back!), not very many photos got taken. In fact, I only have two to offer, and they're both from airports. The first is one I snapped when I got to Logan Airport in Boston at around 4:30AM on Wednesday. The security checkpoints hadn't even opened yet because so few people were there.

SC_Trip 001

And the second was in the Charlotte airport waiting to return home. This little girl and her brother decided to play peekaboo with me from behind the pillar I was sitting next to, so out came the camera and I managed to snap this:

SC_Trip 002

She told me her name is Grace and her brother's name is Will. Her parents, apparently, watch way too much TV.

17 November 2008

A Farewell Tribute

My friend Daphne passed away Sunday morning. It was not unexpected, as she'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer over a year ago, but she had a relatively slowly-progressing case and had done reasonably well for quite some time. Word came from her sister Sheila a week ago that Daphne had decided it was time to stop eating. She had struggled with nausea caused by the cancer for months, but she had finally had enough and made the decision to go on her own terms.

At the time of her diagnosis last year, I was particularly worried that she would not survive or be healthy enough to attend my and David's wedding the following June. Pancreatic carcinomas are notoriously nasty cancers, and hers was invasive enough by the time it was found that it was inoperable. We felt very fortunate that she was, ultimately, able to be there, as she was instrumental in our finding the venue for the wedding (see this post). Also, the B&B where the wedding party stayed and where we held the reception used to be a cabin owned by her father.

Daphne had cerebral palsy and fairly severe scoliosis, but she never slowed down. She sang in choirs, lived very independently, led an active social life, served on the board of the chapel where David and I got married, and for many years was the postmistress for the seasonal post office serving the little summer colony where she was one of the few year-round residents. I knew her for several years from a Maine lgbt listserv but didn't meet her in person for the first time until just a few years ago. She was the kind of spirit, though, who really made an impression on everyone around her, and the world is ever so much better for having had her in it.

Here's a photo of Daphne from this past July taken at a get-together that I wasn't able to attend, as it was just a couple weeks after the wedding. She was nearly 11 months post-diagnosis at this point and had lost quite a bit of weight, but the joy that made her such a treasure to know is still so clear. She will be missed, but she'll live on in the hearts of all she touched, which is the best possible tribute to her life.



If you want to read a bit more about Daphne and another life she touched, Mary-Helen also has a lovely tribute to her.

14 November 2008

A Productive Night

Only 49 minutes to go in my shift, and so far so good. We never like to use the "q" word around the clinic, but let's just say I ended up with only one inpatient and managed to be productive in several non-work areas. Most importantly for this here knitting blog, I finished ball #2 for the Japanese raglan about halfway through sleeve #2. Actually, it's more than halfway, because I have 21 more rows to go before I cast off underarm stitches and begin the raglan decreases, which means I'm 105 rows along with only about 85 or so rows left, most of which will be decreasing rapidly.

111408Sleeve

I could have kicked myself for not grabbing the next ball of yarn when I was getting ready to leave the house, but I did have a few other things to keep me occupied, like this:

111408Tuck07

David has given me the task of getting photos of Tuck for an extra double top secret photo project. He won't tell me what they're to be used for, has only barely given me some guidelines as to what they should look like, and the kicker is that he doesn't want to see them, so I get no feedback. I'm to pass them along in an e-mail which he will forward somewhere without viewing the attachments. Beyond that I'm not allowed to ask questions.

Since I wanted nice photos, I broke out my 50mm/f1.8 lens, which I haven't used for a while but which takes absolutely lovely photos. For about $200 more I could have gotten the faster f1.4 lens, but this one does pretty nice bokeh at a much more affordable price. This is the lens that will be going to India with me in March.

Anyway, I got this one after I got up from my desk chair. Tuck likes to sleep on a blankie under my desk, but he always jumps up whenever I go anywhere, whether he's quite awake or not. It's pretty obvious from this shot that this time fell into the "not" category. Which, of course, just makes me want to smooch him.

12 November 2008

Fun with Blog Stats

Interesting searches which have brought people to my blog this week:

- An msn.com search for "titty jiggel"[sic], which led someone to this post.

- A Google image search for "wonder woman's butt", which led someone to this post.

What surprises me about the last one is that GayProf's blog didn't come up at all.

10 November 2008

Meatless and Potatoes

Just because I'm at work all night long doesn't mean I can't eat well.

Meatless_and_potatoes


And, Plotz!

You just cannot imagine how much I love this little face (even though he's about to shoot a laser out of his left eye).

110808Tuck 002

07 November 2008

Election Reflection

It's late and nearly time for bed, so I'm not going to expound on the other night's results too much. I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I'm pleased at the outcome of the presidential race. I may not agree with Obama on every policy issue, but he's intelligent, articulate, and inspiring - very presidential qualities that have been sorely lacking in this country for far too long. Perhaps when I have more time, I'll expound on what I think he and the Congress should be doing to address this financial mess.

On the matter of Prop 8 in California - and, for that matter, the other hate measures that passed (unsurprisingly) in Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas - I can only say this: The sanctity of marriage was never the issue. A marriage is never sanctified by the law, or by the involvement of a minister, or even by a deity. What ultimately makes a marriage sacred is the hearts of the people in it.

What Prop 8 and the other measures were about was power, pure and simple. The majority wielded their power to deliberately hurt a minority whose existence they oppose. And in that, it is no different from any other type of discrimination. The authors of Prop 8 may claim a Biblical foundation for their actions, but growing up in the post-segregation South I was still taught in church the Biblical basis for anti-miscegenation laws and for segregation. Who now is to say where the hate will stop? After all, James Dobson needs to get his millions from somewhere.

On the Knitting Front

I'm making good progress on the first sweater sleeve and am nearly halfway through the raglan decreases. Since it's primarily stockinette and curling like mad, though, there won't be any photos for a bit. So far it looks as though my alterations to the pattern are working well for size, but it'll be more telling when I've got the body well in hand and I've got another sleeve to go yet before I start getting into that.

02 November 2008

It's All About Me

Since I finished off the handwarmers and Tuck's sweater, my hands were finally free to start a sweater from my newly acquired Japanese pattern books.

110208Sleeve

This is sleeve #1 of a raglan sleeve sweater, and it's the first time I've ever done a sweater that requires assembly. By which I mean real assembly, not fold it and sew up the sleeves like the Baby Surprise Jacket. While I was adapting the pattern from something to fit a scrawny Japanese dude, I suppose I could have adapted it to seamless construction. It's actually a pattern that would be fairly amenable to it, I think. I decided not to, though, because I thought it would be a good exercise for me to do the seaming at least once.

So here I am venturing into unfamiliar waters, but so far I'm getting gauge and there are only 35 more rows to go before I start the raglan shaping. I just need to get it finished soon. It's getting cold out!

28 October 2008

Tuck's New Sweater

Just a little over a month since I bought the yarn, and I finished it off this morning. I think that may be some kind of record.

102808New_sweater01

As soon as I finished weaving in the last end, I put it on him. Since his natural tendency when I get down on his level is to run over and give me kisses, getting a good shot of it in use proved a bit more challenging. It's quite form-fitting, which is exactly what I was going for, and he's very pleased with it.

102808New_sweater02

27 October 2008

From Semi- to Fully FO

102608Wristwarmers

Last night was really busy at work, but during a very late lull I was able to finish up the last few rounds on #2 of the pair. I ended up casting off the thumb stitches just slightly tighter on the second one than on the first, but it's not enough to irritate me and they're very cozy.

The pattern is one we had at Rhinebeck that was originally written for Landscapes, which is a discontinued baby alpaca/silk yarn - worsted weight, so comparable to the Mojito I used for these. It's a very straightforward ribbed pattern with a simple thumb gusset. The only change I made to the pattern was to reverse the shaping of the thumb gusset on #2 so that the two would be more or less mirror images, rather than one always looking like I put it on backwards.

Now I need to finish up Tuck's sweater so that I can cast one from the Japanese pattern books for myself.

21 October 2008

The Funniest Thing I Heard at Rhinebeck

Me: Did you set me aside a copy of your book?
Franklin: My publisher sent like 150 copies, so I don't think you have to worry.

All I can say is, I'm glad I ran over and bought my copy while I still could.

And a Semi-FO


I did manage to finish the first of a pair of handwarmers, though a little late to serve as a display model for the Mojito yarn we were selling. We'd gotten to play around with some of the early prototypes for this yarn, but this was the first we'd had our hands on the final product. It's incredibly luscious stuff - 100% baby alpaca worsted weight - but didn't sell as well as we would have liked. This is in the colorway "Winter Blues".

102008Handwarmer

David spent a good chunk of the drive home this afternoon wearing it, so I'm thinking I won't be getting much chance to use them for myself when I finish the second one.

19 October 2008

Rhinebeck 2008

My camera has exactly 2 photos on it from the festival, neither of which turned out well. I know that Scout will have some pics, and Carol has one of the most "interesting" experience I had this year. Suffice to say it was busy, which is a very good thing for us as vendors, albeit a bit rough on the feets. As always, though, the best part about Rhinebeck is seeing wonderful, dear people who have become part of our world - most of whom we see far too infrequently. We were especially grateful to Stephen and Sean for all their help over the weekend, even if Stephen isn't going to be able to come visit Tuck.

The second best part was the gorgeous black Shetland fleece that I bought. That one's going to be blended with my Juliette fleece and made into luscious, dark chocolate yarn I can make into sweaters, because I'm so worth it. I'm taking it to a mill to be spun, though, 'cause as fun as it would be to do it myself, I really want to be able to wear it in my lifetime.

My only other purchase was a set of ram's horn buttons from Frelsi Farm, who are also the source of yarn (purchased last month) for Tuck's latest sweater-in-progress. So I guess that means a cardigan will be going on the to-knit list, likely one from the Japanese pattern books I just got last week. Beautiful stuff, all of it.

Now I'm off to go watch some cable TV with my sweetie, and tomorrow we actually get to sleep in, which is very truly a wonderful and marvelous thing.

16 October 2008

Pre-Rhinebeck Rush

I'm running on three hours' sleep, haven't packed, have to drop the car off at the garage (which is, admittedly, only a two minute walk away) and we're supposed to be loaded up and on our way in a few hours. Since we got home from Peru a scant 107 hours ago, I've spent 45 hours or so working, 4 hours commuting, and most of the rest sleeping, doing homework and trying to spend what little time was left with David.

So it is in that spirit that I offer you this random photo from Peru:

101108Bellisima

If you will be looking for us at Rhinebeck this weekend, please note that we will be in a different spot from previous years. Up until now we've been in Barn 39, which is where Franklin will be signing copies of his book on Saturday. This year, however, we will be in Barn 31, which has a highly-coveted cement floor instead of sometimes-beetle-larvae-infested bark mulch.

In case a visual will help, here is the interactive ("I do not think it means what you think it means.") map lifted shamelessly from the festival website.



The weather is supposed to be perfect for warm woolies this weekend, so we hope to see you there!

09 October 2008

A Quickie

Not really any time to write anything. We have an early morning tomorrow and I've been dealing with the mild-but-a-bit-of-a-nuisance fallout from what was most likely a contaminated, albeit very yummy, tomato yesterday evening (though I haven't ruled out something in my lunch sandwich).

Anyway, today was a national holiday here in Peru, and the naval hero who lost his life in that battle has a statue in his honor at the traffic rotary by our hotel. This meant a military band and parade in front of the hotel rather early this morning. They didn't roust me out of bed very effectively, but I did manage to get a few pics at the end of the proceedings.

100808Militares

100808Marinero02

100808Hombre_con_perros

And this is the view from our hotel room of the volcano Misti, whence comes the name of Misti Alpaca yarn company.

100808Misti

Tomorrow it's back to Lima for another night and several more meetings before we catch a Friday night redeye home.

06 October 2008

Saludos Desde Perú!

100508Arequipa

After a night to rest up in Lima, we hopped on a plane to Arequipa this morning, and Christine snapped this shot with my phone just after we got off the plane. The mountain in the background is a volcano, one of three visible from the city, called Chachani.

We're about another half a mile higher up than Denver here, and I'm feeling it just a little bit - mostly needing to take more deep breaths. David, however, is a firm believer in the local tradition of coca leaf tea, so I'm following his lead. Hopefully I won't be required to take a pee test anytime soon after our return! Oh, and the food here is nothing short of phenomenal.

More photos will follow, but I need to be working on some homework just now. And to the raffle winners, all the franticness (franticity? franticosity?) of late prevented me from getting items into the mail before we left, but it's just a matter of getting the packages ready and down to the post office. I shall e-mail all when things are sent out.

03 October 2008

Home Sweet Home!

We closed on the house yesterday! I was a little afraid to blog any updates - worried I'd jinx the process - but it finally happened. No rest for the weary, though, as I had to hurry home and gather up my things to head to work. And now I need to get in a few hours' nap before taking Tuck to a dermatology appointment to see if we can work out some of his skin allergy issues.

There is a New York Times article right here that actually explains very well what made our process so difficult. I was prompted for a login (which is free) this morning trying to access it, and if I weren't so tired and badly in need of sleep I'd excerpt the pertinent part here(maybe later). Anyway, I've had a login with NYT for years and it's worth it for the read.

In the meantime, I think I'll just distract you with this clip I found on Fail Blog:



I laughed 'til I cried.

29 September 2008

Another Album Cover

In case you missed them before, the rules are here. I broke them by using the first quote this time, since it went so well with the photo. Does anyone know the entire quote?



Original photo here.

28 September 2008

Palin-Couric Redux

I love Tina Fey.

Nom Nom Nom

Since it's raining and there's a hurricane on the way (which likely won't still be a hurricane by the time it gets here, so we're not fretting about it), I decided tonight was a night for split pea soup. I got some dried split peas at the store, but this time I didn't need to buy any parsnips, because I have some growing in my garden beds. I'd been holding off on pulling any, as they're supposed to be a bit sweeter after a frost, but I decided it was time and pulled this monster out.

092708Parsnip

That serving tray is about 20" (51cm) across, just to give you an idea. And even though there was some splitting along one side and a little bit of insect damage, there was still plenty for the soup pot. And the soup was perfect.

Plotz-Inducing Cuteness

While I was making soup, Tuck took a nap in his other daddy's arms. You can just barely see the tip of his tongue.

092708Sweet_Tuck01

26 September 2008

Album Cover Meme

thedreadednyondo did this one months ago, and I've been meaning to play with it myself. The way it works is this:

Go to...

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random
The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

2. http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3
The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.

3. http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days/
The third picture (direction not specified, so this could theoretically be horizontally, vertically or diagonally), no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

Caveat: You should be very careful with this last one, as most people retain all or some rights for their photos. I only used photos with Creative Commons licenses requiring attribution and permitting derivations of the original, which did require reloading the page several times but keeps me safe from lawsuits.

Use your graphics program of choice to throw them together, and post the result in your own blog because it’s more amusing that way.

So here's what I came up with:








original photos here, here, and here.


As usual, no tagging, but I would love to see what other people come up with.

24 September 2008

$575!

That's how much folks donated to the Center for Wildlife for the raffle. Well done!

I did do the drawing last night at work, but forgot to upload the file where I could access it from home tonight. Unfortunately, I don't have a photographic memory that would allow me to rattle off all seven winners, but I can say that Paul, the Blithering Knitiot, was at the top of the list and wins first choice! I shall be contacting all the winners directly to make their selections from the prize pool.

Speaking of which, this skein of 50% merino/50% tencel sock yarn from Black Bunny Fibers, will be going in with the sock yarns - thank you, Carol!



Also, Mindy at Puff the Magic Rabbit generously offered a 4oz. skein of handspun mohair/border leicester (seen below) or roving, winner's choice. That will go along with the Paton's Up Country, since it looks lonely all by itself.



Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. Every little bit makes a difference, and your donations are truly appreciated.

22 September 2008

Common Ground Fair

On Friday night, David and I drove up to my parents' so that we could all go to the Common Ground Fair on Saturday. As this fair is run by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, it's really unlike any other fair I've ever gone to. I only half-jokingly refer to it as a hippie lovefest, because to an extent it is, but it's also more than just that. Maine was (and still is) a big center for the back-to-the-land movement, not least because of the influence of Helen and Scott Nearing, so there's an interesting mix here of counterculture and old-fashioned Yankee self-sufficiency.

Anyway, this was the busiest I'd ever seen the fair. The weather was perfect, and it seemed that everyone wanted to be there. There was also someone there I'd been unsuccessful in crossing paths with for quite some time now, but at long last we met face-to-face and the moment was captured for posterity (my only photo of the day!):

092008Me_n_knitnzu

I'll leave her to tell her story about smuggling coffee onto the fairgrounds.

Last Call for the Raffle

The Raffle for the Critters ends tonight! If you want to enter and haven't yet, you have until midnight tonight. I just updated my spreadsheet this morning, and it looks like y'all have donated $540 so far to the good folks at the Center for Wildlife. Good job!

19 September 2008

Food Meme

Since I'm feeling otherwise uninspired, I'm going to do this food meme (bold the things you've eaten, strike through the ones that shall never pass your lips) that I've seen in a couple of places. This particular one is an amalgam of two different versions - one found on dcjay's blog and one on tornwordo's blog. It's essentially the same meme, but dcjay's seemed to have a slightly more hippie/vegetarian leaning, so I weeded out the duplicates (and alphabetized). Since I've been ovo-lacto vegetarian for nearly 14 years, there are a fair number of things I didn't get around to eating before that are de facto eliminated from my list. Before that, though, there were quite a few things I tried just by virtue of growing up in the South.

Abalone
Aloo gobi
Authentic soba noodles - At least I think so. Define "authentic".
Baba ghanoush
Bagel and lox
Bagna cauda
Baijiu
Baklava
Beer above 8% ABV - Possibly, but it's not something I necessarily look at
Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake - I sure do love me some fried dough
Bellini - Not yet, but if it involves peaches I'm sure to love it
Birch beer - Tried it - too much like root beer
Black pudding - Even back in my carnivorous days this one had no appeal
Black truffle
Boba Tea
Borscht - da, is good
Brawn, or head cheese
Butterscotch chips - Mmmmmm, butterscotch
Calamari
Carob chips - Poor substitute for chocolate, IMO
Carp - I have, however, eaten pickerel, which is similarly bony
Catfish - See that bit about growing up in the South
Caviar - Does fried bream roe count?
Cheese blintzes
Ceviche - I worked in a seafood restaurant and watched them cut worms out of the fish fillets
Cheese fondue - In Zürich, no less
Chicken tikka masala - Strangely enough, I never had Indian food during my pre-veg days.
Chickpea cutlets - ????
Chitterlings, or andouillette - The correct spelling is chitlins, I don't care what anyone says. I did help clean them out on butchering day once, but I never ate any.
Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl - I'm not sure. I have had beer and cheese soup in sourdough, though.
Clotted cream tea
Cognac with a fat cigar - Why in the hell would anyone want to ruin a perfectly good drink with tobacco?
Corn on the cob - Mmmmmmm
Cotton candy
crème brulee
Criollo chocolate - ????
Crocodile - Though I'm sure it tastes like chicken
Croissants
Curried goat
Curry - A frequent type of dish in our house. Also the ex's surname.
Currywurst
Daal
Dirty gin martini - Maybe??? The last time I had martinis was my 36th birthday, which was 2 weeks after the ex dumped me. I don't really recall everything that was consumed.
Dulce de leche
Durian - Not yet, but I have seen one in the local Asian market and been tempted.
Eel
Eggs Benedict
Epoisses - Not yet, but I'm usually game to try stinky cheeses at least once.
Fast food french fries - Hasn't everyone?
Flowers
Foie gras - Diseased duck (or goose) liver - disgusting, cruel, and unethical
French onion soup
Fresh Garbanzo Beans - I think I've only ever had them prepared from dried beans.
Fresh wild berries
Fried plantain - Nom, especially with hot sauce.
Frogs’ legs
Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
Fugu - Kind of like jumping out of a perfectly functioning airplane, if you ask me.
Gazpacho
Gjetost, or brunost
Gnocchi - I've even made 'em.
Goat’s milk - Mmmmmm, goaty
Goulash
Green Smoothie - ????
Gumbo
Gyoza
Haggis - I made a veggie "haggis" once, but never did the sheep stomach and organ meats deal.
Hare - I assume rabbit counts (they're not exactly the same).
Heirloom tomatoes - See a couple of posts back about my love of 'mater sammiches
Homemade Sausages
Homemade Soymilk
Horse
Hostess Fruit Pie
Hot dog from a street cart
Huevos rancheros
Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
Jerky
Kaolin - Sure, in Kaopectate
Kimchi
Knish
Kobe beef
Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut - After all, I am from the Carolinas.
Lapsang souchong
Lobster Thermidor
Louche absinthe
Macaroni and “cheese” - I'm not quite sure what's up with the quotation marks, though.
Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - Not yet
Mango lassi
Mangosteen
Marmite/Vegemite
Mashed potatoes with gravy
Matzoh ball soup - I suppose I could always make it with vegetable stock.
McDonald’s Big Mac Meal - Probably, but they've been off my list for so long that I don't remember.
Mochi
Mole poblano
Moussaka - Vegetarian version only
Mulled cider
Nachos
Natto
Nettle tea
Oxtail
Oysters - Though never raw
Paneer - I've even made it.
PB&J sandwich - Who did they think would be doing this meme? Bushmen?
Phaal - Not yet, but the idea makes my mouth water.
Pho - Not unless I can find a veg version.
Piña colada
Pistachio ice cream
Pocky
Polenta
Pomegranate
Potato milk
Poutine - not yet
Prickly pear
Raw Brownies
Raw cookie dough
Raw scotch bonnet pepper - Not a whole one
Rice and beans
Roadkill - My mom hit a small deer once when I was a kid.
Root beer float - Possibly once before I lost my tenuous taste for root beer.
Rose harissa
S’mores - If only vegetarian marshmallows were more readily available....
Salted lassi
Samosas
Sauerkraut
Savory crepes
Scones with buttery spread and jam
Scrapple
Sea urchin
Seaweed
Seitan
Smoked tofu
Snail
Snake
Soft shell crab
Soy curls - ????
Spaetzle
Spam
Sprouted grains or seeds
Steak tartare
Steamed pork buns
Stroopwafel
Sweetbreads - Surprisingly, no
Taco from a street cart
Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
Tofu Scramble
Tofurkey
Tom yum - Maybe if I could find it made without fish sauce
Umeboshi
Vanilla ice cream
Vegetable Sushi
Venison - We ate about as much venison as beef when I was growing up.
Vodka jelly/Jell-O - Does Everclear count?
Warm chocolate chip cookies
Wasabi peas
Whipped cream, straight from the can
White chocolate
Whole insects
Wine from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more - Not yet
Yellow watermelon

16 September 2008

Snake!

This is actually a healthy wildlife photo. Somebody brought this gorgeous little Eastern Milk Snake into us today before I got to work. The poor little thing had found its way into their office building. Fortunately, they were good people and didn't scream and squish it.

091508Snake

One of our techs took it home to show her daughters before releasing it. At this age, its chances of survival aren't super high, since Nature is one cruel bitch of a mother. It's at least equipped with all the instinctive knowledge needed to make it, though, and since it's not injured, it's better off out in the wild where it belongs.

Meantime, don't let that keep you from entering the Raffle for the Critters. You've got another week!

15 September 2008

The Panopticon Comes to Common Cod

On Friday, I somewhat reluctantly left David at home and made a special trip down to Boston for the inaugural meeting of the Common Cod Fiber Guild. I didn't go to join, as my schedule makes it hard for me to get down to the city, but they had a very special guest I couldn't miss a chance to see, especially as he was so close by and I happened to have the night off.

I took very few photos of the event, but it was really wonderful - both to see so many people I know and to hear Franklin's talk, which was every bit as entertaining as one might expect. Here's the author just before he began. It's not a very good quality photo, but I like the graphic aspects of it.

091208Franklin

And this one is for Rabbitch, as requested:

091208Smooch

Aside from enjoying the company of some wonderful people, the highlight of the evening for me was getting to hold the christening shawl. It's every bit as exquisite as it looks.

11 September 2008

Harvest-y Food

But first, go enter the Raffle for the Critters. Only one person has entered so far, and I'm pretty sure her stash isn't hurting for this much more stuff. Plus, Carol of GKIYH has promised some of her hand-dyed Black Bunny Fibers sock yarn to sweeten the pot a bit more. Seriously, a tax deductible donation of $5 or more gets you a chance to win yarn with the holidays and cold weather coming up. I'll wait right here while you go to it.
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Okay, I haven't had much in the way of food pics for a little while, and this week has been a bountiful one in the garden. The other night, I made this garden veggie soup almost entirely with veggies from my beds. The store-boughten ingredients were onion, mushrooms, olive oil, butter, salt, pepper and miso. The homegrown ingredients were swiss chard, potatoes, roma tomatoes, carrots, garlic, noodle beans, broccoli, oregano, thyme and butterpeas (although those actually came from South Carolina and not my own garden).

090808Garden_veggie_soup

Tonight we had the leftovers with these wonderfully yeasty rolls I baked - particularly nice considering the temp has dropped down into the 40's (It's currently 46.5F/8C) tonight:

091008Rolls

For breakfast (which was at 6:30PM), though, I had my first tomato sandwiches of the season. I got my tomatoes in the ground a little bit late, and then for an eating tomato I went with Brandywine, which is a late season heirloom. I have to say that it was worth the wait - sweet, low acidity and wonderfully juicy.

091008Mater_sammich

The perfect tomato sandwich, in my opinion, is a very basic one. The fanciest I get is toasted whole grain bread. Other than that, it's just slices of fresh garden tomato with real mayo, salt and pepper. Anything else just tends to distract from the flavor of the tomato. That may be fine for a tomato from the supermarket, but I say that if that's where you're getting your tomato there's not really much point in making a sandwich in the first place.

09 September 2008

Raffle for the Critters

Okay, you've read this post about the turtles and the excellent folks at the Center for Wildlife, right? So I thought about this blog contest idea a bit and I've gone through my stash and picked a few things - with a combined street value of several hundred dollars - that I think will be of interest to folks. So here are the items that will be up for grabs:

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Approximately 6oz. of merino roving from a farm in Massachusetts (I've forgotten which)

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Two 100g skeins of Araucania Nature Wool Chunky and nine 25g skeins of Alpaca with a Twist Landscapes (discontinued baby alpaca/silk)

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Five 100g balls of Paton's UpCountry 100% soft wool singles (sadly discontinued)

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Approx. 1kg cone of orange-brown marled superfine alpaca yarn, fingering weight

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Seventeen 25g balls of Austermann Gold der Anden 70% baby alpaca/30% merino sportweight, grey marl

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Fifteen 25g balls of Austermann Gold der Anden 70% baby alpaca/30% merino sportweight, blue

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Four balls of Brown Sheep's Wildfoote and two balls of Regia Stretch self-striping sock yarn - total of three pairs' worth of sock yarn

Since the goal here is to raise as much money as possible for the selfless work these folks do, I decided that a raffle would be the best way to do it. So here's how this will work:

1. First go to this page and make a donation of at least $5 to the Center for Wildlife. Remember, donations to them are tax deductible (at least here in the US - I'm not sure if it works that way for international donations).

2. Then e-mail me at mel daht vassey at gmail daht com and let me know how much you've donated. Or you can leave me a comment, which goes to the same address. All comments have to be approved by me before being published, and I won't publish individual donation amounts.

3. Every $5 donated will count as one entry into the raffle, so a $20 donation will enter your name 4 times, a $50 donation 10 times, etc. The more you donate, the better your chances of winning something. I trust that people will be honest on this, but I can always go back to the folks at the Center for Wildlife and check up, especially since I told them today that I was planning this.

4. I will leave this raffle open for the next two weeks, so any donation through 11:59PM on 22 September 2008, will be eligible for the drawing. After the deadline is reached, I will use a random number generator to select seven winning "tickets". As in a real raffle, persons with multiple entries may be able to win multiple items. The winning "tickets" will be ordered numerically, so that the first winner will get their first pick of the item they'd prefer, and so on down the line.

So go and do a good thing. You can claim a tax deduction and you may just get some fabulous prizes out of it, so you'll win either way!