Fifth Saturday Wrapup

Funny how things snowball once you get rolling.  I had no idea when I woke up this morning at 5:45 a.m. that I would accomplish so much today.  I had hopes of a quiet day at home, cleaning off the DVR and actually started on this endeavor before getting sidetracked.

I watched the Smithsonian Channel’s Aerial America Vermont episode, wishing I could visit, especially during autumn.  That state has more than it’s fair share of spectacular scenery and vibrant foliage.   By the time I was nearing the end of that episode, Terry had woken up and mumbled something about an omelet.

I got up to brew some cranberry tea and remembered I had recently purchased a cranberry scones mix from the Queen’s Pantry.  So, I quickly whipped up the scones mix and preheated the oven.  While they were baking, I decided to continue stacking firewood my dad had helped deliver earlier in the week.

Once the scones finished, I sat down for a proper British breakfast and surveyed the new Sherlock Holmes airing from BBC via PBS and Masterpiece Mystery.   Fun and updated for our times, with only a slightly annoying soundtrack.  I’m looking forward to the other two episodes (tomorrow night and a week from tomorrow).  It’s a pity the BBC could only afford three episodes for this new series … it looks promising.

I packaged up a couple of books to send to BookMoochers, one in California and the other in South Carolina.   While waiting in line at the post office, I ran into an old friend, which made the long wait pass quickly while catching up with kids news, etc.

I spent way too much at the grocery store today, but did save ninety cents on gasoline and filled up both Pontiacs with premium for only $1.899 per gallon.  I got back home with the groceries (second trip) and finished stacking the firewood.  Then we made a trip to O’Reilly’s because they have a sale on gallons of Mobil One synthetic motor oil.  We bought enough to change the oil in both cars.

Once back home, we determined we needed to recycle all the oil we’d accumulated and stored in the garage when the kids lived here and we had four vehicles to maintain.  We transferred the used oil to a couple of containers without making too much of a mess on the garage floor.  Then we packed up the dogs, planning to stop at the dog park on the way back from O’Reilly’s.

With all the walking, stacking, grocery toting (including the forty pound bag of dog food) and oil purchasing (four gallons) and recycling (five or six gallons), I’m already started to stiffen up and feel the aches and soreness setting in.  I’ll definitely be soaking in the hot tub before retiring tonight.

Terry and I enjoyed home-made pizza for dinner and will relax to the hilarious Halloween hijinks of Right Between the Ears live from Liberty Hall in Lawrence via KANU in just a few minutes.

Not bad for the fifth and final Saturday of October 2010.

Less Than Sixty Days Until …

Yep, you guessed it, Christmas.  Which means less than a month until Thanksgiving, the weekend when I traditionally attempt to compose my yearly family re-cap letter to insert into the family Christmas card mailing.   Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve actually mailed a Moss Family Christmas Letter for several years now.  I tend to avoid whining about all the negative depressing events in my life (of which 2008 and 2009 where overflowing with) and highlight those items that inspire and lighten.

But 2010 started off well, since both my kids, Rachelle and Derek (and his wife Royna) were visiting us over their holiday break from college.  While I didn’t see much of Derek and Royna (who spent most of their time with their friends), it was good to have them home again since moving to Texas in August 2009.

The rest of January and most of February were quiet but very cold – and I mean the coldest I could remember having lived in this area all my life (except for twelve years in Wichita which I prefer to just forget most of the time).  We received shocking and sad news the last week in February, when I learned my aunt’s mother died very unexpectedly from a fall.  This prompted the first of two trips this year to Winfield, Kansas.

March events escape me … didn’t come in or leave like a lion for me at least. Oh, but now it’s coming back to me.  We had a deja vu scare with my paternal grandmother, who fell while out eating dinner with my uncle in Raymore.  I learned the news from my dad as I arrived home from work, which prompted me to jump back in my car and drive back to where I had just been (or nearly so) to a hospital emergency room just off US-71 southeast of the Plaza.  To our surprise (my dad, my uncle and myself), the hospital released her on her own recognizance to return to her apartment in Raymore.  If you’d seen her injuries, you would have thought they’d have kept her for observation overnight.

April and May proved the highlight of my year because of a rare opportunity to meet two of my favorite authors at science fiction conventions within driving distance of Kansas City.  The first occurred in Lincoln, Nebraska, the home town of Brandon Sanderson, an author who will probably make the NY Times best sellers list, again, next week with the release of The Towers of Midnight, the next to last volume in the Wheel of Time series started by Robert Jordon back in the 80s.  Since the Lincoln science fiction convention was fairly small, access to Brandon in most of the panels and readings was nearly one-on-one.  Brandon graciously signed my hardcover edition of his first published novel (and a first edition) Elantris, which surprised him as it’s out-of-print and hard to find.  I now have everything published by Brandon in first edition and signed (with the exception of his young adult series).

As an anniversary present, Terry and I found and purchased a second vehicle to supplement our one remaining vehicle, which had not fared well during the extreme winter weather conditions earlier in the year.   When the kids left for Texas in August 2009, Rachelle took my Oldsmobile Aurora and Derek took his Chevy S10, leaving Terry and I just the Pontiac Firebird between us.  Carpooling helped to alleviate Terry’s stranding at home without a vehicle to only half a week, but the winter weather kept us grounded more than anything.  I’m eternally grateful to my carpool buddy, who owned a four wheel drive pickup truck for getting us to and from Kansas City last winter.   So, as May approached, Terry and I started looking at used vehicles, specifically older Cadillacs.   We knew we needed comfortable seating for the 8-10 hour drives (one-way) to Texas in our future.   We had almost decided on one from a local Leavenworth dealer, when we responded to an individual’s ad for a Pontiac Bonneville.  We drove down to Olathe to test drive it and fell in love with the very well maintained (over-maintained with an extended warranty and some extras features).  I managed to get a check cut from my credit union before they closed on Friday evening and drove the vehicle home for our 24th wedding anniversary.

In mid-May, we drove to Des Moines for a pirate themed science fiction convention featuring as the guest artist of honor Don Maitz, and his wife and guest author, Janny Wurts.  I spent a pleasant couple of hours talking with Janny on Saturday afternoon between panels.  Again, since she was not the ‘main attraction’ her panels and readings were sparsely attended and nearly one-on-one.

Rachelle flew back home in late May, but only stayed a few days before traveling overseas to study abroad in Europe, specifically Leipzig, Germany.  She celebrated her twenty-first birthday half a world away from where she was born.  During her five weeks in Europe, she visited many cities in Germany, Austria and also Prague in the Czech Republic.  She returned to the States on the eve of the Fourth of July and remained with us for the rest of the summer.

While Rachelle deeply immersed herself in learning German, my grandmother began to suffer from rapidly advancing congestive heart failure.  Just two days before my daughter’s birthday, and actually on my grandmother’s 88th birthday, she passed away.  I was glad to have visited her in her final days and to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her with my aunt and dad.  The next week became a blur as plans for the memorial service were ironed out and I offered my house as a staging area for family gatherings.   The first, and hopefully last time for many years to come, I actually took advantage of my bereavement leave employee benefit.

The following week, my husband finally attended his Social Security Disability hearing before an administrative law judge (via video conference since the judge lived in New Mexico).  We had been waiting years for this hearing, having been denied twice by bureaucrats in the SSA.  Just last week (middle of October), he received his first regular disability check, but the settlement check for previous years is still several weeks away.  The hearing, while stressful for Terry, relieved some of our agony of waiting.

In August, we mailed, er flew, Rachelle back to Texas and life settled back into it’s routine.  I’d joined a vanpool mid-Summer so I wasn’t putting any miles on any of my vehicles.  We received the welcome news that Terry’s appeal of denial of SSD benefits was awarded by the judge.   September flew by, mostly from some stress caused by my daughter’s student loans, which have finally, as of Monday this week, been fully resolved, at least until next August.

October proved to be the complete opposite of September, starting with good news on my daughter’s student loans and a fantastic birthday present from my father – an amazing telescope with a plethora of accessories, which I’ve been exploring and learning how to use for most of this month.

The damper to our activities for most of this year has been an unfortunate accident incurred by Terry in the spring.  While negotiating the stairs in our house, he missed the last step and injured his back.  For the last several months, he’s been almost completely bedridden or recliner-ridden from pain and now muscle fatigue and atrophy.  Thankfully, the back injury has finally healed itself and we are slowly exercising the legs and other extremities with short jaunts to the dog park, because both dogs also need the exercise.

The next two months are busy, of course, as most families get this time of year.  We’ll travel to Texas for Thanksgiving, leaving the dogs behind boarded at a local Leavenworth kennel and doggie day care facility.  In mid December, we will return to Texas, with my dad in tow, to attend my son’s graduation from SMU’s Guildhall.  And we’ll wrap up the year with Rachelle returning, as an early Christmas gift via her adopted Greek family, the Kelloffs, on their return trip from Houston, Texas to Lansing, Kansas on the 23rd of December.

There, I’ve done it, my first draft of the 2010 edition of the Moss Family Christmas Letter.   I’ll expand upon this throughout the month, and include select photos from the year to add the human touch and connection for the final printed color edition.

Book Review: The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Conan of Cimmeria, Book 1)The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Average Rating Across All Stories: 3.5 stars

The two best stories are “The Phoenix on the Sword” and “The Queen of the Black Coast”; otherwise, the first half of this anthology holds the best of the bunch, gradually dwindling down to my least favorite two stories: “The Vale of Lost Women” and “Rogues in the House.” The final story almost redeemed the second half, but didn’t quite pack the punch necessary to overcome the duds immediately prior to it.

The anthology includes referential material (over 100 pages worth in the back and a 25 page introduction), including original drafts by Howard, unpublished drafts, and Hyborian Age information, maps, and chronologies.

I enjoy reading Howard’s fast paced fiction, especially to spice up my lunch hour during the work week. I highly recommend this collection to all fans of the original one-of-a-kind blue-eyed-blazing barbarian from Cimmeria.

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Book Review: The Last Unicorn

The Last UnicornThe Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beagle continually surprised me with his unique prose. Descriptions and metaphors in odd juxtapositions that at first make no sense but then you blink and they make complete sense. His dialogue often rang with rhythm and rhyme, nudging me to re-read a snippet just to hear it roll off my tongue.

A quest adventure fairy tale fantasy flipped topsy-turvy. Instead of a child pulled unwillingly along by prophecy, an undying unicorn discovers she is the last of her kind and leaves to learn their fate. Rather than an all powerful wise wizard, she encounters a second-hand failed apprentice masquerading as a carnival magician. Witches, curses, obsessed kings, indifferent prince turned hero, complacent subjects, elemental forces, mystifying happenstance magic confuse and confound her until she nearly loses herself.

A timeless tale of love, beauty, regret and hope.

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Hunter’s Moon Hidden Behind Cloud Cover

And to think I was praising the beautiful fall weather yesterday.  Nothing lasts forever though.

I had hoped to take a few photos of the full Hunter’s Moon tonight via the telescope and digital camera.  But the clouds and a wicked cold have conspired to render me blind and chilled.  Perhaps if I wake up in the middle of the night (when the cold medicine wears off) the clouds would have rolled away to reveal a smiling dazzling moon.

Or not.

Either way, I’ll be back in a cold medicine induced coma within a half hour or so.

Clear Weather Except Behind My Eyes

I did not dodge the virus bullet.  I guess I should have slept in the spare bedroom starting over a week ago.  I did everything like I was supposed to … extra hand washing, avoiding contact with hubby, more veggies and fruits.

The question becomes can I survive one more day at work?  Huddling in my cube, posting bio hazard signs at the entrance so everyone has fair warning.   If I can make it to the weekend, I’ll have three days to knock myself out with cold medicine, since I’m taking Monday off.

Such a shame to waste this phenomenal fall weather these past few weeks.  I can’t remember an autumn that has been so nearly perfect for clear skies, light winds, mild temperatures (day and night).

Here’s praying for a swift recovery for the common cold.

Book Review: CryoBurn

CryoBurn (Vorkosigan Saga, #14)CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really only 3.5 stars, but the last chapter made it 4 stars for me.

If you strip away the space opera and science fiction, this story boils down to a mystery/thriller where the old adage ‘follow the money’ proves axiomatic again.

Miles is on a new (to us) planet, Kibou-daini (settled by people of Japanese heritage). An entire culture mortally afraid of dying (pun intended) to the point where millions, if not billions, of citizens have chosen cryo preservation rather than the more traditional final frontier (i.e. Death). Oddly, since they are not dead, as citizens they still retain their votes in this democracy, albeit by proxy held by ever larger more monopolistic corporations. This sparked quite a few intriguing interpolations both in the characters and my own internal ponderings.

As Emperor Gregor suspected, thanks to his Komarran familial connections, Miles uncovers a plot that could pose an inexorable glacial threat to a third of the Barrayaran Empire and manages, in his usual manic hyperactive style, to expose and diffuse said threat.

Cameos by Ekaterin, Mark and Kareen. Briefer cameos by Ivan and Gregor in the last chapter, but have a box of tissues handy.

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Quiet Sunday Afternoon

I churned out the last three loaves of bread before the middle of the afternoon yesterday.  I also burned The Tenth Inning to two DVDs so my dad could watch it (he missed part of both of them when they aired on PBS a couple of weeks ago).  I read almost half my new book Cryoburn by Bujold.

And I tried Westside Family Church’s Online Church for the first time.  Terry wasn’t up to travelling to the Legends to attend the Speedway campus service.  The Online Church is a live feed from the WFC campus in Lenxa.  The message was good (Click Here for my notes) but the music was not as good as the Speedway campus’ praise band.

And I took the dogs to the relatively new dog park in Leavenworth at the north end of the VA grounds just off Limit Street (east from US 73).  When I arrived, just before three o’clock, there were no other large dogs.  But within ten minutes, and apparently because the Chiefs game was ending or not worth watching, there were ten to twenty dogs in the park.  Apollo and Roxy behaved themselves very well.  Roxy wore herself out in the first five or ten minutes and eventually just laid down near me to catch her breath.  Apollo chased a barky smaller dog (some kind of mottled Shepherd I think) around the park for awhile and then made all sorts of new friends.

My dad met me at the park, as I wanted to give him his fresh baked loaf of White Sandwich Bread and the DVDs I’d burned Sunday.  He took a few photos (I had my hands and eyes full keeping a watch on the dogs … people tend to get nervous about Rottweilers).   He also loaned me a couple of BluRay DVDs he recently purchased (both versions of Robin Hood from 1991 and 2010).  I didn’t think I’d have time or inclination to watch it anytime soon, but when Terry woke up, we started watching it.  Very different version or variation on the origins of Robin Hood.

I didn’t even touch the telescope Sunday, except to move it when I was vacuuming the great room.  All in all, a very rewarding and relaxing weekend at home.

Sourdough Saturday Ends With Jumping Jupiter and Magnificent Moon

I woke up five minutes before my five o’clock alarm this morning.  Not unusual, except for it being a Saturday.  But I needed to hit the ground running if I was going to get all the bread baked today.

First thing, I pulled the sourdough crock out of the refrigerator to get it warmed up to room temperature.  Second, I quickly mixed up my favorite Honey Wheat bread recipe.   While waiting for the bread machine to mix, knead and rise that recipe (elapsed time ninety minutes), I started recording to DVD from the DVR the Belgian Grand Prix (since I’m five GPs behind and only three left for the 2010 season) .  I managed to read a few chapters of Cryoburn concurrently.

I shaped the Honey Wheat dough into a loaf and set it to rise for anther forty-five minutes. I took a short break to visit with friends for brunch at Santa Fe Depot.  Probably a good choice since the new IHOP in Lansing was overflowing at ten o’clock.  After a great visit, I rushed to the Leavenworth Post Office to mail off eight mooched books to various states in the lower forty-eight.   I also stopped at the Book Exchange in an attempt to trade some hardcover science fiction novels, but she declined my offerings stating they were currently overstocked with hardcovers.

I returned home, completed my BookMooch and BookCrossing data updates and posted three of the hardcovers to my BookMooch inventory, one of which has already been mooched.

Now the sourdough starter was ready, all bubbly and soury.  I modified my Rustic Sourdough bread recipe to work in a bread machine on the dough cycle.  My modifications included the following:

1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

This reduces the original recipe to a single loaf variation and rather than shaping a traditional round or oval loaf, I used a regular bread pan and scored it like you would a split top loaf.

After I got the Rustic Sourdough into the bread machine, I immediately started the Rosemary Sourdough recipe in the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  This recipe should not be over mixed nor kneaded, so it’s a very sticky mess when you scrape it into a glass bowl (generously coated with cooking spray) and covered with clear plastic wrap.  Let rise for ninety minutes or more until doubled in size.

The Sourdoughs kept me busy all afternoon.  I was able to start another, final loaf before three o’clock, which was one of my family’s favorites: Honey Wheat Black Bread.  I shaped it into a braid and waited for it to rise.

With the last loaf still cooling on the rack, I rushed down to Bonner Springs to slip into the KC Ren Fest just before it closed.  I have a collection of mugs, steins and goblets going back to 1988.  The person at the Will Call window was kind enough to let me into the festival for a few minutes to buy a mug and a goblet.  Pickings were slim (this being the last weekend of the festival), but I found a goblet and a stein I liked and quickly returned home.

I was surprised to see my dad’s car parked in the driveway as I thought I had told him to call me if he was going to stop by to partake in some star gazing this evening.  Apparently, he arrived at the house just minutes after I left for Bonner Springs.

We waited for the sun to set and started setting up the the telescope in the great room in a polar mount orientation.  We moved the equipment out front to the driveway, since Jupiter is not visible from my backyard until around ten o’clock.  We determined the sidereal tracking in polar mount worked well and kept Jupiter and it’s three visible moons centered for an hour or so.  Feeling confident, we attached the Pentax K100D to attempt a better photo shoot of Jupiter, but quickly realized the weight of the camera was too much for the motors of the telescope.  We removed the camera and went back to viewing Jupiter with various eye pieces and barlowes of varying magnifications.

Just before dad was leaving and as we were contemplating putting the equipment back in the great room, the moon (more than half full now) peaked out from behind the pin oak in my side yard (which also shields the driveway from the annoying streetlight planted next to the stop sign in my side yard at the corner of Bambi Court and Fawn Valley.  We reoriented the telescope to the moon and began viewing it with various eye pieces.  We also tried the moon filter, which helped tone down the incredible brightness funneled through the telescope into our eyes.

After a few minutes of moon gazing, we packed up the equipment and returned it to the great room.  We said our good nights and I’m grateful to be off my feet finally.  My knees have had enough today.

Sunday will be easier since I only need to make one more loaf (possibly two) and then figure out how to transport six loaves to work via the vanpool without smushing any of them.

Friday Night at the Empty Nest

I stopped by Dillons on the way home for some fresh rosemary and pizza fixings.  I found the latter, but not the former, so had to buy rosemay in a spice jar.  Sigh.  I still made it home by 5:30 or so.

Terry started working on a pizza and I started working on bread production.  I set the sourdough starter out to warm up to room temperature.  Then I reviewed my White Sandwich Bread recipe, setting out a stick of butter to also warm up to room temperature.   I got all the ingredients into the bread machine (dough cycle) before six o’clock.  Since it takes about three hours from start to finish, I could be done by nine o’clock.

The pizza turned out wonderful and we decided to watch a couple of new episodes of Mythbusters – ‘Hair of the Dog’ and featuring the Stormchasers and surviving tornado-like winds in a vehicle or, if you’re Jamie Hyneman, an aerodynamic tent he engineered, constructed and tested in winds up to 180 mph.  I should check the Patent Office to see if he filed an application on that idea.

During the second episode of Mythbusters, I setup the telescope with the camera attached because the early evening was perfect for viewing the moon – clear and no wind.  I took several photos of the moon using various settings on the camera but I’m not sure the results were noticably different.  Click here to see for yourself.

I removed the camera from the telescpe and tried nearly all the eyepiece lenses in my case, down to a 4 mm one focused on the terminus on the moon.  Outstanding clarity and magnification.  On Jupiter, I got down to a 9 mm, but without putting the telescope in sidereal tracking mode, the image of Jupiter only stayed ‘on screen’ for a couple of seconds.

I completely forgot about my rising bread loaf so I got behind schedule by about 30-45 minutes; even so, the bread came out of the over looking and smelling wonderful.  I brought the telescope back in for the night and headed up to bed.

I woke back up at eleven o’clock because I’d forgotten to start a process at work that I wanted to run over the weekend.  I got that going and then cracked open a newly released book I pre-ordered from Barnes & Noble in late September:  Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (a long awaited installment in the Vorkosigan Saga).  I got to page seven before I fell asleep.   It’s very good, but I was very tired.