Saturday, April 19, 2014

To Blog Here or There

In less than a month, the husband and I will be setting off to spend almost three weeks in Australia, revisiting some of the people and places we went in 2012 while adding a few new adventures, some more off-the-wall than others. It appears that we will have free Internet at most of the places we will stay (the two overnights on a train excepted), I should be able to post some photos and narratives as a blog since not everyone who will be interested in our adventures is on Facebook. When we visited Iceland for our 25th wedding anniversary, I did a trip mini-blog as part of this blog. When we have taken longer trips including living in Hue, Vietnam for a month, I have used stand-alone blogs, here for the 2009 trip and here for the second one. (Those links will actually take you to the last post in each blog, but if you got that far you probably know how to get back to the beginning.)

The 64 cent question today is how I should handle the upcoming trip, somewhat longer than the Iceland adventure but quite shorter than the Vietnam ones. Where does the middle ground put me? By posting this, I'm allowing the few people who still read this now-very-irregular blog to comment on their preference. As I proceed down a pre-trip checklist of items such as notify the credit and debit card companies of our travel plans, I need to get the question of where to blog decided. If I'm going to do a stand-alone blog, I need to get it set up and maybe even add a post or two about the getting ready of it all.

But for now, I need to get started on dinner, the husband's having just awakened from a nap to ask me what time it is. Comment away!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Is it Pronounced "pica-key" or "pie-cakey"?

Younger son has, for the last several years requested a pie baked inside of a cake for his birthday. He asked for it again this year, but I decided to mix things up and see if I could bake a cake inside a pie. Indeed, I could, and younger son thought it actually turned out better than the various capiekes (pronounced cah-pikes) have. The photos below are from the pilot piecakee that I did two weeks before the real one, which did not look too much different from the one shown here.

That's just a pie, you might be thinking, but not if you look at its inside. 

If you want to make one of these, it does help to have a (very) deep dish pie pan. Step one is, obviously, making a pastry crust and placing it in that (very) deep dish pie pan. I could show you a photo of that, but (1) you probably already know what that would look like and (2) I forgot to take any photos until I got to the step of adding the upper pie filling.

That's a lower pie crust topped with cherry pie filling, chocolate cake batter, and a second layer of cherry pie filling. Next is adding the top crust. I made this easy on myself and used a cake mix and canned pie filling. For the pilot, I only used one can of cherry filling, which meant that I didn't have enough for the whole area. I remedied that in the final, birthday version.

Note that the top of the unbaked crust seems a bit lower than the top crust in the above photo showing it post-baking. Cake batter always rises--the finished cake is higher in the pan than the batter alone was--and that's what happens here as well. In terms of temperature and time, I baked it much as I would a pie. The first 15 minutes were done at 425 F; the last 30 to 40 minutes was done at 350 F. If you're still thinking that it might not work, here's a close-up of a slice.

Nice browned, flaky pie crust, cherry filling, and normal looking chocolate cake. Now if I could only find a way to work the icing in.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Saying It Better than I Ever Could

Can I just make my resolution to do or be all Neil Gaiman talks about in his three New Years Eve messages? I shall be quite happy if, in the coming year, I can make some art, dream dangerously a time or more, and make some epic mistakes.

Opening the Door on a New Year

I have been going back and forth on "official" resolutions for 2014. I have no desire, though, to come up with a list of specific, quantifiable goals as I have in some years past. I'm not even sure I want a list of general things on which to work. Last year, I wrote of wanting it to be a year of not asking why I should do something but instead asking why the hell I shouldn't do something, a philosophy suggested by younger son. Sometime in the past year, I read another sentiment worthy of deliberation. Googling it just now, I have learned that it is from Henry David Thoreau.

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.

The statement I read and have pondered is the middle statement, sandwiched between two others that just don't have offer quite the same food for thought. Live the life you've imagined. Live. The. Life. You've. Imagined.

What is the life I have imagined? I'm honestly not sure, though I do know that the life I would imagine was very different at different times in the life I've been living. And is it a life I have imagined, or a me I have imagined? A life to me implies so much that is external--what is around me as opposed to what is within me. There is certainly much in the world around me over which I have no control. What I can control is the reaction I offer to that which I cannot control. So perhaps the life one imagines is both outside and inside each of us. If I have had more than one philosophy class, I might be able to articulate it better.

Exactly what it means aside, I think my resolution for 2014 will combine last year's thought with the one I have been incubating throughout the year: Why the hell not live the life I've imagined? I can't say exactly how that will evolve, but I hope it happens thoughtfully. In the life I imagine, I am not as much the light-switch all-on or all-off over-reactive person I often am. I will admit that in some areas, I am already living the life I've imagined. I have the means to nurture my creative spirit even if I don't always make time to do so. While there are things to which I would like to devote more time--chiefly photography and writing--there are certainly enough others to which I do devote time.

And so I prepare to bid adieu to 2013 and open a brand new, clean and unmarked calendar holding a year in which I will endeavor to live the life I've imagined, because, well, why the hell not?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Out with the Old

Re-reading my last post from 2012, it appears that I resolved to make 2013 a year of "asking why the hell not" and of learning some Vietnamese. Meat Loaf told us that two out of three ain't bad, and I'll say the same about one out of two. I did things in 2013 that I never expected to do, some more intentional than others. I never expected to complete a GORUCK Challenge, but I did, along with four GORUCK Lights and one Nasty. I'm even registered to do two more Challenges and two more Lights in 2014, in pairs of one Challenge and one Light within the same 24-hour period. Why? Why the hell not?

To help prepare for the GORUCK events, older son and I started working out with a group called SEAL Team Physical Training. As a result, I have actually appeared in public in workout tights or capris. In terms of capris, the workout ones would be the only ones I have ever worn since I have never embraced capris as everyday wear. In terms of workout tights, I have always hated seeing the skin-tight leggings worn by many women, but here I am wearing essentially the same thing. They're warm on a cold morning, though, and quite easy to move in.

On the unintentional front, I spun out a 2000 Pontiac Firebird on an ice-covered stretch of Interstate 70 while rescuing younger son from a paperwork fiasco by driving him from Rawlins, Wyoming to here through something called Winter Storm Q. I, the original snow weenie, drove in deeper, more blowing snow than I ever had and managed to get all three of us (younger son's dog was also along) back safe and sound.

As for learning some Vietnamese, well, I tried. My first attempt at using Rosetta Stone on a daily or almost daily basis got interrupted by the week-long adventure of Winter Storm Q and playing catch-up on work and life after I got back. I started over again in late spring and worked my way to a bit further along than I had the first time before getting hit by an assortment of life things I don't even recall now but which made working on Vietnamese seem a very self-centered activity, sort of like, well, blogging. Will I get back to it again for the third time's being the charm? No one knows, certainly not I.

I now find myself three days from the start of a new year, and halfway through the 58th year of my life. How should I resolve to spend it? Living a philosophy such as asking why the hell not somewhat was? I do have one in mind that might work. Doing specific, quantifiable things such as exercising a certain number of days in each week, month, or the entire year? Doing one profound thing in each of several general areas? I've done both of those in earlier years. The quantifiable one encourages a competitive streak that I'd rather be rid of, but it's also hard to know if I've really done something remarkable in any given area.

Non-caloric food for thought, I guess, over the next several days as I try not to think about the excess real food consumed during the holiday weeks. For now, let's just say that I resolve to come up with something by 12:00 a.m. Wednesday.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Quilts with a History and a Future

My latest two quilts having been presented to the intended recipient, I can now post about them here. I was once told that every quilter made only one quilt out of t-shirts because they were difficult to work with and just not very interesting to use. Being someone who often swims upstream (and that really is the way to get to an eddy when you're river kayaking), I've now done three. The first one was practice for the two that followed, which would be the two I'm posting about here.

I moved to Charlottesville in the summer of 1978. As a frequent user of the university's academic computing center, I got to know several of the staff members fairly well. I actually became an occasional babysitter for the daughter of one of my staff friends. Later, I was assistant leader for a Girl Scout troop that my friend led (that's actually a bad word to use because Girl Scout troops are really girl-led) which included her daughter as a member. By the time the daughter was a teenager, I had children--sons--of my own, and she babysat them. As an aside, this was not an easy undertaking given that if the sons knew a sitter was coming, they spent the better part of the afternoon planning Babysitter Traps. This usually took the form of a stack of afghans or blankets hurtling down on the sitter from the second floor of our open foyer. After the first time, a sitter came to expect the trap and played along, making it all the more fun.

Back to the story at hand. My friend's daughter went to college, went to work (at DisneyWorld), went to graduate school (in child life), and went back to work (at a hospital in Boston). She even got married. I made a quilt as a wedding present.

I used baseball fabric as the backing. After all, what else would two die-hard Boston Red Sox fans want on the back of their quilt. As the daughter went through life, so did her mother, eventually retiring, downsizing, and moving to Mt. Desert Island in Maine. As she was downsizing, my friend assembled about 40 of her daughter's t-shirts from throughout her life, and asked me if I would make a t-shirt quilt from them. I was touched to be asked and immediately agreed with the stipulation that there be no deadline. On a project like that, I did not want to be rushing to meet a deadline and cutting corners as a result.

The first thing I did was to make this quilt for younger son.

The shirts are all from Odyssey of the Mind or Destination Imagination, two creative-problem-solving competitions younger son took part in in grades 3 through 10. Since I'd never done a t-shirt quilt, I figured I should practice on one before I started the "commissioned" one, and this seemed a good way to do that. In researching t-shirt quilt patterns and instructions, most showed quilting limited to around each shirt piece and between blocks of a t-shirt with fabric borders, or no quilting but ties at the corners of all the squares. As I was sewing the blocks of this one together, I kept thinking how neat it would be to quilt on the t-shirt pieces themselves, on the t-shirt design or outlining parts of the design. That's what I ended up doing, and it looked so amazing that I knew that was the way I was going to do the commissioned one.

Back to the commissioned t-shirt quilt. After going through the boxes of shirts, I decided that it really needed to be two medium-sized quilts if I wanted to include as many different shirts as possible. And with two quilts, the recipient and her husband would each have one to use. I also decided that I didn't want to orient all the shirts in the same direction as I'd done with the practice quilt. That arrangement could be taken to convey that the quilt should be hung so as to be viewed and admired. I wanted these quilts to be used. It occurred to me that orienting the blocks in all directions would mean that a person sitting or lying under one of the quilts would always see at least one shirt logo oriented top-side-up. First things first, with those decisions made it was off to the races.

Step one was actually to wash and dry all the shirts without using any fabric softener. I will admit that I'm not sure why I was supposed to do that but I think it was to avoid there being any coating on the fabric that might interfere with a later step. Step two was to cut out the backs or fronts of the shirts with more than enough of a border around each logo. Step three was to iron each t-shirt logo to a fusible interfacing (this is where the fabric softener coating might have been a problem), again leaving a large enough border that I would be able to cut around the logo and leave a good-sized interfacing border around the actual logo.

Then the fun began. I had slightly over 40 t-shirt logos (some shirts had a front logo and a back logo) of sizes varying from about three inches on each side to over a foot on each side. In other words, I couldn't just cut them into squares and start sewing. I had to think about how the logos would go into a row by column arrangement that had a nice mix of colors.I had to calculate not only what size square to cut from each logo piece but also what width of fabric I would sew around the logo to get blocks of appropriate sizes to sew together into the quilt top. I should say that it did take some thought to choose a silvery grey fabric that would look fairly neutral around the logos of varying color. As it turned out, I could use 39 shirt logos between the two quilts. There were a couple of logos I couldn't use, but I am fairly sure that I used something from each of the shirts.

Enough background that may only interest those who quilt. Presenting "The Fabric of a Life (in Two Parts)"

In terms of size, each quilt is lying atop a queen-sized bed. I did not take the time to photograph every individual logo, but I did photograph several that give a sense of the quilting within each logo.

Finally, there were two t-shirts that I just could not cut up to use in the quilt. The logos were just two large. Interestingly, both were shirts that I had given the recipient of the quilts after trips my family took. I used these as bags for the quilts, one in each.

I started these quilts in the summer of 2012. I finished them a bit more than a year later, just in time for two friends who were driving to Maine to deliver them. I have mailed quilts before, but I really prefer not to. I haven't been able to write this post or mention the quilts on Facebook because I did not want to spoil the surprise of my friend and her husband giving these to their daughter in person. I heard this morning that that had happened and that the quilts were joyfully received and would clearly be cherished. Since I make quilts not as heirloom items or to be entered into shows, that's music to my ears. I make quilts to be used and loved, and I know these will be.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

If the Third Time Is the Charm ...

... is the fourth one the harm? I did my fourth GORUCK Light last weekend, and it took more out of me than any of the three previous ones did. It may even surpass the one GORUCK Challenge I've done; it's at least close in terms of how drained I felt at the end and how sore I felt on the day after. Perhaps it was having gotten complacent and not training enough or well enough. Perhaps it was how cold the water we got personal with about halfway through the event was. I do know that after the water I never quite felt at full strength. While I was the one encouraging others on the event's Facebook page in the days leading up to the event, by the end, they were all encouraging me.

I registered for this Light because a fellow karate student was interested in trying it. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of a broken foot kept her from any serious preparation, so the sons and I did it on our own. Still, the more GORUCK events one does, the more they become mini-reunions with people with whom one has done other events. We had done one Challenge and one Light with Matt, the cadre leading the event. Someone else had done the Challenge with us. At least one other person had done the Nasty. While we did not know each other, we at least had discussion of the Nasty to give us a connection. Other participants included a woman who had been a trainer at the gym to which we belong and a future groom (wedding in January) doing the Light as a bachelor party with his best man and some friends. This Light had the highest percentage (nearly 50 percent) of women versus men of any of the events we've done. I was clearly the oldest woman. The man doing the Light with one of his daughters while another daughter shadowed and shot photos was at least of my parental generation.

The Light began as the others had. We lined up in ranks for Matt to do a roll call. One woman who responded so meekly Matt could not hear her got named as the first Team Leader (TL). Several people arrived late, resulting in their leading us in push-ups. They'll probably be on time if they ever do another GORUCK event. Matt inspected all our rucks for the correct number of bricks (two for those weighing under 150 pounds and four for those weighing over that magic number). Bricks had to be labelled with one's name and phone number. Duct-tape-wrapped packages left in garbage bins or on public ground tend to excite local law enforcement personnel; having one's identifying information listed is designed to keep people from simply tossing their bricks at the end. Matt inspected the required team weight that had to weigh at least 15 pounds; the 21-pound sledge hammer we had clearly fulfilled that criterion. Finally, he stated the main "rules." We would be acting as a team of 30-some members not as 30-some individuals. We would never go anywhere alone; we would always have a buddy. While moving as a group, we would always be within an arm's reach of the person in front of us. We did not want to be further apart should Matt yell, "Reach!" The American flag we would be carrying would never, NEVER, NEVER touch the ground. Nor would the team weight or any of our individual rucksacks.

The fun and games started with a low, infantry-style crawl across a lawn, around a tree, and back. We had 15 minutes for everyone to do it. Younger son and I hung back encouraging one of the latecomers who was struggling with the crawl. We offered to take his ruck to make it easier or to stay with him so that he didn't have to worry about being the only person not to make the time limit. He said he had some physical issues that he had just discovered would make it impossible for him to do the event successfully. He dropped back on the crawl and out of the Light. The low crawl segued into the physical training (PT) part of the Welcome Party. Flutter kicks with the ruck on your chest. Legs held at varying angles for varying amounts of time.

Since we were doing all this in front of the University of Virginia Rotunda and Matt has a fetish for stairs, we next had to box jump (jumping off both feet and landing on both feet) up the steps and run back down. We had to do eight of those laps. This was easier for some people to do than others. I will admit that I used the side walls for assistance with the jumping, though I never resorted to just walking up the stairs as some people did. I also did not run down the stairs, though I did run on the level ground in between the different sets of stairs. I have a legitimate fear of falling, and I did not want this to go down as the second GORUCK event in which I opened my head up by falling.

The stairs having been conquered, we were given a reconnaissance mission by Matt. We were to go, in a group, to a certain statue and collect various bits if information. We were also supposed to take photographs of certain of the information points. A couple of people had cell phones with cameras, and I noted that I had a small digital camera in the dry box in my ruck. We also had a time hack we had to meet or suffer the consequences which is usually more PT. We set off, and it didn't take long for some people to propose that we meet the time hack by sending a couple of people off in a cab or running to the statue to collect the required information and photos. Several of us reminded them that we were a team, and we would stay together. It was specifically suggested that I, as carrier of the camera, go ahead with two other people in the interests of making the time hack. I refused, again noting that we were a team. Eventually and still together, we did reach the statue and collected the required information and photos. We hustled as best we could back to Matt and presented our findings. No, we did not meet the time hack. I honestly cannot recall, now a week later, if there were any PT consequences, so perhaps there were not.

As in our other Light with Matt, we then set off to collect a large log or telephone pole that we expected we would carry until we encountered the water portion of the festivities. Given the number of people, it was fairly easy to swap in and out to divide the load. Those not carrying the log had to carry their rucksacks without using the straps. Eventually, rucks went back on our backs, and those not carrying the log traveled in Indian run fashion. A can got passed back from person to person. When the last person in line got it, they had to jog to the head of the line--right behind the people carrying the log--and start passing it back again.

We carried the log through the student business district known as the Corner, down the main street of town, and then down the pedestrian shopping street. We got more than a few strange looks, and several people asked what we were doing. We encouraged them to google for details. At times I simply replied that we were "building better Americans." At the end of the pedestrian mall, we put the log down long enough for a bathroom break at the local tourist center. Fortunately, we were still clean and not too sweaty. Having done a Challenge and Light with Matt, I know that was soon to change.

Again carrying the log, we had a nice downhill stretch ending underneath a bridge crossing the Rivanna River. The "Viking ship" log we carried in the May Challenge and the pole-type log we carried in the June Light were still where we'd dropped them in those events. Knowing what was coming, I asked Matt if I could be the first one in the water. Why I did that escapes me now; had I known just how cold the water would be I'm sure I would have taken longer. As it was, the first wave of people in the water quickly encouraged the others to join us, knowing that the sooner everyone got wet, the sooner everyone could get dry. We did push-ups, including some of the dive-bomber variety, in the water and, what else, some flutter kicks. Holding our rucks over our heads, we also did squats. Eventually, Matt offered that if we could all cross the river and climb up the bank to the other side before he crossed the bridge to meet us, we would get a 10-minute break. We were to cross holding wrists since the bottom was slick and irregular. There was at least one spot where I felt a rock or branch on the river bottom that might have trapped the foot of someone who stumbled there.

Crossing holding wrists was fine in theory. In practice, though, it meant that when the person carrying the team-weight sledge hammer slipped and lost control of it, it hit the knee of the woman walking next to him. She got across the river but was in so much pain it was impossible for her to continue. Matt noted that she would get a medical drop, meaning that she could register and do another Light for free. Had she voluntarily dropped, that would not have been the case. I'm not sure we legitimately earned a 10-minute break, but the medical issue meant that we got one. It was nice, though some of us kept moving to try to warm up from the river.

We headed off down a trail that runs along the side of the river. Those of us who had evented with Matt before knew that we were heading to a park with a giant, steep, grassy hill that we would have to scale doing low or infantry crawls. For par tof the way we did another Indian run but with a rather heavy rock. I was not displeased when the Indian run ended before I became the last person in line and run carrying the rock. Those of us who had done other events with Matt wondered whether we would have some fun and games in a sandy area we knew we would cross. During the Challenge, we'd spent a non-trivial amount of time there crawling, lunging, or otherwise crossing back and forth. This time, we simply bear-crawled over the sand, which meant our still-wet clothes did not get the scratchy coating of sand they did in the Challenge. Needless to say, this was a good thing.

When we got to the hill we were going to low crawl up, I steeled myself for what I knew was going to be difficult. We had low crawled up this hill in the May Challenge and in the June Light, and having seen a photo of the crawl during the Light, knew that I'd basically sucked at it then, with my butt far too far up in the air. If you want to check it out, the article with the photo starts on page 26 of this issue of Blue Ridge Life. Matt made it all the more compelling by announcing that if anyone got their butt too high in the air, they would be sent to the bottom of the hill to start over. Two people were sent back, but despite having to start over, both still made it to the top before I did.

Yep, I was last up despite younger son's taking my ruck for a short while. How he managed to low crawl with an extra ruck is beyond me; I did not mind at all when he passed it back to me. Eventually, someone who had finished the crawl relieved me of the ruck, which made it easier to finish. Younger son stayed with me, offering encouragement. Matt commented when I was getting close to the top. I told him that I might be last but that I wouldn't quit. I think he liked that.

After the crawl, we had to box jump up a long flight of stairs and run down eight times. Since I was the last person to start the process, I was also the last person to finish. The last couple of times up were pretty hard. I was conscious that most of the other participants were done and watching me. By the time I hit my penultimate lap, I was on my own. When I headed down the hill to start the last jump up, older son and the guy who had done the Challenge with us said that I couldn't finish alone. They ran down with me and jumped up after me. I thought I might cry out of sentiment as opposed to anger (I cry when I am angry, though that anger is often directed at myself); I may have been last, but I didn't finish alone.

Jumps finished, we were directed to get back to the starting point. The time hack we were given was totally unreasonable for the distance we had to cover (4 plus miles) given the loads on our backs and how much else we'd already done. I was having trouble with the pace others were setting, so I got moved to the front of the line to carry the flag and set a pace I was comfortable with. That was a quick walk; I knew that I could not jog for long without needing a hit off my albuterol inhaler, something I was trying to avoid doing. Besides setting the pace at the front, younger son and I were supposed to be navigating the group which was easier as a "follow us" activity than yelling from the back when and where to turn.

As we approached the starting point and could see Matt in the distance, a lot of people started telling me to jog so that we could finish at a run. Younger son told me I didn't have to do it because I think I may have looked to him about as bad as I was feeling at that point. I managed a run, though when Matt reached to take the flag I was carrying, I basically collapsed. There wasn't much recovery time, though, because Matt directed us to bear crawl up the steps of the Rotunda and then crab walk back down. We then did a few more PT exercises and were declared to be finishers. Matt handed out the patches. Some folks left for the student area likely in search of beer. Some of us chatted for a short while before heading off to the rest of the day, which for me included dinner with friends who got quite a kick when I had to slowly rise and gently walk to the rest room. My body was that tight.

This is going into the books as the hardest of the Lights we've done. In a way, it may have been as hard as the Challenge because I had expectations of how I thought I could or should do, and I didn't live up to them. Part of that may have been due to the cold water; I know that I never really felt the same after that as I had before. I also did not train as much as I should have with all the weight I was going to carry. Since the next planned GORUCK event is a Challenge (think four bricks and three liters of water) followed a couple of hours later by a Light (think two bricks and the same amount of water), I need to up my training in a serious manner. I want to finish both those events.

Why do I keep doing these? I thought after the May Challenge that I would never do another Challenge, and then I register to do a Challenge and a Light in the same 24 hours, not once, but twice, in March and again in May. A big part of it is that it's something I can feel a sense of accomplishment doing. I don't really have a career to speak of. The kids are grown if not both out of the house. The house is rarely clean, though the laundry does get done and put away daily. While I don't feel as if I fail at those any of those or other life things, they aren't the sort of thing you'd feel a real sense of pride in doing. Many people, especially some my age, have told me I'm crazy to do these. That may make succeeding at them all the sweeter. At some point, I expect that I will say I just can't physically do them any longer, but I'm not yet at that point.