Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lebkuchen II - or - My cookies are so good they deserve a special box

I talked about making my own lebkuchen in the last post. I must report that they turned out very yummy. I sealed them up with sliced-up oranges for a few days, and they are now so spicy and Christmas-y that I am over the top with taste happiness.

In fact, they're so good, they almost deserve their own special box, like this one from Nuremberg which came stuffed with German lebkuchen and pfeffernusse:
The red sock is a failed felted slipper that I was attempting to make for my son a couple of years ago. It came out HUGE. My son has big feet, but not that big. So we saved it and now put it out with the Christmas decorations and call it, "Santa's Sock." I did consequently make him slippers that fit, and all in grey (although I must point out that red and white were his original color choices).

Here is a shot of the inside of the tin's lid - all in German, of course:
Here's wishing you all a Frohliche Weihnachten!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I'm attempting to bake the German holiday cookie, lebkuchen, today. I became hooked on them when I had a sister living in Germany and she sent them to me at Christmastime. My mother-in-law is German, too. In our earlier years, when we lived closer, my young family would visit the in-laws at Christmas. She always had a huge, beautiful tin full of lebkuchen and pfeffernusse cookies and treats sent to her from relatives in Germany. Yum!

I can find lebkuchen at a store here called World Market during the holiday season, so I always buy a few packages. I did so this year, too, but my children have come to like the taste now too so the packages didn't last long.

So I found a recipe. I made the dough yesterday, and today I will bake my first lebkuchen. I'm so excited! I hope they turn out.

You can find the recipe I'm using here. If it turns out that I don't like the results, there are lots of other recipes out there to try.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I am so far behind on everything!! What am I doing sitting in front of the computer?!

Oh yeah, getting my daily dose of lolcats.

Hope the holiday season hasn't run you ragged yet!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A photo is worth a million words

This photo was in my morning paper:

photo by Phil Masturzo of the Akron Beacon Journal

I found it extremely touching.

Let me explain. The University of Akron's men's soccer team was ranked #1 with an undefeated season going into the playoff games for the championship. The players are all talented and worked hard this season with their young and extremely effective coach to reach the championship's final game on Sunday against the University of Virginia, ranked #2.

At the end of 90 minutes of play the score was 0-0. This was followed by two scoreless ten minute "golden goal" periods. So the championship game came down to penalty shots. Each team had five shots on goal.

UVA scored on their first penalty kick. Akron's first penalty kick was blocked. Score 1-0 UVA. UVA scored two more times, and so did Akron, score 3-2 UVA.

Then hope sprouted as Akron's talented goalie blocked the next two UVA shots. If Akron scored with their last kick, the score would be tied and would send the teams into another five-shot penalty kick showdown.

We watched with anticipation - the Akron player ran to the ball, kicked... and the ball flew over the goal.

Final score UVA 3 - Akron 2, and the soccer team's chance to go down in history as the team with the perfect season and a championship win to top it off - dashed.

You cannot even imagine how the team looked after that missed goal. Completely devastated. Beyond completely devastated.

And that's why the picture of our mascot, Zippy, comforting one of the senior players afterward, touches me so much.

Zippy wasn't voted the nation's favorite collegiate mascot for nothing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Birdwings, campfires, and Christmas

We decorated our Christmas tree last night. We cut it down ourselves at a nearby Christmas tree farm last Sunday, but had to wait until last night before we all had an evening free to gather round and decorate it.

I was clicking through some older photos on the disk drive from my old computer, which I haven't had access to for a while. I came across this photo from a family backpacking trip a few years ago:

The caption under the picture was, "Campfire tales." It occured to me that the cozy feeling of sitting around the campfire and telling tales is exactly like the feeling of gathering together to decorate the tree and then sitting around afterward admiring it and telling stories. I suppose a scene like that would likely be captioned, "Christmas tales."

The morning after the campfire picture, I remember standing near where the fire had been the night before and hearing a strange zip-zip-zip sound. I looked up to see a crow flying over us, and the sound was the sound its wings made with each pulse. That's how quiet it was in the mountains of Pennsylvania that morning - quiet enough to hear a bird on the wing.

This morning, however, I woke to the howl of a biting wind and to snow. I hope you all are warm wherever you are, and out of the wind, and telling tales with your families.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm keeping my TruFocals (now called Superfocus)

(Edit: TruFocals are now called Superfocus) The other morning I remembered that I needed to post my decision - whether I had decided to keep my TruFocals after my 30 day trial. I had to make my decision right around Thanksgiving, but I forgot to post about it.

I've decided to keep them.

I had my daughter snap a couple of pictures of me the other morning, one without my Trufocals, and one with. You can see them below. My hair was still wet, so it's pulled hastily back into a clip.

My Trufocals work very well for what I use them for, but I must say, that if I were still taking classes, I would probably go with bifocals. I'm thinking that bifocals would be much better for taking notes from the board in lecture halls - no focusing back and forth.

I wear my Trufocals for reading, computer work, cooking, knitting, and when I go out shopping, etc. I don't wear them all the time because my distance vision isn't that bad yet (and I'm not trying to take notes off of blackboards anymore). But they're great for shopping, etc.

And my favorite thing is actually being able to read the small print on things like medicine bottles, or when trying to read off of a weathered label on a string of Christmas lights what type of replacement bulbs and fuses to use. I can actually see the print! Clearly!

With my old reading glasses, that was still an iffy issue because I had to hold the print at a certain distance for it to be in focus, but that's not helpful when the print is small. It might be in focus, but it's still too far away to read. That's not a problem with my Trufocals, I can hold things close and zoom into sharp focus to read all of that fine print.

And here is the lovely me without and with my Trufocals:

See? They're not so bad. Right? (The correct answer is, "No, in fact they look quite fetching!")

And btw, those flowers hanging upside down to the right are some of the last of the calendula I harvested from my garden. I got flowers right up through the first week of December. The succession of 20 degree nights lately has finally put an end to my plants. The garage is too cold now to use as a drying room, so I've hung them in the living room from the curtain rods. That room doesn't get much light. I now have plenty of calendula with which to make my herbal concoctions.

Friday, December 4, 2009

While searching for a Christmasey banner picture...

I came across this:

That's me in tears with my more composed, older sisters circa the early 1960's.

I'm okay with Santa now : )

Sort of creepy cell phone lady

My daughter's cell phone sometimes calls me back. It happens every once in a great while when I get the 'leave a message' mode when she doesn't answer. I'll hang up and almost immediately my phone will ring.

Me: "Hello?"

A lady's voice: "Are you still there?"

It's my daughter's cell phone. The lady's voice will go on to tell me how to leave a message.

The other day she had something new to say, and it was a bit creepy.

It was Thanksgiving day. Hubby was sick on the couch, son was at work, daughter was at boyfriend's for the morning, I was busy cooking. I called my daughter to ask if she would run to the store and bring me an ingredient that I needed. She was less than accommodating and I became miffed and like the mature mother I am, I hung up on her.

My phone immediately rang.

Me: "Hello?"

Cell phone lady voice: "I'm sorry you're having problems."


I think she listens in on our conversations.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More painting shenanigans, and... a new computer!

While painting the entry hall, my daughter let the dog in from outside.

First, my brain registered that the dog was inside, then I made some kind of a noise ("gaaack!" I think) and checked to see if he had stepped in the paint. He hadn't, but he was tracking muddy paw prints everywhere. It's wet and mucky out.

Me: "Didn't you wipe him off!?"

Daughter: "No."

Me: "Well do it now!"

Daughter (said as she runs out the door): "I can't, I'll be late for work."

Me: "Gaaa!"

I ran, juggling paint brush, rag, and edging tool that helps you not paint on the ceiling, to let the dog back outside, while my daughter apparently ran back inside for something and tracked muddy footprints herself all up the carpeted stairway.

Which I had steam cleaned not even two weeks ago.

Me: "Gaaaaa!! Why can't anything I do stay done!?!"

I'll be showing my daughter how to work the steam cleaner tonight when she gets home from work.

The paint is drying in the entryway. I'm keeping the dog out for a while so that he doesn't rub against anything.

And in much happier news, my husband finally finished gathering all of the parts, and last night my son put together my new computer! I'm so happy! Now I'm back in my little office and don't have to steal into my kids' rooms to use their computers.

Maybe once I've finished with the painting (actually I'm done with that for the time being!), and the deep cleaning, and the departmental holiday party at our house is a thing of the past, I'll sit down and write. That would be nice. (My son just this second popped his head in and asked, "Are you writing?")

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Footprints in the carpet...

Or more appropriately, pawprints.

Have you ever noticed that dogs don't care what they're stepping on in their race to get somewhere? They fully embrace the mathematical truity that the shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line. My dog will step on you, the cat, Christmas presents, mud, - or, say, a tray of fresh paint.

I now have doggie footprints painted into my carpet.

Oh, and a freshly painted room.

One room down, one to go. I need more drop cloths.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The last of the calendula

I'm afraid these will be the last of the calendula from my garden this year. Yesterday they were buds which were not quite open, but almost. I decided to cut them and stick them in a cup of water.

Today they opened up beautifully - only to be tied together and hung upside down to dry out, I'm afraid.

There are a few more tight, green buds still on my plants, but I think that with nights set to dip into the 20's before the week is out, my calendula is probably done for.

My mere handful of plants really produced a bounty this year. I grew them from seeds which I had saved from the year before.

I'm already looking forward to next year's garden.

Weathering the Holidays

The weather has just begun to turn cold. We had snow the day after Thanksgiving, and then on Saturday we had one more mild day with the sun. Toward the end of this week, however, we will be dipping into the 20's at night.

And the cold weather leaves me no excuses to be outside instead of inside where I need to do some deep cleaning and some painting of a couple of rooms before a bounty of guests descends for my husband's departmental holiday get-together (at our home this year). Frankly, I'm not sure everyone will fit comfortably in our home without slopping drinks and finger food on one another.


Hubby had the swine flu last week. He's better now and the rest of us are symptom free still. I don't know if it's because the bug is still incubating, or if it's due to wiping everything down constantly with Clorox wipees, spraying Lysol liberally in the rooms where hubby was lying about, or the "Stave Off" tea (one of my little concoctions) I made the rest of us drink everyday.

I'm really hoping that I don't come down with it, because then I don't know how I'll get the painting, and readying, and holiday decorating of the house done in time for the get-together.

Well, I'm hale and hardy now, so off to look at paint samples....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Honest Scrap

I've been tagged by ricki over at spring to twig with Honest Scrap.

I am supposed reveal some honest truths about myself and then tag some fellow bloggers so that they can be scrapily honest as well. Okay, here goes:

  1. I am flattered when I receive tags and awards and I like to get them, but to be perfectly honest, I am also very shy. For that reason I rarely tag anyone else because I always hate to impose. So, with that in mind, I challenge all readers of this to be perfectly honest with themselves about themselves and maybe find something new and interesting about your very own person. See, in that way I've tagged everyone, and no one has to feel as though they must share anything.
  2. I love gardening, but I hate to water things. I'm very lazy that way. So it's great when I find native plants that look great and don't have to be pampered. I hate pampering.
  3. I absolutely hate cleaning house, so don't EVER come over unannounced. Give me some warning so that I can wipe a few surfaces down, hide the clutter, and sweep up the stray cat hair. If you pop in unexpected, I may not let you in the door : )
  4. I absolutely love a dogwood tree in winter - the way the buds are held facing upward at the end of an artfully curved twig. In the winter I sometimes stand at the window by which my dogwood grows, and just look at the beauty and the grace of the thing. Sometimes for very long stretches at a time.
  5. My dog loves going for walks in snowstorms. And secretly I do too.

So that's the honest scrap on me : )

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of herbs and things

Here are some of the things I've been able to put away over the past few months. They are herbs, medicinal and culinary, that I've either grown in my garden or wildharvested:

Also pictured are some infused oils I've made with some of the herbs and some tins of various salves I've made with the oils.

This past summer was my first attempt at a medicinal herb garden. Next year I will expand the varieties a bit, but this year I tended in my garden:

Evening Primrose
Holy Basil
Sage (S. officinalis)
St. John's Wort
Lavender, Hidcote and Munstead varieties

The things I gathered from the wild include:

Lemon Balm
Elderberry blossoms
Violets (probably dogtooth) - Edit: that's dog violet not dogtooth violet : )
Blackberry leaves
Raspberry leaves

The culinary herbs included:

English Thyme
Pineapple Sage
Corinthian Mint
Pesto Basil
Genovese Basil

And now I will plan my garden for next year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gaaa! The new Megan Whalen Turner book will be out this spring! March 2010!

A Conspiracy of Kings is next in the Attolia series and will be out this spring! I can't wait. And even better news? Megan Whalen Turner says that there will be two more books after this one. See her recent interview over at HipWriterMama.

And for two different Conspiracy of Kings teasers from Greenwillow Books, go here and then here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple trees and visitors

I've been busy cleaning up the aftermath of a drastic pruning of our apple tree in the backyard. What used to be almost as tall as our house is now as tall as maybe two of me stacked up.If we didn't kill it, it may come back and someday be a manageable fruit tree.

And then there's the house cleaning, too. We're having overnight company early next week. I love company, but I hate cleaning. I would much rather tidy up the apple tree mess than scrub tubs, toilets and floors. But the tree mess has now been taken care of and I have no more excuses to put off going inside and tidying up in there.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

To those who wait...

... answers come.

Last summer I came across these wildflowers and didn't know what they were. I snapped their picture in hopes of identifying the plant. I searched on the Internet, but that's a difficult way to identify a plant when all you know about it is that it's a tall, yellow wildflower. I didn't have any luck finding my particular flower.

But I didn't forget about it.

Recently I checked out a Peterson Field Guide from the library for Eastern/Central [United States] Medicinal Plants and Herbs. And what did I come across while perusing its pages, but this exact flower. The field guide identified it as elecampane, or Inula helenium.

I use elecampane root in teas that I make to treat the symptoms of cold and flu. Until now I have mail-ordered it from an organic source. Late last winter I started some plants from seed and in the spring I planted them in my garden, but the root is supposed to be harvested from second-year plants. The first year plants look nothing like the picture. They stay low to the ground, and the leaves spring out sort-of like a rosette. That's why I had no idea that the tall beauty was the same plant, only in its more mature, flowering stage.

So today, while walking the dog, I went back to where I had spied these flowers in late summer. I didn't know if I'd find them because by now the plants have died back, leaving only the root alive to send another plant shooting skyward again next year.

But I did find them, the withered, dried remains of stalks, leaves and flowerheads, waiting to be flattened by winter winds and heavy snowfall so that they can reconnect with the soil and become a part of it again.

The only way to be sure these plants were indeed elecampane was to dig up a root and smell. Elecampane root has a very distinctive smell. I took the dog back home, put him in the back yard with his little cup of doggie ice cream, got my shovel, and returned to the withered plants.

I chose one, dug, pulled, and was rewarded with a nice, fat root. I brushed the earth off of it as best I could, scratched at a section with my fingernail, and smelled. Elecampane! Ha!

Boy did I feel just like a wise woman of old, able to identify and find the plants I need in the wild.

I've had a lot of fun over the past couple of years growing more serious about learning the wise woman's ways. Soon I hope put up a post showing the things I've been able to find, or grow, and put away for later use, and the things I've made.

I absolutely love knowing about the things that grow around me and how to use them, gratefully, for my own benefit, or the benefit of others.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some good books I've read lately - both young adult fantasy

Fire, by Kristin Cashore. It's a companion book to Graceling, and well worth the read. If you like love stories, fantasy, young adult fantasy, strong women, and new and inspiring people and places, and wonderful writing, then Fire is for you.

Fire's father was a literal monster - but monsters in this world are beautiful almost beyond enduring, and can sway the minds of ordinary people. Unfortunately his actions were more like the monsters we are familiar with, and as advisor to the king, he held undue influence and almost ruined the kingdom.

Fire's monster beauty drives men wild, including the new king -son of the ruined king her father advised. He needs her help with traitorous nobles who are closing in on the throne. The king calls for her to help, despite his brother's objections - who bears a hate and a wariness for her because she is her father's daughter.

And Fire, the last human monster, must decide whether or not to help the kingdom that her father put at risk, when it might mean becoming what her father was.

There is so much depth and feeling to the story. If you read this book, I promise you won't be disappointed. Kristin Cashore has a wonderful gift for storytelling.

The Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima. This book kicks off a new trilogy by this imaginative author. Her first three books, The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir, were contemporary fantasies, set in today's world - mostly in Ohio, as a matter of fact.

Her new book is set in a different world - one with seven realms that have a very interesting history, and a rocky present. With wars going on, a Queendom at stake, some upstart wizards, and a street rogue trying to turn his life around without much luck, Chima weaves a wonderful start to what promises to be an engaging trilogy. The characters draw you in with lots of twists and complexities, and you can't help but wonder what's going to happen next with each of them, and what it will mean in the larger scope of things. I can't wait for the next book to come out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fall Color

Here are a couple of images of the fall color that we've enjoyed in our area this year - these are courtesy of my husband:

These were taken about a week ago. Unfortunately time has caused the spectacular color to fade, and now the raking begins...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Some questions about Trufocals (now called Superfocus) answered from my own experience thus far

(Edit: TruFocals are now called Superfocus) In my last Trufocals post, an anonymous commenter asked some questions, which I will here answer in the context of my Trufocals experience thus far.

The questions were:
  1. How heavy are they to wear?
  2. How well do they fit?
  3. How easy/difficult are they to clean & how would one clean the inner membrane should one get dust or other contaminants on it?
  4. How is the overall quality of the materials?
I'll answer questions 1 & 2 together:
I was surprised when I first picked my Trifocals up out of the box, they seemed much lighter than I had anticipated. They come with a certificate so that you can take them to an optometrist to get them professionally fitted - which I did right away. There are sort of instructions on the certificate which explain to the optometrist what they can and can't adjust in order to achieve a good fit. Basically they can adjust the nosepads with their special little pliers, and that's about it. My optometrist also adjusted the ends of the arms so that they held to my ears better, otherwise they would have slid off of my face.
Honestly, I think I need to go back for an adjustment because after long wear, my ears are a little sore, and the sides of my nose where the nosepads sit are also sore. (See the Edit below)
They are a little heavier than my wire-framed bifocals and my faux tortoise shell prescription reading glasses and maybe that's why my nose is sore - or, like I said, maybe I need a readjustment with the fit. (Edit: I found out why my nose and ears were sore. It wasn't the glasses, it was the neck-chain with the little rubberized ends that I had put on my Trufocals so that they would hang around my neck when I took them off. It wasn't a good fit for my glasses and caused the problems. I finally took the chain off today and, voila! No more nose or ear pain.)
Question 3:
They are just a tad more involved to clean than my other glasses. Here are the instructions that came with my Trufocals:
Caring for your TruFocals is also easy. Like conventional glasses, TruFocals should be cleaned regularly. Always use a soft cloth and rinse first with tap water to flush away any dust or grit (which can, if rubbed into optical surfaces, cause scratches). Mild soap may be used when appropriate.
... When inner surfaces need cleaning, simply remove the front lenses by pulling them forward, and cleanse with mild soap, water and a soft cloth.
They note that this is the only approved way to clean your Trufocals - which, I suppose, may have implications for the warranty.
They also warn to keep sand out of the focusing mechanism when at the beach. If you should get sand in there, then a blast of compressed air (from the pressurized dust-off cans you can buy in office supply stores) will clear the mechanism.
I don't have any problems taking the front lenses off and cleaning them, but I'm always nervous about cleaning the inner membranes. I do everything very gently. So it's a bit more involved than with regular glasses.
Question 4:
The overall quality of the materials seems to be very good. They seem to be sturdy and well made. The only thing I might say against the materials, is that perhaps the arms seem a tad light compared to the rest of the frames. But I haven't had any problems with the arms, and I'm sure that they were designed to be light to help lessen the overall weight of the glasses since the front part of the frames with the lenses includes stainless steel.
And there is one comment which I read in another user's review that I agree with. The lenses themselves are a little on the small side. It'd be nice if they were maybe a bit bigger.
I also want to add that the Trufocals people have been very nice so far. They even called me to make sure my glasses had arrived safely, to answer any questions I might have had, and to let me know that they are just a phone call or an email away if I have any problems or questions. They even read one of my posts and emailed me with the answers to some hypothetical questions I had posed. You can find the questions with their answers here, the answers are in red.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Trufocals (now called Superfocus) update - OR - maybe I'm just a coward

(Edit: TruFocals are now called Superfocus) Okay, I haven't worn my Trufocals out of the house since the day I got them. I've worn them in the house plenty. I'm just sissy to wear them in public, I guess.

Did I mention that they look a tad different? As in, funny?

Before I got my Trufocals, I wore my progressive (no-line bifocal) lens glasses when shopping, visiting museums, etc. They were extremely useful when I was taking classes at a local university and I had to look at the board and then down at my notebook to take notes, but my distance vision isn't so bad that I need to wear them during all waking hours. At home I wore my reading glasses when reading, at the computer, knitting, etc.

So I have fallen into the same pattern with my Trufocals, except for the fact that I am a little embarrassed to wear them out and about.

I haven't taken any university classes lately (I had been working on a 2nd degree part time), but I'm not sure how the Trufocals would work in that situation. Having to adjust the focus between the board and your notebook might present a problem. The board is sometimes pretty far away in the big lecture halls, so it would be hard to find a focus that would work for the board and your notebook at the same time.

And, here's the thing - you can focus so well with the Trufocals that it really is bothersome when something isn't in super sharp focus, so finding a mid-focus for the board and the notebook for the duration of a lecture might actually make your eyes feel bad, or maybe give you one of those vision headaches.

But again, I haven't been in the classroom lately, so all of that is conjecture. My husband teaches at the local university, maybe he'd let me sit in on one of his classes so that I could try it out. I'll have to see about that.

One other thing that has cropped up in my "what if?" files - what if your hands were really goopy, or otherwise occupied and you found that you needed to adjust focus? This came up while carving my Halloween pumpkin. I was wearing my Trufocals and rejoicing in being able to see the tiny marks I had made on the pumpkin which formed the outline of the pattern I was attempting to cut out. But my hands were goopy with pumpkin goo and, although I didn't need to change focus while carving, I thought about what a pain it would be to have to clean my hands first and then focus, so as not to slime up my glasses and the focusing mechanism, if the need to change focus arose.

But here is another positive. One of my cats had an altercation with another cat and received an injury to her eye. I was able to focus in and really see what was going on with her eye. It's nice to be able to see little things up close and in focus (her eye will be fine, but her third eyelid will be forever ragged-looking, so says the vet).

I have to toughen up and wear the things out shopping again. Wow. I didn't know I was so vain. Gotta get over that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy November!

A few snowflakes are falling from the sky this morning. I hope they don't start falling en masse anytime soon - I've still got the whole backyard to rake!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween in our yard

I hope your Halloween was spooky and fun!

A crypt appeared in our yard for the evening:

My daughter and her boyfriend became vampires and handed out candy in the crypt:

Trick-or-treaters made their way to ours, the last house on a dead-end street, to receive their treats. I was a ghostly figure hovering here and there, replenishing the treat cauldron when supplies got low, adjusting the fogger, and generally haunting the accompanying graveyard:

My offspring were artsy with their Jack-O'lanterns:

As the night grew darker, the vampires became spookier:

We had a fun night - although all had been foretold that morning. I went to the library earlier in the day. There, at the checkout desk was a fortune teller with this sign, "Are you fortune's friend or foe? Ask me a question and I will know." And there, before me, was a magic eight ball.

I grasped the eight ball and asked, "Will our Halloween be a success?"

I shook, turned the ball over, and the ghostly answer floated to the the surface of the dark little window, "Without a doubt."

And it was right.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reverse Trick-or-Treating

Last Monday I went to a program at my library. Cookbook author, Bev Shaffer, gave a delightful presentation on her experience with cookbook writing, and afterward there was a chocolate tasting -yum! It was all fair-trade, organic chocolate and it was absolutely delicious.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Shaffer told us about a reverse trick-or-treating volunteer program sponsored by Equal Exchange, a fair-trade chocolate co-op. The Reverse Trick-or-Treating works this way, volunteers get a set of cards (see below), each with a small bar of fair-trade chocolate attached. When a volunteer child receives candy at a home, he or she then gives the adult one of the cards and says something to the effect of, "Thank you, and here's a piece of fair-trade chocolate for you," or, "Thank you! Here's some information on how you can help end child slave labor on cocoa farms.":

The cards have information about fair-trade chocolate and how fair-trade co-operatives are working to end child slave labor on cocoa farms and make sure that cocoa farmers earn a decent wage:

And the chocolate is yummy!

All of us at the library program received a bag with 10 of these cards. My children are too old for trick-or-treating, but my daughter went out last night with some friends who were taking their baby out for her first trick-or-treat (their neighborhood had its trick-or-treating last night). She took the cards along and gave them away at the homes they visited.

And if you have never learned how to taste chocolate (think wine-tasting), I would urge you to learn (see this book: The Chocolate Connoisseur) and then try some of the fairly-traded chocolates which are becoming more prevalent nowadays in places like your local grocery store. Most of these are also organic and their flavors are complex and absolutely wonderful.

Happy Halloween and Happy Chocolate tasting!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Trufocals (now called Superfocus) have arrived - OR - Just call me Dr. Van Helsing

My Trufocals (edit: TruFocals are now called Superfocus) arrived yesterday:

I ordered the regular, and the tinted lenses. They're interchangeable:

Here you can see the little slider on the bridge which is used to adjust focus (click on the picture to see it close-up):

And here I am, this morning (without make-up and barely a half-cup of coffee in me) wearing my Trufocals:

Remember Dr. Van Helsing from the Dracula movie with Bela Lugosi? I'm pretty sure those are Trufocals he's wearing : )

Pretty funky, huh?

Okay, so when I got my Trufocals yesterday, I took them right away to be fitted. They come with a certificate to give your to optician, whereby he or she may be compensated for their time by the Trufocals folks. In other words, you can get them fitted by a professional at no cost to you.

I then went shopping for Halloween decorations with my daughter. She offered to wear some fake Harry Potter glasses so that people would just think we were both wearing parts of our costumes already. I must say that the Harry Potter glasses looked a bit better on her than my Trufocals looked on me.

Did I mention that they were funky-looking?

Well, in all honesty, you don't notice their funky looks while wearing them, unless, perhaps you see it in the expressions on the faces of the salespeople you may be conversing with. Or in the double-takes you're given as you walk around - even in a Halloween store.

But the darn things work. I adjusted them to look at things close-up and to read labels, and then adjusted them again to see farther afield while walking around the various stores we visited.

And at home I could work on the computer, and later cuddle up with a book without having to hold it at the distance of a computer screen in order for it to be in focus.

In fact, this morning I enjoyed reading Dracula as I sipped my morning coffee and ate my Go Lean Kashi cereal - and I didn't have to prop it at a bit of a distance, the book lay right if front of me on the table.

I have 30 days in which to decide if Trufocals are the glasses for me. I think, in the end, it will all come down to vanity, but I shall continue to blog about my Trufocals experience and post my ultimate decision whether I keep them, or return them for a full refund.

I do have a few questions (edit ~ the Trufocals people read this and emailed the answers to me, which are in red after the questions):
  1. What if your prescription wasn't quite correct and your Trufocals don't work for you because of it? I ask this because once I got a bad prescription and couldn't wear my glasses. I was given a re-examination for free, and the glasses were ground correctly, for free. What would happen if this were the case when you tried on your Trufocals? Trufocals answer: If your optometrist gave you an incorrect prescription we will machine new front lenses for you at no cost.
  2. Does my 30 day trial start from the day I ordered my Trufocals, or on the day that I physically received them? I ask, because I ordered them on Oct. 9th, they were shipped on Oct. 22nd, and I received them on Oct. 28th. TruFocals answer: Your 30-day trial begins the day you receive them.
  3. If I decide to keep my Trufocals and, in the future, need a new prescription, do I have to purchase a whole new pair, or can the outer lenses simply be replaced with the new prescription, which, I presume, would cost less? Trufocals answer: In the future when your prescription changes, you will only need to replace the front removable lenses. The clear lenses are $149.00 and the photochromic lenses are $245.00.
Before I got my Trufocals, I had one pair of progressive lenses (no-line bifocals) and a pair of reading glasses (ground for computer work - hence the need to hold knitting, books, newspapers, at a bit of a distance). I only wore the bifocals while shopping, or in places like museums, and I wore the reading glasses while working on the computer, reading, knitting, cooking, etc.
I must say that I really liked the look of my reading glasses. They were stylish with a tortoise shell finish. So the vanity in me will find it hard to come to terms with the Dr. Van Helsing look of the Trufocals - even in the privacy of my own home.
In any event, stay tuned for updates of my Trufocals experience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In search of the Great Pumpkin

Even though my kids are in college, we still like to go out to a pumpkin patch to find our Halloween pumpkins:

We drove way out into the country and found a nice patch where pumpkins of all shapes,:



and configurations, could be found:

And there were plenty to choose from. If you couldn't find your pumpkin in one field, there were other fields off in the distance to scour:

We saw the Great Pumpkin rise out of the pumpkin patch!:

I found the perfect squash!:

I had a hand carrying it back:

When we had each found a perfect specimen, we hauled our pumpkin loot back to the barn:

Where there were pumpkin horses pulling carts loaded with you-know-what:

As we drove away, they seemed to say, "Bye! Come back next year!":

Now comes the hard part - deciding how to carve our Jack-O'Lanterns!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In which I prepare for the arrival of my techno-Harry-Potter-geek glasses, OR: My Trufocals eyewear arrives Wednesday

I have purchased a pair of Trufocals eyewear. They look like this:
image from

I will become a somewhat nerdy-looking wearer of this new eyeglass technology on Wednesday. I can't wait, and I hope they are everything they're supposed to be.

They utilize an new optical design which enables the wearer to adjust focus as needed, i.e. the wearer can switch between reading a book and looking across the room, or from driving, to reading labels in the grocery store.

How? With a fluid-filled lens, the focus of which can be adjusted by moving a little slider located on the bridge.

I won't have to deal with bifocals, or choosing the focal point for the reading portion to be ground for computer use, or for reading and close handiwork. Right now they are ground for computer use, which means that when I knit, or read the newspaper, or a book, I must keep these things at a distance from me as if they were my computer screen if I want them to be in focus.

Plus, right now I have two pair of glasses; my bifocals and a pair for reading/computer work, because you cannot use bifocals to work on the computer. Period. At least I can't. If you can, that's great, but I'm not purchasing eyewear for you. I'm purchasing it for me. I'm giving up fashionable eyewear in order to see properly in all situations, and I can't wait.

Trufocals are extremely pricey, so they represent my Christmas, Valentine's, Mother's Day, and Birthday all wrapped into one. But they do have a 30 day trial period. If I don't like them, I can send them back and the Trufocals folks will return my money. My family thinks I'll look funny, my husband thinks I'll be disappointed and will end up returning them, and I think that I will be wildly happy with them (aside from their looks).

I intend to blog about my Trufocals experience and what I truly think of them. So until Wednesday...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I can jelly...

But these guys can jam!

I saw this group last night. They're The Infamous Stringdusters, a bluegrass band that will knock your socks off.

If you ever have the opportunity to see them, don't pass it up!

Friday, October 23, 2009

One Fall Color

We've had dreadful weather so far this fall, except for this week. The sun came out, the temperatures were glorious, and I was able to get out and work in the yard.

Although the full palette of fall colors can be seen everywhere else, our yard sticks to a one-color theme:

But in the sunshine, that one color is quite enough:

And this week I stopped wishing for more variation. Who can go wrong with glowing yellow-gold over one's head?

It's been a beautiful week to be outside:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Out and About

I saw Celtic Woman last night:

It was tons of fun- lots better than watching them on PBS. Those ladies have pipes, let me tell you - and the one in the middle is a fiddling whirlwind.

My husband surprised me with tickets - wow!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Okay, enough with digressions. Back to the spirit of this month which ends in All Hallows Eve.

Here is a link to the first chapter of a young adult novel I began to write last year:

I know, I know, it's ironic that I'm posting a link to my writing after the last post, but I put it up last year just for the month of October, too. Feel free to tell me not to quit my day job if you want : )

And just like last year, the chapter will disappear when October ends!

Monday, October 19, 2009

One more digression... Writing: are you a writer, or should you give it up and pursue something else?

This is an honest digression, a heartfelt insight into a little something called my brain : )

I've written a few things, but I hesitate to call myself a writer. How can you tell if you're a writer? This article in The Village Voice will tell you how to find that out (there is some strong language, actually one strong word used many times).

And Colleen Lindsay, a literary agent sums the article up very nicely, here.

Many people who teach writing or give seminars or lead critique circles will say over and over again that writing should never be discouraged. A critique should never be so blunt as to include the words, "You have no talent. Give it up."

But I secretly don't agree with that. The Village Voice article explains very nicely why. If people whose business it is to know such things are kind enough to tell you that you should probably pursue other talents, it's probably best to listen and free yourself to find whatever your real talent is.

I haven't exactly found mine yet. My writing isn't terrible, but in all honesty, I know that it lacks something. Just like I know that the batch of fudge I made last week lacked something. It was okay, but it didn't possess that oomph that leaves you still salivating after you've swallowed and makes you sneak back into the kitchen to cut just one more little nibble off of that velvety slab of lusciousness.

Okay, so maybe my talent is candymaking, because I can actually tell when it hasn't come out right. And I can tell when it has and it's oh-so-drool-inducing-good. And because, although I can't say that my writing is the best in the whole world (not even close), I can say, with almost utter certainty, that if you search the world over, you will never find a caramel that can top mine.

And maybe that's a good analogy to use. Suppose you knew someone whose cooking was hard to stomach. Now suppose they confided in you that they wanted to open a restaurant and they wanted your opinion of their cooking - was it good enough to become a successs in the restaurant business?

Would you suggest that they learn the basics? Attend a cooking school? Tell them not to quit their day job?

Or would you encourage them and then watch as they poured all of their time and perhaps their life savings into a restaurant? Which would fail. Because your friend can't cook. And you knew it.

It would be nice if someone would tell me outright not to quit my day job when it comes to my writing if it's really not all that great. It would actually be freeing. Of course it would hurt, but I learned way back in elementary school how to deal with disappointment. I'd get over it. And then move on to better things.


Okay, yes, my last post was a bit of a digression.

In my defense, my background is in anthropology, and I am a woman.

Enough said.

In an attempt to transition the blog back into normal mode, I offer these pictures ~

You will find this spooky tunnel at the ancient site of Mycenae in Greece. One is not supposed to go down it, but if the 'one' we are talking about is my husband and children, then 'one' will bring a flashlight with 'one' all the way to Greece just for the purpose of exploring said tunnel. The tunnel leads to underground cisterns where the fortified palace stored vast amounts of water.

Returning from explorations:

The stairway which will return 'one' back to sunlight:

Lots of spiders lived in the tunnel.