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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A problem with Ardipithicus ramidus

Ardipithicus ramidus, the 4.4 million year old fossil hominid, has been in the news lately. She's caused quite a stir because it turns out that she was bipedal. No one expected that from a 4.4 million year old hominid. The thinking was that as far back as that, all of our precursors would still be knuckle-walkers. But Ardi has surprised everyone.

My problem is not with Ardi's bipedality. It's not even with Ardi herself. It's with some of the hypotheses being thrown around about her bipedality coupled with the relatively small canine size in both the males and females of the species.

I watched a discovery channel show about Ardi, her discovery, the analyzation of the remains, and results of the research thus far. A big deal was made about the small canine size (in both males and females) and the bipedality. These are two very strange traits - bipedality in mammals is almost uniquely found in the hominid/human family tree. And, why in the world would evolution favor the males giving up their huge canines - used for defense and in battling over females? The focus was on trying to account for the circumstances which would drive the evolutionary selection of these two traits together.

And what reason did the men come up with? It must have been because the males of the species suddenly could provide more for the females, who were more receptive (sexually) to them because the males could now walk upright and carry food that they had gathered back to the females.

That's what I have a problem with.

Hasn't it been Man The Hunter up until now who drove the evolution of the species while the females quietly gathered in the background? And now that it looks like gathering might have been the impetus for bipedality, suddenly it's the males who are doing it? While the females are doing what, exactly? Sitting around back at camp waiting for the males to come back loaded down with food so that they can open their legs for them?

A bit one-sided, don't you think?

How about this scenario: Ardipethecus ramidus was a hominid, the group structure of which was not run by male dominance, but instead was a matriarchy, similar to Pan paniscus, or today's Bonobos - a species of chimpanzee whose social structure is run by the females. Bonobos are more comfortable with bipedal motion than their cousins, Pan troglodytes (the chimps that you may be more familiar with). And Bonobo canines are smaller and less sexually dimorphic than those of regular chimps. In the Bonobos it is the female who chooses the male, unlike their cousins, P. troglodytes, the males of which use their large canines to fight for the females, and are often aggressive toward the females themselves.

Lets put the female hominid back in her role as gatherer. It is not an unimportant role, although perhaps it has been made to seem so only because it's the females who have been doing it. Gathering is what has sustained the hominid population throughout these millenia, while the male role of hunting (or, more likely early on, scavenging rotting carcasses for putrid meat) has been important, but not as sustaining. In fact, let's look at this scenario and see if half of the population feels left out somehow:

The female hominid, by walking upright as she gathers, and is able to both hold her infant and the food she is gathering , is able to go farther afield and return with more food, enabling her to share with the group. As the brain size of the hominids evolve and grow larger - no doubt due to the female's need to recognize useful and harmful plants, insects, and small animals, and to be able to to make the tools needed to dig and cut, and then to mash and chop, and to fashion things such as baskets to carry her foragings in - birth becomes more difficult because of the growing head size of the infants and the increasing difficulty of the head fitting through the birth canal. The need for help in childbirth drives group dynamics further, with women needing other women to help them. Peace and goodwill among group members, especially the women, drives group cooperation and selects against the aggressor.

Anything missing there? Well, if you are male, you now know how we women have felt every time we've read or heard about Man The Hunter.

I say we all grow up and start to look at human evolution from both sides of the story, and stop with this nonsense of attributing evolution-driving behavior only to the males of the species.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hat and scarf weather...

It's officially here.

And it's only October. Brrrr.

Coming at the end of winter, this weather would be looked at as a breath of warmth after the frigid months.

But these damp, dark, low-to-mid 40's during the day, and low 30's at night, coming at the end of a cool summer and being presented as fall weather...

Well, all I can say is, Brrrr!

Monday, October 12, 2009

A tasty, seasonal snack

A group that my daughter belongs to had a fundraising bakesale yesterday. In keeping with the season, she made these cookies to take to the sale:

I had some cello bags left over from something or other, so she put a handful of fingers in each bag. They were a hit at the bakesale.

You can find the recipe here (from Martha Stewart). The recipe calls for whole almonds for the fingernails, but I use the sliced almonds. And pay no nevermind to the comments at the end of the recipe. They seem to all be negative, but I've never had any problems with the recipe, my fingers always turn out creepy and good.

Mmmm... there's nothing like a crunchy Witch Finger cookie with your morning coffee to start the day.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jelly, anyone?

Jelly, anyone?

I made my last batch of jelly for the season last night. It was the apple & rosehip jelly.

Don't think I'll be making that one again. I used wild rosehips, which are little so you need to find lots of them.

Collecting them gets your hands all scratched up, de-stemming them took 3 hours, and in the end, the jelly tastes almost exactly like plain apple jelly. If I ever do it again it will be with very large rosehips, and I'll use a recipe that's entirely rosehip with no apple in it.

But together, all of the jellies look pretty with the morning sun shining through them.

My favorites by rank:

1 Crabapple

2 Blackberry & Elderberry

3 Elderberry

4 Apple

5 Apple & Rosehip

I'm selling one jar each of the Blackberry & Elderberry and the Elderberry jellies on my Etsy site (although, if supplies run low and they haven't sold, I may have to de-list them and greedily keep them for my own use), the crabapple is all mine, and the Apple and Apple & Rosehip are for one and all (be sure the neighbors will each get some).

And some of each of the jellies will end up tucked in with Christmas gifts.

Okay, that's the last jelly post for the year. I promise : )

Friday, October 9, 2009

Harbingers of winter

My daughter and I found this woolly bear caterpillar while collecting crabapples the other day:

I can never keep straight what the stripe means. The width of the stripe is supposed to predict how hard the winter will be, but I can't remember if a thick stripe means a harsh winter or a mild winter. And the thing is, I often see thick and thin striped caterpillars trying to predict the same forthcoming winter. I guess they're confused too.

And I saw this on the lolcats website:

I thought it was funny =^.".^=

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Making Crabapple Jelly

I've extolled the virtues of crabapple jelly enough and bored everyone to tears with my efforts to find and harvest crabapples this year, so now I'll take it to the final step. Making my crabapple jelly.

Step 1 - pick crabapples:

Step 2 - sort and wash fruit:

Step 3 - enjoy the glowy, red goodness:

Step 4 - chop fruit:

Step 5 - add to pot with water, simmer, crush, simmer:

Step 6 - hang pulp to strain out juice:

Step 7 - boil juice with sugar and pectin (unless you make yours by bringing only the juice and sugar mixture to the boiling jelly point without adding pectin). Fill jars:

Step 8 - groan over sticky mess:

Step 9 - process jars in boiling water bath:

Step 10 - remove jars from bath:

Step 11 - Let jars cool and rejoice in the happy pinging noise of lids sealing themselves:

Step 12 - Thank everyone who helped you in this effort: doggy, who accompanied fruit gathering expedition; daughter, who helped pick fruit and process into jelly, and took all of the pictures of the process; daughter's boyfriend who chopped, stirred, filled jars and picked hot jars out of water bath.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Crabapple Harvest

My daughter and I went to collect some crabapples the other day. Along the way we saw some interesting things. Like this butterfly:

The photo above is mine, the one below is my daughter's. She always takes the time to get the really good shots:

Is it any wonder that I've had several cases of poison ivy this past summer with the plants around here sporting leaves like this?:

There was a funny fungus growing on an old stump. It reminded me of those candy dots that you get on a strip of paper:

My daughter got a close-up shot:

I've never seen such a pretty fungus as this before, it reminds me of a chrysanthemum:

We came across an outdoor cafeteria. The hulls of hickory nuts were left on top of logs:

And stones where they had been eaten by some hungry critter:

They don't call them shagbark hickory for nothing:

Someone left behind muddy handprints. I don't know if it was a raccoon or a skunk:

Strider was eager to keep moving:

Reminding me of this poem:
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.