Sunday, November 29, 2009

EMPS: Sometimes It's About Being Thankful for...Stuff.

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #65: Giving Thanks!, I suppose I could have showed you the Thanksgiving Pot Luck at St. Michael's this past Thursday, if I'd remembered to photograph it; or my beloved husband, if he allowed me to post pictures of him. I'm truly thankful for that pot luck at church, where I ate with friends and helped out in the kitchen, and got a plate of leftovers for my Wiccan friend who declined to attend, and would otherwise have been alone all day at Thanksgiving. And of course I'm thankful every day for my funny, cranky, smart, always-stimulating husband of thirty years (and counting).

But I didn't remember to take those Thanksgiving pics, and we didn't have much by way of turkey afterward, just enough for me to get a few meals of leftovers if I padded them out with Trader Joe's stuff and a frozen entree. Here's the box from that entree. Exciting, huh?

BUT! I'm also thankful for something material this year. You see, after 20 years without an accident, John has been rear-ended three times in the past six months -- and no, none of the accidents were his fault. He got a $2005 insurance settlement on the third accident, and was not inclined to spend it on fixing the car's trunk and taillight. Instead he's going to replace the dying hard drive on his Mac, and we got me a new computer. It's a desktop, for a change. John insisted that it's better than a laptop and likely to last longer. I still have my laptop for trips, at least until the motherboard finishes dying. So here it is: a $500 Gateway with 4 GB RAM and a 750 GB hard drive, plus an 18.5" monitor. John even admitted that it's faster than his Mac (when it's working), and the monitor is bigger. Windows 7 isn't compatible with my photo editor, so I was finally forced to upgrade to PhotoStudio 6. So I have working software again. Yay! It may be crass and material of me, but I'm thankful for my new computer.

And that's not all! We agonized for a good twenty minutes in front of four vacuum cleaners at Costco, ranging in price from $89 to $299. John tried opening the canister on the cheapest one to see how it worked, and fake dirt poured out onto the concrete floor! We ended up with the $139 Hoover. Now, if you're like me, you've probably had the experience of disappointing vacuum cleaners. You know: the demonstrators show the vacuum picking up fake dirt designed to be vacuumed easily, or maybe a bowling ball. But that's not what you need a vacuum to do, is it? You get it home, and does it pick up the dog hair? Probably not. But that's exactly what we needed it to do, and exactly why we stood there, agonizing.

But we picked one and took it home, and John tried it out even before we unpacked my computer. Amazingly, it picked up three canisters' worth of real dirt and dog hair(!) from the den alone! It works! It's wonderful! As wonderful as a vacuum cleaner can be, anyway.

So John is happy with that purchase - and that makes me thankful, too!


Weekend Assignment #295: Keep Me Warm!

This week's Weekend Assignment is short and sweet:

Weekend Assignment: #295: Even in Tucson, things can get a bit chilly on December nights. What is your favorite way to keep warm?

Extra Credit: What is the temperature setting on your thermostat?

It's no secret that John and I moved to Tucson in 1986 for the specific purpose of getting away from winter. I grew up outside Syracuse, NY, where the thermometer dips below 0 degrees F most winters, accompanied by blowing snow. Lovely. To make things worse, my elementary school made us stand outside in our skirts and tights in similar weather.  So if I become a little insufferable each year as Tucson barely dips below freezing, and that only about three or four times a year, you know where I'm coming from, literally.

So I enjoy the fact that entire years go by here without our turning the heat on once. On rare occasions we'll let it run for a few hours at night. If John feels the need for heat, he'll probably set it probably for 60 degrees at most. If I'm especially cold and the blankets are in short supply (as they always are), I might sneak it up as high as 65. But most of the time it's at 56 degrees - and turned off!

But that's not the fun way to stay warm. I was thinking about that tonight as I climbed into bed after being up for 35 hours straight. (I'd pulled an all-nighter Friday, compiling a list of Round Robin participants for 2009.) Cayenne jumped up on the bed immediately, right onto the comforter, right where my legs are supposed to go. As usual. But where was Pepper?

A moment of listening provided the answer.  She was outside the bedroom window, barking. I called her name and she was on the bed in seconds, streaking around and through the house to reach me. Then it was just a matter of getting Cayenne a foot or two to the south.

You see, when it comes to Tucson weather, it's never more than a Two Dog Night.

How about you? Do you face cold winter nights with a warm friend or a hot drink, perhaps even a Snugee? Tell us about it in your blog, or in the comments below. Easy instructions to participate are at the end of this entry, right after last week's wrap-up.

For Weekend Assignment #294: A Decade of Thanks, I asked what you're most grateful for of this decade's innovations. Click on the names below to read their full responses:


E-Readers: I never would have said this until a few months ago, but my Kindle has truly made me a believer. I don't think e-books will replace the traditional kind for me, but the Kindle made carrying books with me a lot more convenient. Since e-books tend to become available at the same time as hardcover editions, and they cost less than most trade paperbacks, I don't have to wait so long for some of the books I really want to read, either!

Julie said...
I'm pretty darned thankful for the technology that allows me to work at home. Now if the economy would just cooperate...

Well, this is amusing. As I was working on this blog post the doorbell rang. UPS delivered us a new router! It's a good thing I wasn't working today, which is precisely one reason Paul took the time to outline to Verizon all of the problems we had been having with the old router. I'll spare you the techy details, but when Paul called yesterday they agreed that we needed a new router and promised to drop ship one immediately, though they told us it would be Friday before it arrived, since tomorrow is a holiday. Imagine our surprise when the equipment arrived at our door this afternoon.

Thanks, folks!

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:

1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, December 5th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

Stay warm, everyone!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Karen's Annual Rutabaga Rant

It's 2:30 AM. About 45 minutes ago, I started preparing my Thanksgiving dinner. Sort of. Even more than in other years, it's all about the rutabagas.

I've written about rutabagas several times before, in this blog and its predecessor. Basically they're a root vegetable similar to a turnip, sometimes called a "swede." When you peel and cook them they turn a pale orange, much like the lighter varieties of sweet potatoes. But these aren't sweet. If anything, they're kind of squash-like.

They are not at all my favorite vegetable, and I wouldn't want to eat them every week. But for nearly all my life I've been eating them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, if possible - which is to say, if my mom or I did the cooking. I serve them with the holiday meal, mashed with butter and milk - ack! I forgot to buy milk! I'll take care of that in the morning, I guess. I forgot the gravy, too, so I can get that while I'm at it.

Anyway, they're good with turkey gravy and all the rest of it, just another interesting flavor to go with other, more common elements of the traditional turkey dinner. Then the neat bit is, the next day you mix them with the leftover mashed potatoes, and make what my family used to call "turtatoes."

Not too many people I've met who never carried the name Funk are particularly familiar with rutabagas, so when I brought them to the Thanksgiving brunch at St. Michael's last year, I think I only cooked three of them. They were gone in ten minutes, and I had to move fast to save some aside for myself! So this year I'm cooking five of them.

The ones I found at Safeway aren't the greatest. The color of the peel should be a little brighter, I think, and these were a little more blemished and scarred and hairy looking than usual. But they were a moderately decent size, and they peeled easily for once, and cutting them up wasn't as much of a struggle as it usually is. An hour into the cooking, which is where are right now, they seem to be almost soft enough to mash. Another 15 minutes, maybe.

And the rest of the meal?

Well, the immediate destination for my rutabagas is St. Michael's again, where the pot luck starts right after the 10:30 AM mass. My beloved atheist hermit husband John won't be attending that, nor will my friend S., although I did invite her. She has no family left that didn't basically abandon her, and I didn't want her to sit alone at Thanksgiving, thinking of her heartless ingrate son and the grandson she doesn't get to see anymore. But S., a Wiccan and former Christian with several denominations in her past, isn't comfortable going to a church, even just to eat at a communal meal. So my friend Kevin and I will take her a plate of vegetarian leftovers. Best we can do.

And my actual Thanksgiving dinner, with John? That's going to have to be at Boston Market. You see, our gas oven stopped lighting properly, or at all, months ago. So we currently only have the stovetop and the microwave to cook with. I'm not going to manage a turkey that way, and John doesn't even like turkey much. So, we go out!

But Boston Market doesn't have rutabagas. No matter; I'm making my own.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


(Click the word "rutabagas" in the labels below for more on rutabagas and how to prepare them.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

EMPS: The Historic Depot

Carly this week wants train-related photos for the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #64: Trains. I've taken lots and lots of pictures of Tucson's historic rail depot downtown on several trips down there in the past. Nevertheless I went again, and I'm glad I did, because it's changed a bit since I was last down there. For the better? I'm not sure.

The Historic Depot (that's what it's called) is downtown on Toole Ave., across the street from the equally historic Hotel Congress where John Dillinger once stayed. Built in 1907, the Depot complex of buildings was restored in 2004 to the way it looked in 1941. Outside the train station that preceded this one on the same site, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday ambushed and killed a man named Frank Stillwell in the aftermath of the OK Corral shootout.

Today The Historic Depot is home to the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, which is mostly about the history of the railroad in Tucson, and to a century-old coal-burning steam locomotive called Old 1673. This train ran for many years on routes in and out of Tucson. Later it spent time falling apart in Himmel Park before a cadre of interested Tucsonans spent a good deal of time, money and sweat equity restoring it.

Last time I visited the Depot, the locomotive's protective shed / fencing / whatever (trestle?) was open at both ends, so visitors could walk up to it (but were not supposed to touch!). Now, sadly, it's locked up all the way around. But I can still poke my camera between the bars!

The Historic Depot is also a working train station, with Amtrak trains in and out three times a week, and freight trains several times a day. The passenger rail schedule is unfortunately so inconvenient, and the distances so great, that Tucsonans board a train here as often as they might do otherwise.

This is a shame. It's a lovely train station, with beautiful wooden benches and reproductions of old Arizona-themed art on the walls.

Since I was here last, one end of the depot building has been leased out as Maynards Market, sort of an eclectic gourmet grocery. You can get unusual wines and locally made tamales, and fresh pizza in varieties you'll never find at Papa John's. It's a neat place, and I heartily recommend it.

Unfortunately, this store takes up a chunk of the old waiting room area that was there before. What benches and decor they still have room for are now concentrated into a smaller area, and the long wooden counter seems to be gone. It's understandable. Why give over a lot of valuable downtown real estate to a waiting area hardly anyone ever waits in, when you can bring in rental income and help to revitalize downtown at the same time? But it's still a shame.


P.S. Carly would like a picture of a conductor. Short of a trip to Disneyland, this is the best I can do:

A statue of a conductor, or possibly an engineer. 
Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, January 2008.

Related blog entries:

Round Robin: Train Tracking

All the Livelong Day

Two from Tombstone

 I Met John Dillinger!

Picasa photo gallery:

The Historic Depot

Weekend Assignment #294: A Decade of Thanks

This week's Weekend Assignment finishes up one holiday-themed assignment and proposes another:

Weekend Assignment: #294: Thanksgiving is upon us, and it's traditional to ask what you're thankful for this year. But let's tweak that a bit. As we prepare to finish off the first decade of a new century, let's take a moment to appreciate the good things that have come about since 12/31/1999. What aspect of living in the 21st century are you most thankful about? I'm talking technology, medical breakthroughs, favorite tv shows, even people and pets born since the ball drop of nine years ago.

Extra Credit: What are you most looking forward to as the century continues?

For me, the choice comes down to social media or my two dogs. Which am I more thankful about, the big, world-changing, life-changing developments in online culture, or the fact that I personally have two dogs who bring me joy every day? Hmm. Let me explore that question for a moment.

Back in 1999, I was on AOL, hanging out on the SF and Fantasy writer's discussion boards. A few people were already writing what would come to be known as blogs, but I'd never heard of them. There was no Facebook, no Blogger, no Twitter, no Wikipedia. I'd never heard of John Scalzi, future blogger Carly of Berkeley, or dozens of other people who have since enriched my life with their words and pictures. But then came AOL Journals, and LiveJournal, and BlogSpot (remember when it was called that?), and other blogging platforms. Suddenly we all had new friends, around the country and around the world. Maybe we hadn't even actually met most of them, but they were friends nonetheless. Blogs in turn gave rise to microblogging, short bursts of self-expression on Twitter and elsewhere.

The next wave came in the form of social networking sites, when again redefined the word "friend." They were organized around virtual pins on virtual maps, around professional connections, around where you went to high school, around a common interest in films or gaming. Eventually the concept coalesced as the juggernaut Facebook, on which I spend far too much time these days.

Then there are the Wikis. Wikipedia was another obsession of mine for a while, and I still think I did some good work over there while the mania lasted. Today there are individual Wikis devoted to hundreds of subjects, from specific tv shows to legal or medical information.

Now, the question for me is, how grateful am I for all of that? I'm certainly grateful for the friends I've made, and the platform to publish my own words and pictures with nearly instant gratification. The downside, of course, is the way it can suck up my time, and the way the different social media compete for my time and interest. Is Facebook a step too far for me, considering its detrimental effect on my blogging output? Does it really matter? I'm not sure. Perhaps I would always been seduced by the next cool thing, whether it's a Zynga game or Gallifrey Base or YouTube.

From the Picasa album Trouble Dogs

The impact of Cayenne and Pepper on my life is much more straightforward. Yes, I'm sometimes a little annoyed when Cayenne demands more petting, pressing her head into my hand or pawing me with her sharp claws. Yes, I get a little frustrated at Pepper's tendency to walk the other way when I call her, although she's not nearly as contrary as she was the first year we had her. But I spend a lot of time happily petting them, taking them on jaunts, trying to take pictures without flashing out their eyes.

Yeah. Overall, considering the drawbacks of the social media stuff, I think I'm most grateful for my dogs!

Oh, and on the hopes for the future thing? Well, first of all, I'm looking forward to being thankful for a permanent, full-time job that I enjoy, and where I'm appreciated. In the long term, I'm looking forward to medical breakthroughs in brain function. I still remember how devastated my dad was many years ago, when he tried to talk to his mother on the phone and she didn't know who he was. My dad's memory is actually pretty good these days for a man in his high 80s, but my mom at age 75 was falling apart rapidly. Even I, at a mere 52 years old, am starting to feel that my memory isn't as sharp as it was. The other day, Father Smith asked what a particular bill was for, and I told him that it was incense. Since the check paying the bill was for hundreds of dollars, we quickly concluded I'd made a mistake in issuing it. I told him to void the check and I'd redo it. But it was actually a payment for office supplies, and the dollar amount was right! I'd confused two vendors with short, nonsensical names. My mistake was hardly earth-shattering, but it worries me. I've relied on my memory all these years. Can I keep it functioning adequately while research continues on how to prevent and treat Alzheimer's and dementia? Oh, I hope so!

How about you? What great new person or thing of the 2000s are you especially thankful for? Tell us about it in your blog, or in the comments below. Easy instructions to participate are at the end of this entry, right after last week's wrap-up.

For Weekend Assignment #293: When Do the Holidays Begin?, I asked when you personally start celebrating the holidays. Click on the names below to read their full responses:

Sherrie said...
After the Thanksgiving holiday, I start thinking of Christmas. Anything before that is way to early to my way of thinking. Our city has already started putting up the holiday lights. They started putting them up right after Halloween.

Carly said...
 Holidays begin for us all the way back in May. You see, there is a small rodeo parade here in the East Bay, which is held every Mother's Day weekend, and it is kinda the unofficial kick-off of summer, or at least it is for us. Two weeks later comes Memorial Day, and then my birthday and well, you get the idea. We don't really stop celebrating until January 1st. But if we are talking about the holidays... holidays... then I would have to say, they begin with Halloween.

Julie said...
It's hard to avoid thinking about the December shopping season, as much as I try. Of course, thinking about it isn't the same as actually getting into the whole holiday brouhaha. Some family members have to plan vacations and time off early, so in that respect we're thinking about family celebrations. I also try to think about gifts, but only because I'm always on the lookout for bargains.

Florinda said...
When my sister and I were little, we used to start playing the Christmas records in August. My mother was far more patient with that nonsense than I would be. Now, if I start hearing holiday music before the end of November, it's "rushing the season." There's a lot of Christmas music that I actually like - I just don't want to listen to it, or sing it, until the calendar is edging into December. And I really don't want to walk into Target on Halloween - in the morning, before anyone's been out trick-or-treating yet - and see the Christmas-decoration department already set up in the "seasonal" corner of the store.

Mike said...
I'm not a huge fan of Christmas decorations going up in the stores right after Christmas. It has nothing to do with the fact that Thanksgiving isn't here yet, or that it contributes to the commercialization of Christmas. I don't care about that. I just hate that it makes me stressed out thinking I have less time to get presents. True, Jenn does most of the shopping now, but I'm a last minute shopper, so I don't want to think that last minute is here already. Does that make any sense?

Thanks, folks!

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:
  1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, November 27th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
  2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
  3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
  4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
  5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Weekend Assignment #293: When Do the Holidays Begin?

This week's Weekend Assignment has to do with where we are in the calendar:

Weekend Assignment: #292: Halloween is behind us, Thanksgiving ahead, and Christmas advertising has begun. So how about it? When do the holidays begin for you? Do you avoid thinking about Christmas and Hanukkah until after Thanksgiving, or is any time after Halloween okay? Is it time for Christmas lights in your neighborhood, and do the neighbors agree with you? How about Christmas music? When does that become okay, if ever?

Extra Credit: Have you bought any holiday presents yet? If not, when do you think you'll start?

Carly asked me today, in effect, whether it's beginning to look like Christmas, everywhere I go. Well, no. I'm sure I've seen Christmas ornaments at the Hallmark store, but they always start way early, and I haven't really looked them over. Costco has creches and wrapping paper, and I've heard the occasional Christmas jingle on tv. But that's it, really. The big Christmas displays around my neighborhood have not been set up and turned on. Even Park Place Mall isn't very Christmassy yet. As for the weather, I'm in Tucson. How Christmassy can it be?

And that's FINE with me. For me, the Christmas season should arrive with Santa at the end of the Macy's tape-delayed Thanksgiving Parade, and not a moment before. You can turn on the Christmas lights then, and ramp up the holiday merchandise in the stores. I start considering the religious aspect of it when Advent starts (4 Sundays before Christmas), and on the feastday of St. Nicholas on December 6th, because I'm fond of him and have written about him before. Christmas music? Let's hold off until mid-December, okay? Christmas shopping? That's going to be tricky, with our financial situation, but let's say early December for that.

You know, for years and years, it's seemed that people say that Christmas starts earlier every year, at least where stores are concerned. But I see no evidence of that this year. And that's a good thing, I think!

I'm in no rush to set up our aluminum tree!

How about you? Do you need a little Christmas, right this very minute? Are you ready to jump into the holiday season with both feet? Or are you trying to put it off a bit longer? Tell us about it in your blog, or in the comments below. Easy instructions to participate are at the end of this entry, right after last week's wrap-up.

For Weekend Assignment #292: The Oldest Thing, I asked about your oldest possession. Five of you responded, thus:

Sara said in comments...
Interestingly, just last night I wound up the old blue teddy bear I've had since I was a toddler. He still plays the Teddy Bears Picnic. He and a giraffe and a little koala all date back to early childhood, and live in my collection of stuffed animals I have been unable to get rid of for sentimental reasons. His name is David, but don't ask me why. The other two are Giraffe and Mr Koala. I think my bedroom furniture is older though. I was given it when I moved last, the woman who owned it before is in her 90s now. I don't know for sure, but there's a possibility it was around before I was born. If not, then the oldest thing is probably my copy of Ivanhoe, printed in 1968.

Julie said...
It's purported to be a page from an early King James Bible. That's Job 33-34. Now I've held an actual King James Bible in my hands. The museum I worked with a long time ago had a genuine one on display. I know that a lot of Bibles were torn apart and sold for single pages. I also know the first edition of the King James Bible was printed in 1611. Does that make it genuine? I don't know. It certainly looks like it, but I'm no paper expert.

Carly said...
If we are talking about day to day possessions, I don't think I have anything that constitutes and actual antique...yet. I do have two portraits in a lovely Victorian style that hang over our bed, but alas, I don't have a photo of them, at least not on this computer. I bought them back in the mid 80's, when Victorian pieces were all the rage. I love them so much that I believe they are the one thing I would grab if the house were burning down around me. :)

Florinda said...
I think it's a diamond ring that belonged to my namesake grandmother, and which was passed down from my mother to me. It dates from the late 1920's - I'm not sure of the exact year, but since my mother was born in March of 1930, and both of her parents were good Catholics, I'd estimate around 1928. The ring is platinum, with a diamond solitaire in a raised setting; I've never had it looked at by a jeweler, so I don't know any of its "four C's" (carat, cut, color, and clarity) or have any idea of its monetary value. It certainly has strong heirloom value, though.

Mike said...
By far the oldest thing in our house is one of my coins. I'm not a big collector, but I have a few things I've picked up since I was a kid. A few I got through the mail, but most of what I have I got through the regular money circulation channels. I used to wait tables, that is the best way to get a lot of change. Especially when you work in a restaurant that caters to old people. It was not unusual to get a tip of 78 cents. At least this was the before people had easy access to tip calculators, I probably would have been given pennies cut in half if that were the case.

Shari said in a Google Docs document (login required)...

The oldest thing in my home, though it is carefully packed away since I moved over the summer, is an original Twain volume my parents bought for me in a box lot of books when I was 12. It is extremely fragile and I rarely open it because I'm afraid it will fall apart.

Thanks, everybody!

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:
  1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, November 20th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
  2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
  3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
  4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
  5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

EMPS: Another Stroll Downtown, Part Zero

This is just a quick note to the effect that I've spent the better part of the past nine hours editing 85 of the 124 digital photos I took today, nearly all of them of interesting sights in downtown Tucson. The idea was to post my Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot entry on Monday for a change. This week's topic is Downtown, which I'm delighted to tackle. Downtown Tucson is one of my favorite photographic subjects, but I tend not to get down there except when a photo meme calls for it.

But it's now 3:16 AM Tuesday, and I have to work in the morning over at St. Michael's. I'm way too tired to tackle a proper blog entry tonight, let alone the first of about three entries I'll need to show you even a representative sample of what I photographed today. So here instead is Part Zero, intended to intrigue you so you'll stop back later this week to see the rest!

For now, here are a few sample shots. If you can't stand to wait, click on any image to get to the full Picasa gallery of edited photos.

The Main Library (left) and some of the most iconic of the downtown buildings, 
as seen from the Public Works parking garage.

The old Pima County Courthouse, again from the parking garage.

How many American cities have this dramatic a mountain view from downtown?

This sculpture in front of the library looks like it's stalking the man with the cell phone.

A downtown boutique (27 Stone Ave) called Desert Bloom. 
And thereby hangs a tale, sort of. But not tonight!


Sunday, November 08, 2009

EMPS: Stealth Photography and Fall Fruits

It happens occasionally. I set out to take photos for some meme, such as this week's Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #62: Autumn Fruits And Vegetables, and somebody comes along and objects. Some stores and restaurants, and occasionally whole shopping malls, send someone to tell me to stop taking pictures, it's not allowed. So I say that I'm sorry, I didn't know, and put the camera away. Then I'm faced with two questions. Can I ethically use the photos anyway? And if I don't, is there someplace else I can go to find the same photographic subject and not encounter such problems?

So it was this week. With my usual autumn mania for "Pumpkin Anything," I immediately latched onto the idea of pumpkins as the quintessential fall fruit. Where does one find fresh pumpkins after Halloween? Why, at THAT well-known semi-gourmet food chain, of course!

So I went along to that store, and photographed pumpkins and a "pumpkin wreath" out front. So far, so good. Then I went inside.

I had just photographed this lovely display of fall veggies when a store employee tapped me on the shoulder, and politely told me that photography was against corporate policy. She even confessed that as someone who puts together store displays, she once sneaked a photo or two inside a different store in the same chain. I thanked her and put the camera away.

Then I bought this acorn squash. Nobody could possibly object to my photographing it at home! I don't have a working oven, but as I suspected, I can microwave the squash.

I also bought a "pumpkin anything," but let's pass over that bit of self-indulgence.

Ultimately, I went to the place where I've photographed an awful lot of fruit, vegetables, baked goods, flowers and holiday displays over the years: my local Safeway, where nobody has ever objected to my pulling out a camera. There I found more pumpkins, and apples, which as a former New York Stater I definitely associate with autumn.

Nor are all of these apples. See that bottom row? Those are pomegranates. I don't know whether they're a fall fruit, but Safeway sure had a lot of them!


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Weekend Assignment #292: The Oldest Thing

This week's Weekend Assignment question is a simple one, but may require a bit of thought. Even if you don't normally participate in these things, please take a moment to answer it in the comments below.

Weekend Assignment: #292: What is the oldest thing in your house or apartment?

Extra Credit: Is there anything from your childhood that you've managed to hang on to all these years?

As you probably know by now, our house, otherwise known as Casa Blocher, the Museum of the Weird, is full of artifacts from the midcentury modern era, roughly the 1950s to early 1970s. Much of our furniture and decor dates from that time, along with lots of books and toys. If I may be mildly indelicate for a moment, our current bathroom reading includes a stack of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine issues dated 1949 to 1953. They're fascinating documents of the postwar era, but the oldest of even these are just 60 years old.

So what do we have that's older? How about this?

This sampler was apparently made by my paternal grandmother (whom I knew as Grandma) or great-grandmother. The real thing is browner than you see here, the original fabric having gotten quite dark over the last century or so. My German doesn't extend beyond a few words I learned from my social studies teacher Mr. Hennigan in seventh grade, so I can only guess at what it says. God Bless This House, perhaps? My dad sent it to me several years ago. I don't know the age of the thing, but it's certainly older than our midcentury stuff. But is it older than this?

This is one of a number of bound volumes we have of The Strand Magazine. These are not reprints, I'm pretty sure, but actual British magazines from the late 19th century, bound into books. Some of you have heard of this long-defunct magazine, I'm sure. Here's why:

This is the magazine in which most of the Sherlock Holmes stories were first published. The most famous illustrations of Holmes and Watson, drawn by Sidney Paget, originated in The Strand Magazine. John and I are pretty sure that this series of bound volumes is our oldest possession. Above you can see two pages from "The Musgrave Ritual," a story eventually collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It's an unusual story, in that Holmes narrates the adventure to Watson, the original events having taken place "before my biographer had come to glorify me."

As for stuff from my childhood, I confess that much of what I have now was purchased over the last decade or two, replacing things that were given away, thrown away, or sold in a garage sale while I was 600 miles away. But the three items below are the originals.

The green April Showers box held my mom's talcum powder, dating to my early childhood. I loved the smell of it, and the container itself. By the time I hit high school, my mom had just about used it up, but I got her to give me the empty container rather than throw it away.

The china dog, Heather, came on a planter my mom was given circa 1965. I appropriated it for my china animal collection a few years later. I occasionally dropped the shoebox I carried them around in, and what I didn't break, our twice-a-week maid did. I think the breaking of Heather was my fault.

The dragon bank, called Dino for obvious reasons, dates to 1970 or so, when I was in seventh grade. He's also been broken and repaired.

So what old stuff have you hung onto over the years? Is it your family heirloom jewelry or china? Antique furniture? A rare book perhaps? Tell us about it, either in your blog or in the comments below. But first, here's a wrap-up of last week's responses:

For Weekend Assignment #291: It Didn't Work!, I asked about disappointing purchases:

Julie said...

It seems that last Christmas nothing I bought for Paul worked as advertised. The one cool gift I thought he'd really love was one of those virtual keyboards that projects a laser display on the desktop. It didn't work with any Bluetooth stack (software) he had, as I recall. It went back. (And there's the extra credit.)

Ari_1965 offered advice in a comment on lights for dog collars, something I've had trouble getting to work...

Regarding the dog light, I use a CatEye product meant for use on bicycle handlebars. It has a round light on a loop strap. I loop the the light through my dog's collar. It has survived life with a very active shepherd mix. They're about $15 at REI, less elsewhere. Here's the link to them on

Mike tells us the sad story of a new power mower...

I pulled the handle to get the motor purring. No dice. I expected that, though. The thing was brand new and I expected it to be a bit difficult to start. Pull again, and again, and again. Each pull was raising my blood pressure a little higher. Not because of exertion. I can't remember how many times I pulled that stupid cord, but it did start eventually, but it didn't stay running. No, why would a brand new Zorro start and stay running on the first day? That's silly.

Thanks, you guys! Sorry about the mower!

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:
  1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, November 13th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
  2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
  3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
  4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
  5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Why So Sirio?

There is a street in my neighborhood that M.C. Escher would appreciate. Avenida Sirio intersects with this street four times on the right hand (west) side when you turn south on it from 22nd, four blocks in a row. I already knew this from the rare occasions when I have taken that particular back way home, and from the time, many years ago, when we were house-hunting and considered a home on one of the many pieces of Sirio. What I didn't know until today is that the street that crosses Sirio four times in rapid succession is also Avenida Sirio.

I don't know exactly how the street is laid out, or whether there's some minor variation of nomenclature that isn't reflected on the street signs as far as I can tell. I don't think I want to know. I prefer to think there is a minor space-time anomaly a mile from my house, to be passed through only by the one route known to be safe, past, so help me, the Young Explorers HQ.

Across Sirio from the Young Explorers on 22nd St. is the 22nd St. Baptist Church, not to be confused with the Craycroft Baptist Church, equidistant from my home in the opposite direction. I've been by the 22nd St. Baptist Church a zillion times in the past 15 years, but never had any cause to stop there until today.

For the first time in 15 years of voting in this precinct, unless I missed it in an off-year primary or bond issue, it was my polling place.

Outside Wheeler School in a previous primary

I had stopped at the local elementary school first, because I almost always vote there, at least on Election Day itself. Kids were getting out of school, and no election-related signs were up. Odds were that if the polling place wasn't that school, it was at the Assembly of God on Wilmot, or at the high school, or maybe, just maybe, at the bingo hall where I voted for Obama in the primary last year, the one with the address Google Maps insisted was north of Golf Links when it was actually half a mile south of Golf Links. Geography can be very strange around here, especially when I'm trying to vote! But on this occasion I went home and actually checked the Pima County Recorder's Office rather than guessing further, and made my way to 22nd and Sirio without falling off a map and into a wormhole.

The ballot is short this time, just Tucson City Council, one really bad proposition and several good ones. I went in expecting to vote for my Ward 6 Democrat, but there were three wards on the ballot. I had to ask whether I was supposed to vote in all three wards. I was. Should have remembered that from past elections!

Anyway, I'm safely from from that little adventure; and from replacing the dead battery on John's car, which I'd never driven before; from paying John's optometry and dental bills; and from issuing checks, meeting with Father Smith, helping Pat resolve a discrepancy in a deposit and sneaking into the church to listen to the substitute organist compose a new classical piece over at St. Michael's. And now, if my computer will just post this instead of crashing again as it did just now, I'll finish this entry and go read my Wrede novel.

Did you vote?


Sunday, November 01, 2009

EMPS: The Wizard's Study (#2 of 2)

This is part two of my entry for the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot on the topic of Halloween. Scroll down for Part One.

Now here are shots of the little Halloween environment I created in the alcove in front of our front door.

I paired our electric jack o'lantern with a string of eyeball lights, on top of a big blue recycling bin.

My office chair wasn't very wizardy, so I draped it in the fabric I used for my Statue of Liberty toga last year.

One of our tikis played host to George Jr., the smaller of our two gargoyles. The other tiki supported the cauldron o' plenty, which was nearly full at 6 PM, nearly empty by 9 PM.

My costume was not very successful. The wig and beard I bought weren't very good, I couldn't find my homemade wizard hat and the cloth witch's hat would not stay on my head so I mostly didn't wear it. I planned to reuse a purple choir robe I'd worn as Professor Minerva McGonagall, but it turned out that it went away years ago in the Great Black Furry Bug Disaster, when we discovered that lots of irreplaceable clothes had been eaten by bugs. And I couldn't get at my wizard's staff, which has talons holding a globe at one end and is in storage. I made it from the actual walking stick I used to hike out of a canyon on two sprained ankles in 1987.

Many of the kids called me Santa, some of them probably to annoy me. I made them "try again" until they identified me as a wizard (or Dumbledore, or in one case "Ganderolf").

Carly wants a ghost picture, so I've added my dead mom here. All I could think of.

I hope everyone had a great Halloween!


EMPS: Building Halloween 2009 (#1 of 2)

For the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot this week, Carly wanted Halloween-related photos. Mine are of my preparations and the actual night, and will be in two entries. This first one is about the preparations.

Some years it's hard for me to find any of the seasonal Halloween shops that spring up each September. This year, there were two or three of them on the same stretch of Broadway Blvd near Park Place Mall. This one was in a usually-empty former shoe store near Broadway and Craycroft. There must have been a hundred people in there on Friday afternoon the 30th, most of them 18 to 24 years old. I was probably the oldest person there!

I didn't find anything to buy there for the concept I had in mind, which was to portray a wizard in his study. The Spirit store was a block away, and just as busy!

The check out line was long but fast-moving.

The way our finances are, I did everything on the cheap this year. I borrowed spice jars from a friend and made potions and magic powders. Can you guess what is actually in these bottles and jars? I also had a shelf of magic books - Magick in Theory and Practice, The Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge and such. Some were from John's occult collection, and others were fantasy novels with suggestive titles and interesting spines.

Sadly, I don't think any of the trick or treaters noticed the books or the potions unless I pointed them out.

Outside the Spirit store around back was this beautiful cart behind bent bars. I have no idea why.

Later: I have a theory about the cart. Tucson's annual Rodeo Parade is billed as the largest non-motorized parade in the world. Many of the vintage vehicles used in it are at the Rodeo Museum, but this may be one that is kept elsewhere, behind some store in the same strip mall as the Spirit Halloween shop.

Most of the bags I gave out were last year's leftovers, with candy and in some cases more toys added. I handed out treat bags to a totals of 71 kids, teens and adults. Here are all the bags that were left.

On to the next entry!