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when you don't know what to do...
do the next thing
Last night I set up baked French toast for this morning. I got one of those small boules they sell at Market Basket and cut it up into chunks. Then I beat a dozen eggs, added a couple of big spoonfuls of brown sugar, a squirt of vanilla, a tiny bit of salt, and a glug of skim milk.

I have a 6" casserole dish, so I spread a layer of bread in the bottom, scattered some mini-chips over it... and realized that I forgot to grease the dish. Sigh. I decided that the chips were already in there and that I could just soak off anything that got baked on. Onward...

Second layer of bread, second scattering of mini chips, poured the egg mixture over and made sure everything got soaked. Then I melted half a stick of butter, mixed in enough brown sugar and cinnamon to make it tasty and give it a syrup-like consistency, and drizzled that over the top, covered it, and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

This morning, I heated the oven to 350, uncovered the casserole dish, and baked it... um... till it was done. Half the time, I forget to set a timer when I bake things, but I basically start paying attention when I can smell it. So I have no idea how long this thing was in the oven, but it was crispy on top and puffy all over and soft and delicious in the middle and damn if I didn't knock this one out of the park.

Lunch was the ham and turkey sandwich I made for lunch yesterday, with some baby carrots and green beans. That was pretty good, too.

Campbell's has come out with a series of sauces that they're selling for slow cookers, skillet dinners, and oven baking. Tonight I tried their slow cooker Tavern Pot Roast. I got two pounds of stew beef (it calls for chuck roast, but stew beef is the same thing, just cut up) and stuck it in the slow cooker, set it on high, and let it roll for two hours.


One of the ingredients is Worcestershire, which I don't care for, but it was still REALLY good. And I have plenty of leftovers. I also had a salad of spring greens and spinach, and no one is more surprised than me to discover that I like raw spinach. Mom says that I loved it as a baby, but I really don't like it the way my mom cooks it -- boiled to death from a frozen package. (Corn and peas are acceptable frozen. Frozen shredded potatoes are also acceptable. Everything else should be fresh.) But raw spinach... that's yum.

I've had nutritionists blanch when I tell them that I like ranch dressing. Nutritionally, it's a nightmare. But I eat it by dipping the tines of my fork into the dressing and then taking a bite of salad. Out of a 2 tablespoon serving, I eat maybe 2 teaspoons, so they get over it. The diabetes educator I saw said I should use Walden Farms dressing (no sugar), but it's thin and tastes funny. I'd rather have a tiny amount of what tastes good than a full serving of crap. I'm not eating it.

And then more of the baked French toast for dessert. 30 seconds in the microwave, a little butter on top... so, SO good.

Tomorrow will be a bust day. I think I'm expected to be at work, but since I wasn't going to even try to clear the driveway till they plowed the street closer than 10 feet from my driveway, which didn't happen till 4:30 this afternoon. So there's still lots to do in the morning. The snow is halfway up the neighbor's garage doors (we share a yard and three bays of the six-car garage are theirs; the other three are mine). I have so little room to put snow of any amount, and I still have to clear snow off of my truck and out of the bed -- I'm tempted to park across the street and shovel it out into the park, where the front end loader put the snow it was scooping off the street.

I'll check my work email one more time before I hit the hay; hopefully we'll at least have a delayed opening.

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i feel: tired tired

shoot the rapids
So here is how I make yogurt. Some people like using a crockpot; I prefer the stovetop because my pot won't crack in an ice bath, plus it's easier to clean.

Things you need:

  • Big pot

  • Thermometer -- I use an instant read thermometer, as I broke my candy thermometer

  • Jars -- I use 6 oz Ball or Mason jars (they might be 8 oz), as they're single-serving size and I'm more likely to eat my yogurt if I'm not dirtying dishes to do so. You need more capacity than you think; the milk expands as heated and a gallon will make an extra half pint to a pint

  • Canning Funnel -- not strictly necessary, but makes life SO much easier

  • Ladle -- More necessary than the funnel

  • Milk -- Can be any type: whole milk, 2% or skim. I like whole or 2% for yogurt, but I made it with skim for my mom and she loves it

  • Starter -- If I don't have any of my own yogurt, I buy a small pot of Stonyfield Farm plain. It's got active cultures in it and is very good quality

  • Whisk -- again, not strictly necessary, a spoon will do, but it incorporates the starter nice and fast

  • Cooler -- must be big enough for a single layer of jars

How to make it:

  • Pour milk into a big pot. Make sure you have room for it to expand, as it does when heated. Heat to 185dF. Stir now and again, but *do not* let it boil. Prep an ice water bath in the sink as you wait.

  • When it reaches 185 degrees, move the pot to the ice water bath and let it cool to 120dF. Prep the starter while you wait (ie, open the container).

  • When the milk has cooled to 120dF, add the starter and whisk or stir to incorporate.

  • Fill the jars. I usually leave about a quarter inch of head space. If you want to add a lot of mix-ins (fruit, granola, etc), leave more space.

  • Put the jars in the cooler and add enough hot tap water to submerge the jars up to the level of the milk. Try not to submerge the jars completely; if they aren't sealed you don't want to risk getting water into your yogurt.

  • Cover the cooler with a thick towel and put it somewhere out of the way. I put mine in my tub.

  • Ignore for 6-8 hours, or overnight. You can check it, but don't touch it for at least 4-6 hours. It won't set if you play with it.

  • At the end of the incubation period, the milk shouldn't move when you tip the jar on its side. Refrigerate and eat when chilled.

I have to go back to work, but I'll add a thing on how I make granola when I get a chance.

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i feel: busy busy

13 trips or shoot the rapids
So. Work is getting busier. I'm getting more directly involved with projects, to the point that I'll be checking an estimator's email on Monday, looking for bids coming in. I like it, but remembering which sub I'm chasing for which job is a little overwhelming. As I figure out how to frame the information in my head for retrieval, it'll get better. I'm enjoying being busy, though.

Karate is less busy. It's the end of summer, and I've had two weeks in a row with no students on Friday. I don't actually mind that, because I do understand that it's August and people are wringing everything they can out of the summer before the kids go back to school, but I need to start taking advantage of that time to practice. I actually have quite a bit of new black belt material that needs touching up.

The fall tournament is in 98 days, so I need to practice for that, too. Kevin (my instructor) recommends that I do a fairly long form called Honsuki; apparently it has 100 moves. I have the first 25 or so, and I already love it. I'm very excited for this one. He also suggested that I do our spear form for the weapons division. Few people do that form, and he said that the last time he competed in a WMAF tournament, he won with it. I'm less excited about the spear form, mostly because there are a couple of pivots where I stick to the floor because I wear rubber-soled shoes on a rubber mat. It makes me feel awkward and I dislike that.

Honsuki having so many moves, most of them hand strikes, makes me concerned about my upper body strength. I don't want to lose my juice before the end of the form. Without regular mandated PT, I've lost a lot of strength, and I need to remedy that. So I downloaded a 30-day fitness challenge app, and I intend to start Monday. Luckily for me, there are "easy" push-up and crunch challenges, because the standard challenges culminate with so many reps it'll take me an hour to get them done. I have 98 days, so I'll be able to ramp up as needed.

I really hope I can stick to the fitness challenges. I want to be stronger. It's time to start supporting my sore joints with stronger muscles (though I should probably add a glucosamine supplement as well). I won't be able to keep up and survive a test for my second degree black belt, whenever that happens.

Killed the battery on my bike the other day by leaving the key switched on; my mechanic was able to salvage it for me and it's running better than ever. I even reinstalled the battery while wearing a dress. It's ridiculously inconvenient not having anyone nearby who can help me get both my vehicles back where they belong (because of course this happened while anyone I could possibly ask was out of town), but my mom is amazing and came to get me at the dojo and then came out today to give me a ride to the office so I could pick the bike up. It was a beautiful day, but I couldn't wait to get home and take my boots and jeans off.

So yeah, that's pretty much my life. Time for bed.

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i feel: hot hot

shoot the rapids
I've been doing a lot of thinking about getting my black belt and the little ways in which it's changed me already.

Before I get to that, though, I've also been thinking about how I express that reaction. Part of me wants to jump up and down and grab everyone I see and show them the pictures -- I only have three -- and say, "Look! Look at this thing I did! I DID THAT, and it's fucking awesome!" and then part of me wants to play it cool and say, "Yup. Black belt. NBD." I'm a grownup, though, and I'm not supposed to do the jump up and down and LOOK AT ME thing, even if I really really want to. It's a huge deal to me, though, on a par with the day I got married (and had I thought ahead, there would have been cake after the black belt test, too), and I seem to recall wanting to tell the world about that, too, so I guess maybe this reaction isn't an unusual one for me. They were both transformative moments, and they both changed me forever.

I think a large part of why this is so important to me is that it's a goal I've had since I was... what, 28? Since the day I walked into a dojo for the first time, and realized that it felt comfortable. (I was so lucky to find kempo. I didn't even know that much about the different styles, but I know now that I picked the absolute right one for me, and it was purely by chance.)

They told us at Villari's (where I did the majority of my advanced training) that most brown belts never reach black belt, and every time they said that, I always said to myself, "That'll never be me." And then it was. I moved well away from the dojo I was studying at, couldn't afford both gas and lessons, and really, the couple who owned the place had such a toxic marriage that it spilled over to everything else. The day that the wife told me that my relationship with Wolfie would never last was the day I realized that she was really not my friend, that she was miserable and wanted everyone else to be miserable too, and that I didn't want to be there. So I became a statistic, and I always regretted it.

And then someone I used to train with came back into my life, and that regret became unbearable, so I started looking for a dojo. I didn't want to go back to Villari's; that sort of corporate juggernaut is bad for martial arts, IMO, plus the closest Villari's locations are a) too far away and b) run by people I thought were asshats back in the day, when I was still sipping the corporate Kool-Aid. So I went looking for a new kempo school, and found Pence. I didn't know what a gem I'd found, but I do now, and I am so, SO proud to be one of their black belts. I finished something I started 18 years ago, and the sense of relief is enormous.

As a brown belt, you're expected to know a lot, but not necessarily everything, and that's okay. As a black belt, that safety net is GONE. You need to know your material. I'm not there quite yet, and I feel the pressure. And at the same time, I have a sense of security knowing that Kevin felt good enough about my skills to award me a black belt, so it balances. The test showed me where my skills are lacking, and while Kevin wrote his notes down, I was making mental notes of my own. I'm often my own worst critic, but if I slow down and think about those criticisms, I see that at least I'm right -- the skills I think I'm lacking really aren't as solid as I need them to be, and I know how to fix it.

I've already gotten new material (and can I just say how weird it is to be pushed over with the black belts to work, rather than the underbelts?), and I've made a point of writing it up and posting it to http://pingshentao.wordpress.com. I redid the Rank Required Material section a little bit. Before, the required material listed for Shodan was a roll-up of everything required to get it, whereas all the material for the underbelt ranks was that required to move up. So now the Shodan section will have links to the material required for Nidan (second degree). It's pretty thin right now, because I don't have much, but it'll get more substantial as time goes on.

This has always been something I did for me. I did it (mostly) alone. I wish I had Wolfie to share it with, because he would have loved Pence and the people there would have loved him, but it's still my journey, all mine, and the good part is just starting.

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i feel: grateful grateful

shoot the rapids
Watching the most recent episode of Bones, and Booth is judging a parent who just lost his child because of his lack of reaction. I can totally relate to the guy who had a flat reaction, and I feel like I was judged by my former in-laws because I wasn't all sad, all the time, while Wolfie was sick and after he died. Worry and grief are exhausting, and I just had to find ways and reasons to smile. Besides, after all they put me through; I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of falling apart.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of his death. I miss him so much.

i feel: lonely lonely

10 trips or shoot the rapids
So this week happened, and it was Good. I LOVE my new job, because it involves the sort of detective work I adore. I do a lot of tracking down of information, whether it's to see when the most recent qualification form was submitted (and dammit, I forgot to order a date stamp today) or to discover whether or not a subcontractor even still exists (I found at least two today who have closed, and a couple who have filed for bankruptcy). The guys I'm working with are fabulous, and my cube is hyooge, so I've plenty of room to work. I'm discovering the weirdness of my predecessor (she filed companies whose name starts with "The", like "The Pappas Company," under T, for example), and my weirdness is so much less weird, professionally speaking, that I'm fairly confident they will want to keep me. (We have not yet discussed my private weirdnesses. I'm saving that for after the offer letter.)

The Clothes of My People Project (tm ariadne1), Tashabear edition, was/is a rousing success. I looked cute and professional (even if "cute" is not an adjective SOME people would use to describe me), and most of all I was comfortable while doing it. I ordered a skirt and a jumper from eShakti, and those should be in some time next week, at which point I will have 5 skirts, a dress, and two pairs of pants and no, I don't get it either. I had no idea I would fall in love with wearing skirts, but there you are. I need more tops, though, so that's my next quest. I also need more hosiery, so it's off to TJMaxx/Marshalls sometime this weekend. I like tights. Tights mean both warmth (fleece-lined tights FTMFW!) and that I don't have to shave my legs if I don't wanna.

I had what I thought was a brilliant idea earlier, and put raspberry vodka in my yummy strawberry-flavored soda, but I think I was a mite heavy-handed and I think that I am now drunk, or at least drunk-adjacent (I used the word adjacent with my young students tonight and one of them asked me "who's Jason?"), so I think I'm going to go to bed, because I need to get up in the morning and drink a ton of water before class. Oh yes indeedly. Also, scrolling is making me vaguely motion-sick. On the plus side, a small part of me is wishing that I could go to work tomorrow, which is new and different and I think I'll savor the feeling while it lasts. Horizontally. While snoring.

Nighty night, y'all.

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i feel: drunk drunk

7 trips or shoot the rapids
This is the recipe I started with: http://www.theyummylife.com/Slow_Cooker_Apple_Cinnamon_Oatmeal

I had to cut it in half because I have a 1.5qt cooker instead of 3qts. So I omitted the apples and flaxseed (I didn't like the taste of the apples, and I didn't have flaxseed), halved the amount of oats, milk, and water, left the amount of brown sugar and cinnamon the same, and used a tablespoon or so of butter. I don't know how much salt I used, but it was likely more than called for. I found it bland otherwise. I let it cook for 8 or 9 hours, because I like it thick. Also, I wasn't up yet.

It came out more buttery than sweet, but it's really good with raisins and brown sugar. It's also good with bacon bits. I want to try it with maple-cured bacon, or regular bacon and brown sugar. I bet it would be good with scrambled eggs or cheese, too. I like the texture of the steel-cut oats a lot. And when you only use half a cup of oats at a time, it really stretches that bag of Bob's Red Mill, which is only about $2.50 in the first place.

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i feel: pleased pleased

3 trips or shoot the rapids
I don't know if too many people I know will be able to take advantage of this, but my sensei, Kevin Pence, is running a one-month women's self-defense class starting April 1. The class is Mondays and Wednesdays from 9-10 am, and costs $99. The hope is that this will develop into an on-going thing, but for now, it's through the end of April. If my job situation stays as it is, I will be there as well, as your friendly neighborhood crash test dummy. Dress is workout gear. No uniforms, no belts, no bowing, just good training.

The class is taking place at Pence Self-Defense Academy, 226 Cambridge St, Burlington, MA, 781-272-9709.

So even if you can't make it, if you know someone who can, spread the word. I'd love to see this take off. And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

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i feel: good good

8 trips or shoot the rapids

2 trips or shoot the rapids
My mom gave me a lovely new set of dishes for Christmas, to replace the perfectly-good-but-heartily-sick-of-it set I've had for the last 20 years. Because they're perfectly good, they're up for grabs.


This is a discontinued pattern called "Country Violets". Right now I have seven dinner plates, seven bread and butter plates, eight bowls, four cups that match the off-white pattern, and two blue ones that coordinate. I may be able to find the other dinner and bread and butter plates; I think they're in another room in the house. There may also be other cups in the cupboard that I haven't found yet; my kitchen cupboards are problematic for a person my size. You may also be able to find replacements on Replacements.com, as well other coordinating pieces.

I also have a set of stoneware that needs a good home:


The bands look like they're black, but they're actually a deep, deep cobalt blue. I have four each dinner plates, salad plates, soup plates, and saucers, and three teacups. Again, when I get to look into the other cupboard from a step ladder, I may find the fourth cup.

ETA: The stoneware is provisionally spoken for; if my friend decides they don't go with her set, I'll relist them.

They're free to a good... or middling... or even shitty home; just get them out of mine. Willing to deliver within a 50 mile radius of Lawrence MA, or meet you halfway, or at an SCA event. Whatever. If no one wants them, they'll go into my mom's church's yard sale in the spring.

I have other dishes that are on top of the cupboards that I'm not sure I've ever looked at; when I get up on a stepladder and evaluate them I'll know if they're something I want to keep. I also have a set of ceramic canisters that need to go (they're too small to do me any good), and when I get them down I'll post them up as well. I'll probably also have some glassware -- nothing special, but it'll hold a beverage -- and a couple of vases.

So... anyone want some dishes?

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i feel: cheerful cheerful

7 trips or shoot the rapids
I'm trying to write a brochure for a Women's Self-Defense Class. I got some input from the instructor, but he's a bit of a fear-monger, so I'd like some more positive, empowering reasons why you might want to take self-defense. Not necessarily traditional martial arts, but a sort of street strategies and awareness course with some physical response techniques thrown in.

I don't necessarily want to hear just from women, either; I think that men can benefit from this sort of training as well, so please, if you've an idea, pipe up.

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i feel: curious curious

7 trips or shoot the rapids
Well, easy if you own a spaceship of the same class as the Millenium Falcon, anyway. Everyone needs Haynes Manuals... http://www.randomhouse.com/book/217644/the-millennium-falcon-owners-workshop-manual-star-wars-by-ryder-windham-chris-reiff-and-chris-trevas

i feel: amused amused

3 trips or shoot the rapids

fear my mad assembly skillz, originally uploaded by Tashabear.

Here's Penelope, my new-to-me rigid heddle loom, on the stand and ready to rock and/or roll!

shoot the rapids

found my gotland fiber, originally uploaded by Tashabear.

It was, in fact, under something, but only one thing, so not that bad. This is pretty stuff; I'll be test-spinning it tonight.

shoot the rapids
My design:
1/2" series M copper pipe (I bought a 10' piece as it was the most efficient way to build the Mark I loom and have extra for more pieces as needed) -- $12.40
Six 1/2" 90 degree copper elbows -- $0.68 ea, $4.08
Two 1/2" copper tees -- $0.97 ea, $1.94 total
Two 1' pieces of threaded rod (mine is 1/2" x 13) - $1.52 each, $3.04
Four 1/2" x 13 nuts (mine are flanged as that was ALL that was left in the drawer) -- $1.21 ea, $4.84

I also bought a copper pipe cutter ($9.98), so I can make looms and parts for looms and maybe do some plumbing in the future.

Total costs for parts: $26.30 (I don't count the costs of tools into the cost of a project, generally.)

I cut the pipe into the following lengths in the Lowes parking lot, as a 10' length is too long for my truck bed:
Two 4" pieces (rear side pieces)
Two 12" pieces (front side pieces)
Five 8" pieces (three for the bridge and one for each end)

copperloom annotated

oakenking's loom is much longer and uses 3/4" pipe, but I just felt that 3/4" was a bit too big and way too heavy. I may be proved wrong later. I coudn't use his dimensions of a 20" length on the forward sides of the loom (where I used 12"), because my legs just aren't that long, and I know I'll be using this on my lap.

All told, it probably took 15 minutes to cut the pipe and 5 minutes to assemble once the nuts are threaded onto the rods, which are used as tensioning devices. With the nuts snug against one another, the circumference (ie warp length) from the top of the bridge, down to the front beam, under the loom and around the back beam and back up to the bridge is 47.5". If I make the bridge shorter (it's currently 8" tall) that warp length will be shorter. However, I wouldn't start with the nuts snug against one another, as takeup during weaving will make the warp shorter and you need some room to move.

Because the joints are not soldered, the loom is a bit wobbly when you pick it up unwarped. I haven't put a warp on it yet (I just built it yesterday and I was very busy today), so hopefully the tension of a warp will help it be less wobbly. If not... guess I need to learn how to solder copper pipe, because soldering the joints at the end of the side pieces (not the crosspieces) will prevent the wobble. Looking at online instructions, it looks pretty straightforward.

I can make the whole loom smaller as well, by cutting the threaded rod and then making the copper pieces smaller. I don't know how to cut heavy stock like that yet, either, but I'm sure the nice people at the home improvement store will be happy to tell me how and then sell me what I need.

I have vague ideas about selling these on Etsy, but obviously since the design is actually oakenking's, I'd have to see if he has any objections. And even more obviously, I'd have to see if there are any issues that I need to design out. I think that even with soldering the corner elbows onto the side pieces, it would still be compact enough to fit in a carrier bag (sold separately, of course!)

tool bag
All the copper loom parts fit into this zippered tool bag from Lowes with a ton of room to spare.

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i feel: tired tired

10 trips or shoot the rapids

yumsies, originally uploaded by Tashabear.

I make amazing chocolate buttercream. I was having awful chocolate cravings, and I must say, licking the bowl did the trick. The cake may survive the night.

5 trips or shoot the rapids

another weaving book squee, originally uploaded by Tashabear.

I know that modern inkle weaving isn't necessarily period, but not everything I make has to be for an A&s display, either. Too much fun to be had to limit myself. :-)

2 trips or shoot the rapids
So last week I cleared out a storage unit with my mom, and found a few of my things, including a bag of crochet cotton. I was unsurprised to find it; crochet cotton is wildly useful. (I've never actually crocheted with it. I don't know how, and have never really found it attractive anyway.)

I brought it home, and it sat in my truck until tonight, when I brought it in and took a better look through it. There's some iron-on twill tape, and some middy braid, and a hole punch and some scissors (MORE scissors)... and these:

They're tablet weaving cards I made... good lord, if they were in Mom's house it must be over 10 years ago, probably close to 15. Anyone want to guess what they're made out of?

i feel: okay okay

6 trips or shoot the rapids

thwarted!, originally uploaded by Tashabear.

My cunning plan to keep my fabric and linens dust-free (well, free from dust coming through the window) has been thwarted by breezes, which also come through the window. I was thinking about sewing on some ties to keep the opening shut. I guess I'll be wanting to do that sooner rather than later.

2 trips or shoot the rapids

Hrim Schola was very short for me today, but rather satisfying.

I taught spinning, and I think I need to rehearse it more, but one of my students was palegreyminion's mother, who is both lovely and keen to learn. I think she'll have a great time with it.

I was finally able to do something I've been wanting to do for years: take a class on tablet weaving. I wish there had been a bit more lecture, but they showed me how to warp an inkle loom for tablet weaving, and I spent a happy couple of hours tonight weaving. This is the result:

so... this is happening, originally uploaded by Tashabear.

I am thrilled beyond belief, and resigning myself to the idea that nothing else will ever get done again, ever.

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i feel: excited thrilled

9 trips or shoot the rapids