Tuesday, April 28, 2015

L.A. Woman

So we just got back from a two week trip to California.  The first few days were the 'vacation' portion. 

We hiked in the San Gabriel Mountains...

We went to the coast, too.  We played in the tide pools and watched the surfers.

We did a lot of walking along the shore, and even took some corny selfies.  Ah, vacations!

We visited some of my family members that live in the area.  I got to pore over old photo albums.  I only have one or two photos of my dad, and no photos of that side of the family, so it was really exciting for me to see these old pictures.

My dad, graduating from college:

My grandma with my dad in her lap:

My grandpa in his Navy uniform:

It was such a treat to thumb through those albums!

The real reason for our California trip, however, was Star Wars Celebration, where we set up a booth.  Life is funny.  I do have a college degree, and I certainly never thought I'd sell Star Wars (and other vintage toys) for a living, but I have to admit that it's a pretty good gig.  It's taken me to a lot of interesting places, and I've met some really wonderful people.  But these conventions...phew!  It's really hard work! 

Here I am, sunburned, sleepy, and armed with my Exhibitor's badge.


Finally, some semblance of order...

It was total, complete chaos from the time the doors opened until they closed at night.

Of course, Todd was in seventh heaven.

I missed all the celebrity panels, but I did see several people in character...

Look!  Anthony Daniels (aka "C-3PO") signed the ceramic tape dispenser that I sold to "Mike" - "It's the ugliest thing in the galaxy."  Ha!

The whole time went by in a blur, and it's taken me a week to completely recover!  I'm looking forward to getting back on track with normal life. 

Have a great week!

Friday, April 24, 2015

home sweet home

Right before we left on our trip, I walked around the house and took pictures of everything.  We were leaving right in the middle of "azalea season" and I knew they'd be gone by the time we got home.

I gathered up all the azalea bouquets in the house for disposal, but not before taking a quick picture...

We were away for almost two weeks, most of the azaleas are withered, but life goes on.  The peonies are blooming...

...and our clematis vines are in flower.

We're enjoying the pond and all of the creatures there. 

Of course, we have the usual suspects around the house.

I'm feeling a little bit like this squirrel right now.  Our time away was incredibly hectic, and even though I've still got my business on hiatus to get some breathing space this week, all of my time is filled with yard work.  I've spent days blowing out beds and weeding, and I have barely made a dent!  I love seeing the insects, though.  Here is a Sigmoria millipede:

Tiny ladybug nymph:

Carpenter bee:

Eastern Tent caterpillar:

I have photographed and written about them before, but I never get tired of seeing them! 

The front bed is done, at least...

...but I'm ready to dive back in before the rain comes.  Have a great week! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Needs More Cow [Bird]

When I heard a week or so ago that a friend was pregnant, I immediately started knitting.  I made these teeny tiny baby socks - aren't they cute?

I also baked her a batch of cookies.  I didn't have the time - or the skill - to do any elaborate decorating, so I decided to do a batch of half chocolate/half chocolate chip cookies (recipe here).  I didn't have any illusions about the success of the cookies.  No matter what I've tried...melted butter, softened butter, chilling, no chilling, 2 - 3 minutes of mixing, barely mixing, long bake time at low heat, quick bake at high heat...my cookies taste great, but they spread.  I never seemed to achieve that chunky, bakery-style look, and I'd given up.  I lumped the two doughs together with no care to proper size or shape...

To my surprise, they baked up beautifully...thick, chewy, and pretty much perfect.

Did I mention they were huge?  Here's one with a quarter for scale.

Next time I'll add chocolate chips to the chocolate dough, but otherwise...perfection!

Alas, for every kitchen victory, there's a crushing defeat.  I wanted to make little cookie "hamburgers" for April Fool's Day.  Despite the fact that I was absolutely swamped with work, I cleared a few hours for the task.  I discarded the idea of using a vanilla cupcake sliced in half for the "buns" and decided to make vanilla whoopie pies.  I used a new recipe, and they spread like crazy.  Argh!!  I used a cookie cutter to get the smaller, tidier shape, but of course the edges were rough.

I baked a batch of brownies for the "hamburger" portion, but was distracted by work and ended up baking them a bit too long.  They were a little too cake-y for my taste.  They were so fluffy, in fact, that I had to slice them in half through their middles to get the right height.  It was a mess.

Finally, I was nearly out of the red food coloring needed to turn the vanilla frosting into "ketchup."  I ended up using an old bottle that was well past its prime.  The frosting was flesh-colored, not red, and had a terrible taste.  Sandwiched together, it did not really resemble a hamburger.

The leftovers were tasty, though!

In my free time, I finished not one but TWO 2,000 piece puzzles.  I can lose myself for hours in a puzzle, but I keep one set up at all times so I can pick at it when I have a few minutes.

I also finished a pair of socks.  I've made these before, for a friend, but these are for me.  I love the scales.  If you look close, you can see the glitter!  There's a strand of glitter thread running through the yarn, so it's subtly sparkly.

Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying the azaleas...

...and photographing the birds.

I'm reading a book about the history of birding, and I thought I'd tally up the birds I could identify, off the top of my head, seen here at our house.  I counted 39 birds on my list, which was pretty exciting!  Just yesterday I counted a new bird.  "Large, glossy, blue body, brown head, seed eater, medium-sized..."  Out came the field guides.  It was a Brown-Headed Cowbird, lunching with two Southern Grey-Headed Sparrows. 

As I watched (half-hidden in an azalea bush), the Cowbird shook and fluffed his feathers aggressively...

...and chased off the Sparrows.

Cowbirds are clever and resourceful.  They don't make their own nests, but sneak into the nests of other birds to lay their eggs (sometimes several dozen a season!).  The unsuspecting nest owners feed and raise the young cowbirds as their own!   Pretty smart!

Have a great week!