Waterfall Tasting

Not sure where I’m going with this blog, but I promised pictures, so here goes.  These were taken about a year ago near Watkins Glen, NY. We were driving back to town after tasting a bunch of wines at a bunch of wineries (yuppiest vacation we’ve ever taken, and that’s saying something…), and we stopped to check out this waterfall.


KC said it was delicious.


Evidently, I did not agree.




Person Place Thing

I’m feeling sort of candid, in part because I’ve been appreciating blogs like Natalie’s and Jim’s, so here’s a draft I found from July 2011:

I’m probably better off posting pictures of my trash than discussing the psychological vagaries of relocating, but I am short on photos and long on thoughts, so here goes.

Though I’d wanted to leave Houston for a long time, I was ambivalent when my husband first told me he’d gotten the handshake for a transfer to Pittsburgh. I realized over the next day or two that my anxiety about moving had a lot to do with my transition from Philly to Houston 3.5 years earlier, which was excruciating. I’d spent all of my 24 years in Philly - growing up, earning my B.A., making my way as a young professional. My large family, my beloved circle of friends, my neighborhood and the happily car-less and frugal lifestyle it enabled - these things were woven into my identity. Leaving all that behind made me feel not just frayed at the edges but threadbare throughout.

I know this is part of why people leave their hometowns to go to college, so they can learn who they really are outside the environment that informed who they think they are. It is with slight embarrassment that I expose this possibly stunted aspect of my personal development: At 25, I was going through what many people go through at 18. Perhaps feeling adolescent again after painstakingly climbing into adulthood made it that much harder, though the problems I had upon arrival in Houston were not a college freshman’s problems. I won’t go into the long months of unemployment (made more difficult by having been employed continuously for almost 10 years, yet another rent in the fabric of my self-image), the tight budget and complete lack of humor about it, the strained relationship, the doubt that throbbed and poisoned like an abscess. Within a year these things were more or less straightened out and healed over. Within two, I felt almost at home in Houston. Last year, 2010, was nothing short of amazing, and I’m forced to admit that my time in Houston improved me in many ways.

I guess I didn’t post it because it’s an oversimplification. Strange that I started a blog about relocating; I find the places I’ve lived to be almost impossible to write about. A place isn’t a thing separate from the people who live there, or from the lifestyle it encourages or discourages, or from the everyday choices one makes about where to live, work, eat, shop. Sure, a place has limits – geographic and otherwise – but those limits are not static, and those limits are rarely as narrow as the personal limitations they are often mistaken for.

Next time: pictures.


Mixed Grill

This little blog will probably remain by the wayside until we move house again, which might be sooner rather than later. It will be within Pittsburgh and probably within a year or so. Everything here is dandy (I’ve even come to appreciate the lack of closets for forcing me to organize things instead of piling them up behind closed doors), but we never planned to rent this particular domicile indefinitely. I’ll get into that some other time, maybe.

Anyway, while I am between moves, I might spend some time reminiscing about how I arrived at and departed the various apartments I’ve inhabited, and maybe sprinkle in some stories about helping other people move. It could get way too personal though, so I make no promises.

Believe or not, that is not what inspired me to post today. I was taking another crack at getting the bobbin-casing components of my sewing machine to play nice together. I wanted badly to call my competent-seamstress BFF over to help, but Philly is a little far for that. I considered how I might befriend some one locally for the purpose, how I would be happy to compensate with beer or a home-cooked meal. Imagine the Craigslist posting. If I thought it was actually broken, I would seek out a professional, but I’m pretty sure this is something that could be handily corrected by anyone who has used a sewing machine more than three or four times.

So I turned my attention to another “hobby” in the hopes of feeling like less of a nincompoop. I was editing some relatively recent photos (i.e., clicking the auto-adjust-exposure button) and remembered that in my last post I had expressed a desire to grill. Without further ado…

That, dear reader (hi sis!), is skewered fennel and bacon-wrapped tofu, along with the more usual suspects, sausage and corn on the cob. I should probably hide this entry from anyone to whom I might offer a home-cooked meal as compensation for anything, but allow me to explain. The bacon-wrapped tofu was a sort of joke that KC took seriously. Well, it started out serious because I’d read that tofu has a tendency to stick to the grill, and we happened to have some bacon leftover from an unusually indulgent breakfast, so I thought, why not? I’m a big fan of veggie-burgers with cheese and bacon because the ground beef is not my favorite part, and bacon-wrapped tofu seemed conceptually similar. I quickly talked myself out of it because as much as I love tofu, it just isn’t quite tasty enough to include in a non-veg dish. A non-veg meal being shared with vegetarians? Of course. But swaddled in meat? Meh. But it turned out that KC had been looking forward to it.

This is something one forgets about when accustomed to grilling vegetables. Holy flaming animal fat!

But it turned out okay. A little charred, but edible.

Apparently I was more excited about the fennel and the corn. The texture of tofu with the strong, smoky, salty, meaty flavor of bacon was totally weird, but we did scarf it down right quick. I guess that’s the thing with bacon. Even with it’s not that good, it’s still pretty good.


Taming the Yard

I haven’t had a yard since I left my parents’ house over a decade ago. Even when I lived there, my contributions to its upkeep were pretty limited, so I was a little perturbed to learn that we’re responsible for any necessary landscaping while we’re here. As is our wont, we ignored it until it got out of control.

Aside from the fact that a gas-powered motor is noisy, heavy, expensive, smelly, etc., it seemed overkill for a space this small that we don’t even own. Unfortunately, a human-powered rotary mower is essentially useless on grass this high (that’s all grass right?). It just smushes it down and rolls over it. Suddenly KC’s suggestion that we buy a machete didn’t seem so absurd. Do they even sell those at Home Depot?

The hedge-clippers worked on the dandelions growing here, but the bulk of the tangle was stubborn and just sort of pinched between the blades. I probably should not admit this in public, even on an anonymous blog, but the solution I arrived at was to use an old, too-long bread knife. Equipped with the knife and gardening gloves, I went through and grasped stalks by the bunch with one hand and slashed at it with the other. Here’s an in-progress shot.

Then we gathered up the clippings and dumped them in what was probably once a flower-bed.

This wasn’t nearly as time-consuming or difficult as I thought it would be, and it shortened the grass to a mowable height. I can’t remember why I didn’t take “after” shots the same day, but this is what it looked like when I got around to finishing the edges a couple of mornings later.

Now I’m jonesin’ for a cook-out.


Ponytails and Pierogidillas

Pardon my long radio silence. I’ll spare you the posts about how it felt to drive instead of fly to Philly for our last visit. (In short, it felt pretty awesome.) Imagine lots of ruminating about how hard it was to move to Houston a few years ago, and how similar and different this move has been. Okay. Let’s proceed.

Way back when, KC had long hair. When he decided to lop it off, he had his “barber” (pretty sure she was a stylist – potayto/potahto) wash it and gather it in a ponytail so we could send it to Locks of Love. We discovered that they’ll take hair that is up to 10 years old, so it got moved way down on our list of priorities. I did bring it out for show-and-tell once when we had company because I thought it was neat, but our dinner-guests (this was long after dinner, of course) responded with mild horror, so I quickly put it away and forgot all about it. This is how clutter happens. Bizarre, organic clutter even.

Because it is probably the most interesting piece of clutter I’ve dealt with so far, I’ll risk grossing everyone out by sharing a highlight of the photo-shoot I had with the ponytail before taking it to the post office last week. Isn’t it cute?

I did not have the proper padded envelope to mail it, and I had to return a journal to Staples anyway (buyer’s remorse – I’m very picky about my notebooks), and I also had to mail a little souvenir to a friend in Houston, so I figured I’d make a trip of it. I took a bus to Point A (Staples), and then walked the route below, stopping at various points on the way.

Point B is a vegetarian cafe called Quiet Storm, where I wrote a card to go along with the souvenir I was sending to Houston, and where I addressed my padded envelopes and so forth, while noshing on something billed as a pierogidilla.

This reimagining of a pierogi featured fake bacon, broccoli, pickled onions, and slaw. It was pretty good, though I will admit to ordering it mostly out of morbid curiosity. That’s sour cream on the side, which I guess is the primary overlap between Mexican and Polish cuisines. Polish food is big in Pittsburgh, as are soft pretzels – often enormous ones - and fries in and on anything and everything. (I’ve had to ask servers to hold the fries when ordering salad.)

Point C is the post office. I will be going back soon to send some techno-trash to an e-recycling service, but that involves more elaborate packing materials than a padded envelope. I appear to be at a point in my decluttering process where any normal person would probably just throw these smaller items in the trash, but I am disposing of them in highly specific and somewhat inconvenient ways. I consider it one of the perks of unemployment. (Other perks include breakthroughs in housekeeping, like finally figuring out that a paste made of baking soda and dish detergent is by far the best tub-cleaning agent around. And non-toxic!)

Point D is Donatelli’s, an Italian grocery where I picked up some canned dolmas, a pantry staple in this house, but really I just wanted to break up that leg of the journey. Point E is Graziano’s Pizza, which has the distinction of being my nearest purveyor of beer. It took me a few weeks of being gouged for six-packs at bars to realize I should plan ahead for affordable beer at home. They don’t sell it at gas stations or convenience stores or, as seems most logical to me, at grocery stores. (Conversely, one of the first things I did as a Houston resident was buy wine at CVS. Because I could!)

So when I’m not moving things around the house or cooking or asking people on the internet for work, sometimes I’m taking long walks around the neighborhood.

The only other (not embarrassingly introspective) development of late is this bad boy.

Whatever success I had with the skirt I stitched last year seems to have been beginner’s luck, but I forge ahead only moderately daunted. More next time.


Blue Bags

I’ve encountered two challenges while trying to unpack. First, this house has virtually zero closet-space. Second, the movers used an inordinate amount of paper to wrap our stuff and pad the boxes, so much that I am determined not to have professionals pack up ever again if I can help it. If I have less stuff and it is better organized (my current goal), the professionals and their reams of paper should be unnecessary, not that I think they were strictly necessary this time around.

I was able to get this much out by last Friday, recycling day.

Before I figured out that smoothing out the sheets and stacking them would take up less space and, hence, fewer blue bags (before I even knew about the blue bags, in fact), I stuffed all of these boxes – see right – as tightly as I possibly could with crushed paper. Those boxes are pretty big, and there are almost ten of them. The idea of smoothing out all that paper makes me want to cry, though I did about three of them yesterday, listening to Midnight Marauders and Dewdrops in the Garden.

Speaking of which, the project of uploading my very dated CD collection continues apace. I was choosing them at random and putting them back in their little slots until I decided to get methodical about it. Uploaded CDs are now filed in the back of the book so that I will know when I am finished. Though I don’t even like a lot of this stuff anymore (Morcheeba, anyone?), I get an odd pang of nostalgia when I think about discarding the physical recordings, as though they are not just a cumbersome form of digital memory. I plan to get over this. Between a laptop (and another laptop that I have to purchase for work soon), an external harddrive, and my iPhone, this music collection that I don’t even love will be backed up at least thrice. Maybe my nieces and nephews would get a kick out of these relics. Or maybe it’d be further confirmation that their aunt is a humongous dork.

Moving on, our temporary solution to the no-closets problem was to put all of our boxes of clothes in what was billed as a den and was going to be my office. The previous tenants used this as a dressing room, which sounded strangely aristocratic to us, like we’d have to start drinking sidecars at home instead of PBR. However, I was so loathe to procure heavy closet-like furniture, which would be a pain to get up the stairs and unnecessary in our next place (because I hope it has closets), that I was beginning to warm up to the idea.

 A trip to Target and the purchase of a cheap wardrobe-like contraption (something like this) saved the day. The fact that it should be easy to disassemble makes up for what it lacks in beauty and structural integrity. I just hope it doesn’t disassemble on its own.

The ongoing process of unpacking my clothes has resulted in four categories:

  • Clothes I wear with some regularity. Some items are here on a probationary basis.
  • Clothes I plan to repurpose for sewing practice, either as patterns (items that fit well but are worn out or stained) or as scrap fabric. This whole pile is sort of probationary because my one moderately successful foray into sewing my own clothes could very well have been a fluke.
  • Clothes to donate to the thrift store.
  • Clothes to be made into rags. These were mostly pajamas, and I could probably wear them again as pajamas but I probably shouldn’t.

I swear I have been doing other things besides unpacking over the last 10 days since we got here, and I will post on those things soon, I hope. In the meantime, here is an alleyscape featuring my neighbors’ blue bags all lined up, because I think it’s charming that everyone here recycles, even if it’s probably because it’s (unenforcably?) mandated by the city.


Little Boxes on the Hillside

I enjoyed my last few days in Houston – the friends, the warm weather. On the decluttering front, which has started afresh, I had to regift a few bulky parting gifts because they would not fit in my suitcase.

We arrived Sunday night, and KC* went to work on Monday morning. The movers came and I found myself surrounded by boxes.

Our queen boxspring, pictured here, would not fit up the stairs. Because I did not personally supervise the movers’ attempt (I was out getting coffee), KC wants to try again. I am certain it will be loads of fun.

While a nice young man from DirecTV installed some sort of superdish so KC can watch the rest of the cricket World Cup (after which we plan to get rid of cable and enjoy internet-based entertainment), I sorted our CD collection and set aside a stack of jewel cases for disposal. I’m still figuring out how and where to recycle everything.

Uploading CDs to iTunes and unpacking are a multitasking match made in heaven, I must say. Yesterday, desperate for home-cooked food, I tackled the kitchen.

It was challenging because a lot of the shelving is high up. Also, I had to clean the fridge to get rid of a fishy funk, which still lingers. All told, it’s a very nice kitchen. The “after” pictures will have to wait a bit for a few reasons. Here is an in-process shot of my collection of seasonings.

It doesn’t look like much, but there are a lot. In Houston I had all the spices lined up on a shelf above the stove,  and I was trying to find a similar arrangement so that they could all be at eye-level, but it’s not possible. Also, even the high shelves are not tall enough to accommodate my taller bottles of oil. Boo.

On to happier things, I’ve been braving the freezing cold to explore a bit. These hills are beautiful.

And walking up them is no joke. I’ve been enjoying lots of informal exercize.

Yesterday, knowing that unpacking the kitchen while hungry would only piss me off, I went to the City Cafe for breakfast. It is a French-style cafe where my omelette came with this amazing first course.

I talked to the owner/barrista/server/cook for a while. There is lots to say about him, and about the bare-bones gym I toured, and the two grocery stores I visited, and a bunch of other things, but now I have to watch the end of this India-Pakistan match with KC and then attempt running on these crazy hills.

*I’m tired of saying “my husband.” He wanted to be “Tonto” on this blog, making me the Lone Ranger, which I think refers to both Texas and, possibly, the solitude that sometimes characterizes relocation (or something). Aside from the fact that I don’t identify at all with Texas and will probably be changing that subtitle soon enough anyway, I knew there was some cultural baggage associated with that particular fictional sidekick. I poked around and discovered that recent adaptations are almost entirely inoffensive to Native Americans, except that “Tonto” still means “fool” in Spanish. To be on the safe side, I hereby sacrifice cuteness on the altar of political correctness, and he will be known as KC until I think of a better moniker.

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