Friday, September 22, 2017

Conversations with a small tiger

One of the things about being a Soozcat is I have to get to have conversations like this:

Roxy: Oh hey, are those nachos? Are they for me?!
Me: Think about it, Roxy. This is a human-sized portion. I didn't put it on the floor.
Roxy (stretching up to bat at the plate with her front paws): For me! Chips for me!
Me: Plus, how many times have I reminded you that you're an obligate carnivore?
Roxy: Chips for meeee!
Me: Forget it! You cannot count that high! What is it with you and corn chips, anyway?
Roxy: Chips chips chips for me I NEED CHIPS IN MY LIIIIIIFE
Me: Tch. Fine, you furry little mendicant. Have a chip fragment. (tosses it to her)
Roxy: YAY CHIPS! (sniffs chip thoroughly) Nah, this one smells like feet.

Yeah, people think it would be fun to talk to animals. To that I reply, "Read 'Tobermory' by Saki before you wish keenly for that ability."

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How to host a Soup Night

We held another Soup Night here last night, and it seemed like most of the participants enjoyed the evening. (Sorry for the "pix or it didn't happen" crowd, but we were too busy making, serving and eating soup to pull out a camera this time.) We made three soups on this occasion: the ubiquitous Cinnamon Beef Noodles, Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Potato Cheese Soup. They weren't perfect -- I didn't fish the aromatics out of the CBN, so several people got star anise and cinnamon sticks in their bowls, and the Potato Cheese Soup was too salty -- but they were nonetheless well-received. People talked and knitted and sang and generally goofed off, and it was fun.

I've talked about Soup Night on several occasions on this blog, and it occurs to me that there may be other folks out there in the blogosphere who might want to put on a Soup Night of their own. It also occurs to me that a few friendly bits of advice on this subject would not go amiss. So here's what I've learned thus far:
  1. "Audition" soups before serving them. You should know that the soup you're serving is delicious and that you can make it successfully. So whip up a small batch well before Soup Night and taste-test it.
  2. Consider making at least one soup that handles special dietary needs. We usually make at least one vegetarian or vegan soup, and because some guests are celiacs, most of our soups are gluten free. Beyond that, we ask guests to inform us about dietary issues, so we can pick at least one recipe that meets their needs.
  3. Ask people to RSVP. You need a head count to calculate how much soup to make. We assume two bowls of soup for every guest, and plan accordingly. We tend to overestimate, because we don't want to run out of soup before the evening is over. (This is why we now own three huge restaurant-sized cauldrons for making soup.)
  4. Experiment to see how many guests you can host successfully. We have a small home, we aren't professional chefs, and we're both introverts, so the maximum number of people we can host here before everything descends into utter bedlam is 30. (FYI, last night was occasionally bedlam.) If you're an extravert with a big house and a tolerance for lots more people, you might be able to handle 50 to 100 guests. If you live in a little postage-stamp-sized apartment, you might limit your guest list to five friends. But do what works best for you.
  5. Pick different guests for different nights. Not all your friends and neighbors will have personalities that mesh well -- although sometimes two very different people will surprise you by hitting it off. When you compose the guest list, try to make sure that some of your guests already know and like each other, pick guests you think are likely to get along, and encourage people to introduce themselves. This should make for a comfortable, happy mood.
  6. Don't go overboard on the costs. Our Soup Night is, at its heart, a labor of love and some of the soups we make are a little pricey when they're scaled up to feed a crowd. But we don't hold Soup Night every week, or even every month -- so when it does come around, we can afford to make something special. And we usually make one soup that's economical but delicious, as with last night's Potato Cheese Soup. You don't want to spend so much and hold Soup Night so often that you get burned out and decide never to do it again.
  7. If guests offer to bring something, let them help. We ask guests to bring their own bowls and spoons -- it indicates the homey informality of Soup Night, it's a necessity since we don't have enough bowls and spoons to serve everyone, and it means we don't have to wash extra bowls at the end of the night -- but some guests want to contribute more. Last night many people arrived with contributions -- bread, dip, cheese and crackers, desserts, folding chairs and, in one particular case, a guitar. These kind contributions made it possible for everyone to eat lavishly (and to sit and enjoy the music). It's been our experience that once people attend and enjoy Soup Night, they want to help make other such events successful. Let them help!
  8. Don't serve alcohol. This isn't a hard and fast rule, and it's certainly influenced by the fact that we're teetotalers, but if you're not sure how all your guests will handle access to wine, beer or spirits, it's probably better not to offer them. At the worst, you don't want to be stuck cleaning up barf, breaking up a fistfight or calling a cab for someone who went overboard.
  9. Soup Night is for the cold months. We have tried holding a Soup Night in the middle of summer, putting all chilled soups on the menu. It was the most anemically attended event of any of our Soup Nights. Soup is largely perceived as a cold-weather food, so autumn, winter and early spring are the best seasons for Soup Night. (If you want a summertime get-together, try Ice Cream Night.)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you're the Hostess with the Mostest or the Dude Slingin' Food, and you've discovered some useful advice regarding Soup Night or similar shindigs, please bring your experience to bear in the comments.

Monday, September 11, 2017


I don't think I ever put this up. Back in February of this year, after we'd had some spectacularly hard rains, several of the big trees in our side yard got wobbly and our landlord decided they had to come down. He was very nervous about doing this, so he had us leave the house before he started knocking them over with earth-moving equipment.

So of course, we had to get footage. Because reasons.

(You can fullscreen this video for complete tree-felling awesomeness.)

Bravo landlord!

By the way, we did try to evacuate Roxy-cat, but she could tell by our voices that we weren't calling her to do anything fun, so despite our best efforts her furry little butt stayed hidden under the bookshelf during this whole adventure. I just hope we never have a fire in here.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

XXX! (perfectly safe for work)

Today being our 24th anniversary, Captain Midnight and I decided to go out to lunch. We visited XXX Root Beer in Issaquah, a local institution since the 1940s, famed for its car-related memorabilia and root beer made on the premises.

I'd been there before. CM had not. In retrospect, I probably should have warned him about the famed size of Triple X's burgers. Buuuuuut I didn't.

So CM ordered the White Wall, their chicken-fried steak burger. This is what he got.

Unretouched photo.
Yes, it's a burger nearly the size of a hubcap, filled with chicken-fried steak and country milk gravy, and featuring a bun studded with jalapeƱos.

U.S. quarter included for scale.
Undeterred, CM asked a passing waitress for a knife and fork. "We don't do knives and forks here," she replied. "You just have to pick it up and eat it." And to his credit, the doughty CM did just that. It was like eating an entire pie at one go. But since he was neither starving nor a professional eater, he was unable to finish it. This, plus fries, plus a "regular" root beer float that held about a quart of liquid, would finish off all but the most steel-stomached contenders. Also, attempting to eat in one sitting an edible object bigger than the diameter of one's head is an exercise fraught with peril. So we got a doggie bag, because enormously tasty.

A gentle reminder from the XXX bathroom. Nobody wants a heapin' helpin' of your microbes, folks.

How was your day? Got any good local burger joints in your area?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Motes and beams

About this time two years ago, I wrote a little something about talents and mites. This morning, the idea popped into my head that I ought to write something about motes and beams. My immediate response was, "Nah, I got a pounding headache. I can't think right with a headache." But the idea waited patiently while I took some ibuprofen, and when the pounding died away to manageable background levels, I could hear it teasing at me like Roxy-cat wanting to play: "Now? NOW? Hey, hey, now? Now? How 'bout NOW?!"

OK, fine. Now. jeez.

If you read any of the first four books of the New Testament, you will notice that Jesus frequently uses a word to refer to people whose internal thoughts and external actions are out of sync. He calls them "hypocrites." In the original New Testament Greek, the word "hypokrites" means an actor -- that is, someone who interprets or dramatizes a role -- but the flavor Jesus lends to this word makes it clear he means it as an epithet, as someone who works to present himself externally as something he is not just to gain praise and approval from other people. Modern synonyms for "hypocrite" include "phony" and "faker." Most people don't mind being called actors, but virtually no one wants to be called a hypocrite.

The Sermon on the Mount. Not an actual photo. :)
A prime example of the use of this word comes from a talk Jesus gave, commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. Here's how Matthew recorded it in the King James Version of the Bible:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, "Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye;" and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

As a kid, I didn't understand this parable because I didn't know what Jesus meant by "mote" or "beam." It came into greater focus in Sunday School, when our teacher explained that a "mote" was a tiny speck, the smallest visible splinter of wood, while a "beam" was a huge cut of wood like a railroad tie (I grew up in the '70s, when it seemed like all of Northern California was using discarded railroad ties in garden plots, so this explanation was super effective). "Can you imagine trying to pull a tiny speck out of someone else's eye when you have a huge railroad tie in your own eye?" she asked. "Jesus is saying that sometimes we want to help people who have little flaws, but we should first work on our own flaws, which may be much bigger."

A few years ago I read a book with the wry title Thank You For Being Such A Pain, by Mark Rosen. The central conceit of the book is that difficult people -- the ones who worry and annoy us the most -- come into our lives for a reason. The flaws we find most irritating in them are like mirrors into our souls; if we view them rightly, we should see that they reflect similar flaws in our own personalities, and take action to correct those flaws in ourselves. Although Dr. Rosen is Jewish, his list of actions draws from multiple ideologies, religious and secular, on how to handle difficult people. (He wisely points out that a difficult person is very different from an abusive person; that we should not suffer abuse in our lives, whether physical, sexual or emotional; and he makes suggestions about how to get out of an abusive situation.) His discussion about how the flaws in other people mirror the flaws in our own souls hit home with me. Yes, because I still have a long way to go, I sometimes vent about the abrasive things other people do -- but afterward I start reflecting on the things I do that other people might find abrasive, and how I should address those flaws.

Jesus is not saying, as people sometimes suggest, that we cannot or should not help others. He is saying we should first address our own faults, and there's a practical reason for that. In the parable, it is literally impossible to see clearly how to remove a tiny speck from someone else's eye when one's own vision is blocked with a gigantic version of the same problem. In real life, the process of getting rid of a personal flaw lets us see how to help others with that flaw because in doing so, we have gained empathy -- the deep understanding of how hard it is to go through this process, and the sensation of freedom that comes from putting it behind us. This is why groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are composed of people who have struggled to maintain their sobriety. People who have never had a drink in their lives cannot understand how hard it is to control a thirst for alcohol -- but other alcoholics can, and they are most likely to be able to offer empathetic, useful advice because they have personal experience of what works.

Jesus' advice runs counter to much of the world's advice, which seems focused on pointing out other people's flaws. We want to think of ourselves as basically good and not in need of serious change, so self-examination and self-improvement are difficult. It's so much easier to tell other people what to do. For example, if I were to tell some guy on the corner that he smells bad and needs to take a bath, it wouldn't hurt me at all. It might not even cross my mind that he's smelly because he's homeless and it's difficult for him to find a safe place to bathe on the regular -- hey, not my problem. Fielding criticism from other people, on the other hand, is potentially painful. I don't like being confronted with the idea that others don't see me as a pure paragon of beauty and virtue (heh), and I may shrug off their pointed judgments -- even if they're accurate -- just so I can keep feeling good about myself. So this idea about keeping critical thoughts about others to oneself, about performing regular spiritual self-maintenance first, is almost revolutionary. And just like the other principles Jesus taught, when it's tried, it works.

I am a hypocrite. In all probability, so are you. Hypocrisy is a very human trait, and Jesus knew it. The purpose of this parable is to gently make each of us aware of our own hypocrisy, to advise us to place self-examination over external criticism, and to help each of us become a better and more honest person. It takes work. But then, you've probably already noticed that few worthwhile things in life are achieved effortlessly.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Going APE 2017

Well, today was the annual Washington State Geocachers Association jamboree known as Going APE, held as always in and around Iron Horse State Park at Hyak, Washington. We've done this before, and the experience was much the same as it was back in 2011 (though if anything, my hip joints hurt more this time. owie.), so if you're curious, take a look here.

One thing was different, though. This time we actually logged a find on the APE cache, which is sort of a big deal as it's the last one left in North America, and until relatively recently it was thought to be destroyed. A contingent of rugged and determined geocachers hunted all around the area, found where the cache had been ditched by thieves, lugged it back to ground zero and managed to get Groundspeak to take the cache out of archived status, so woot woots all around!

Also, this time we brought lightsticks. We were hoping to find the Fen Dweller and have a little Tunnel Rave Party right there in the middle of the mountain, but alas, he had to go on break as he'd been busy all day getting passersby to sign his cache. So we had to be content with whirling our lightsticks around and making Homestar Runner techno noises as we walked. (It was far from the most annoying noise we heard today, believe me.)

Several times today we ran into Fen and Mitch. Not literally -- although if that were true, we should probably sign up for roller derby or something -- but figuratively, doing their thing for the WSGA. And we saw three hominid critters: the ubiquitous black-furred ape, the aforementioned Fen Dweller (not to be confused with the other Fen, who dwells elsewhere) and a Sasquatch hanging around the APE cache, posing for pictures. I did not opt to have my picture taken with Mr. Squatch this year.

As far as the walk through the tunnel is concerned: because the prevailing wind blows from west to east, it's a lot cooler walking through the tunnel to the caches on the other side than it is walking back toward Hyak. Every now and then I stopped and let the wind catch up with us. AH YEAH COOOOOOL.

So, while my legs are now burning and my hips are hurting and I'm walking around like an arthritic octogenarian this evening, I'm still proud. Even though I'm totally out of shape, I completed a walk that was over 5K long. Not too shabby for a fat lady!

And now to take way too much ibuprofen. mm sweet ibuprofen come to mama.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A trip to Seattle ReCreative

Those of you who know Miss V well are probably already aware that she is a big fan of Halloween, and that she loves costumes. But she is also a real stickler for precision and getting details right. Which is why we have visited countless fabric stores and other stores-that-sell-fabric in the Seattle area, trying to find fabric of just the right color, sheen, weight, etc. for this year's Halloween costume. It has become the Task of Eternity.

Something good has come out of this, however. In our quest to find Just The Right Fabric, we stumbled across a place in the Greenwood neighborhood called Seattle ReCreative. I've been muttering for years now that a city the size of Seattle really ought to have some sort of creative reuse center like the ones in the Bay Area or Portland, and lo! they do! *insert happy Sooz dance here*

"Uh... what's a creative reuse center?" I hear you mutter. Hold on, I'mma tell you.

Creative reuse centers are like thrift stores for creators. They're mini-Meccas for artists, crafters, and anyone else who enjoys messing about with creative supplies. People or businesses donate various goodies they no longer need to the creative reuse center, which then sells those goodies for a pittance. In addition to offering usable items for a fantastic price, creative reuse centers help keep perfectly good materials from being tossed in a landfill somewhere. Since stock is based on donations, the supplies for sale will vary from visit to visit -- so if you find something you can't live without, better snap it up, as it probably won't be there the next time you come in.

On the day we visited, Seattle ReCreative had yarn, fabric, all kinds of thread and notions, paper and other ephemera, paints, jars, pens and pencils, wood, metal, tile, fine art supplies, and random donations from local businesses. Prices ranged from reasonable to crazy cheap. We picked up an invisible zipper for V's costume at a price that hasn't been seen since the late '60s, and a metal belt buckle for 10 cents.

Things for sale are displayed in buckets and on bookshelves, stacked in filing drawers, squirreled away in cubbyholes and chests, and overflowing from wire baskets. (It's like the whole store was designed and merchandised by a very organized hoarder.) If you're looking for a specific item, you may be frustrated; it's better to go with the flow and see what kind of serendipitous discoveries you can make.

Only one thing about our visit frustrated me: as with a lot of city businesses, Seattle ReCreative has no designated parking anywhere nearby. You'll need to take the bus, ride your bike, park out in BFE somewhere and hike in... or take a chance and park in some other local business's designated parking, hoping your car will not be noticed and towed. (Not that I have any firsthand experience with such rash and dangerous behavior. Ehem.)

[ETA: Since writing this blog post, I have discovered there's a Diamond pay parking lot just around the corner from Seattle ReCreative. In my defense, I did not see it AT. ALL. on the day we visited, but I intend to use it in future. Please don't come after me, other businesses!]

Note: Seattle ReCreative did not pay me to write this blog post (though I would happily accept a discount from them. Or a designated parking space. I'm easy like that). It was simply a source of happy squeeing for me, and perhaps it will be for you too. Even if you're engaged in a Task of Eternity.