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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New Mattress/Redecorating

I bought a new mattress today. I am ridiculously attached to my old mattress, which I bought as an IPO gift to myself when my company announced it was going public. Yeah, I'm a big spender, I know. I've had it for ten years. It's nice and super-firm, but is almost too firm now that I'm an old biddy and my back is sore every morning. I knew I had a problem when it was more comfortable to sleep on Missy's floor or the back of T's truck.
Before that I had the evil sag-bag mattress that I bought when I got to Chapel Hill. It was cheap. It sagged in less than six months. Good thing I was a young biddy then. It took me four years to replace it. The per year cost was actually higher than myIPO mattress, so I guess it wasn't such a bargain.
Anyway, I went mattress shopping today. It wasn't as bad as I expected. At the first place, I found one mattress that made me want to fall asleep on it. I went around to a lot of other places. Nothing quite compared. Armed with an internet price, I went back and they matched it. I got a firm mattress with a thin layer of memory foam for my old biddy back. It was just enough to make it feel comfy but not so much that it had that annoying hot feeling. Some of the softer mattresses felt nice, but I know from experience that too soft is not a good thing for me.
Mattress buying is like buying a car. It's hard to get out without them selling you something else. They did talk me into buying an anti-dust mite mattress pad. I could sleep in a tub full of dustmite poop mixed with cat dander and dust and not have problems, but T's pretty sensitive, so I bought it. It's not entirely unselfish on my part. I sleep better when he's not congested and snoring.
It will be delivered tomorrow. Hopefully it will help me sleep better and wake up less sore.
I'm putting my old mattress in what used to be my computer room. It's dark and cave-like in there. I think it will work better as a guest bedroom than the back room. I partially disassembled my computer desk and moved it to the back room. I'm pleased with it - it's a much better spot for my computer room and I happily posted two blog posts from it already. I had to move the futon out. The futon frame is a behemoth. When I moved in we barely got it into the back bedroom and would not have been able to bring it through the hall, and so that's how the back bedroom ended up as the guest bedroom. Since then, I've had the sliding glass door retrofitted and the opening is slightly smaller, so I didn't think it would be possible to get it out. My dad cam by and we partially disassembled it so that it could fit through the door.
There's only one problem. Luna. The futon was her favorite spot, and has been for her entire life. While we were taking it apart she kept coming by and meowing at me. She was not happy and was scolding me. I felt very guilty. Good thing my (old) bed is her second favorite spot. I'm going to have to put her special bedspread on it and maybe leave my cheap sleeping bag on it as well to ease the transition for her.
So anyway, as of tomorrow, the guest bedroom will soon be operational and equipped with high speed internet access, a very firm mattress, a dark peaceful atmosphere, and Luna. Come visit me in my spiffy redecorated house!

Knee Update: Three Months

It's been three months since my knee surgery. True to what the doctor had predicted, it took about that long to get back to mostly normal. Now I'm just complaining about my sore back instead.
I can run. I'm still out of shape but when I run the knee is not the limiting factor. I can hike, but have to be careful on the downhills. I can almost squat or do squats, and the limiting factor is my other knee. Kneeling on hard surfaces is still painful. I no longer have pain when I ride the exercise bike.
On the downside, it creaks and pops a lot more than it used to.
A coworker tore his meniscus recently. He asked me what to expect after the surgery. It will be interesting to compare his recovery to mine. I am curious how much my arthritic knees slowed down the recovery.
I miss playing soccer. I really do. But it's not worth it anymore. I'm taking advantage of my retirement from soccer to finally try to get rid of my nasty toenail fungus. I've had it about ten years. I took the oral medicine for a week, but it's nasty stuff. Liver tests showed that it didn't agree with me, so I stopped taking it. That week was enough to kill off the fungus, but once it was completely gone i got kicked in the toe and it returned. After that I gave up on it, but this time it's war!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Better late than never/seal pictures for Sheila

I'm not very good about remembering to bring my camera, and I'm even worse about sharing my pictures. Anyway, in early May I went to Monterey with T. I borrowed his camera and took a lot of pictures, mostly of seals. They had just had their babies and were nursing them on the beach.
Here's the link. In my all-google email/blog/document suite, I've added Picasa to my repertoire. Let me know what you think.

Monday, June 15, 2009

North American Catalysis Conference/My Encounter with Swoops the Attack Blackbird

I went to the North American Catalysis conference last week. Conveniently, it took place in San Francisco. At the last minute, I had to give a poster and a talk. My co-worker Margarete broke her ankle so I agreed to give he poster for her, and then a few days before the conference, the poster got upgraded to a talk.
It was a good conference. There were usually two or three talks that I wanted to attend at any given time. My talk went ok but the subject matter really was on the periphery of the main focus of the conference.
My company had a booth at the conference. On Thursday, I had to be a 'booth babe'. No, I didn't wear a bikini and drape myself over our reactor. By that point, everyone who would've wanted to visit the booth had already done so, and my main job was to guard the reactor from the prying eyes of our competitors. It was pretty boring.
It was a good place for a conference. The hotel was on the Embarcadero, right across the street from the SF Ferry Building, which has a lot of restaurants and gourmet food stores.
On Thursday, I was walking around and a bird attacked my head. I thought it was a pigeon trying to land, but later I found out that there is a blackbird who lives there and dive bombs pedestrians. He's been nicknamed "Swoops" and has made it all the way to local and national news, because last week was a slow news week. People like to eat their lunch near Swoops' lair and watch him dive bomb unsuspecting people. Here's a link to the Swoops blog. So far I haven't seen any video of myself being dive bombed, but it's probably out there somewhere on the internet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Recipe Geek (Yuppie Food Snob Edition): Brioche

Recently, I was reading an online advice column, and someone wrote in about her formerly cool bohemian friend who started dating an investment banker and turned into a boring yuppie food snob who preferred eating homemade brioche to hanging out on the couch drinking beer like she used to enjoy doing. So, if any of you wrote in about me and just threw in the part about the investment banker to throw me off, knock it off!
I admit to being a foodie and occasionally a food snob, but so far that hasn't hindered my enjoyment of hanging out drinking beer with friends. Besides, I've never made brioche until now.
Brioche is a rich bread, with a lot of eggs and butter. You can bake it in loaf pans or in a fluted pan, or as rolls. You can also roll it out and fill it with chocolate chips or use it a the base for more pastry-like stuff such as cinnamon rolls, or coffee-cake. It's a little bit unusual in that it both has a lot of gluten and a lot of butter. The dough is kneaded extensively prior to adding the butter, to really let the gluten develop. Taste-wise, it's like a cross between croissants and challah.
So of course, being a boring yuppie foodie, my first response to the advice column was not that the friend was a boring yuppie foodie, but that I'd been meaning to make some brioche in my new mixer. I used the recipe in the book that came with the mixer. It's a two-day process. I started it last night. The recipe calls for a LOT of mixing (30 minutes). I would not want to knead it by hand. That's why I've never made it before. You make a sponge, then add a bunch of eggs and flour and beat the crap out of it with the mixer. I was distracted and forgot to add one of the aliquots of flour at the right time, so mine got even more mixing. After that, a ton of butter is added, a few tablespoons at a time. You then beat the shit out of it for a few more minutes, then let it rise. While the mixer was doing its thing, I wrote my previous blog post, talked to my mom on the phone and drank a Mike's Hard Lemonade (see - there's hope for me yet!). The mixer held up great and didn't overheat.
After it rises, you put it in the fridge overnight to cool off. After a few hours in the fridge, it had risen a lot. I punched it down. This morning, it had doubled in size again, even though it's pretty cold in my fridge. There's some serious gluten action going on in this bread, due to all the mixing and also due to me using bread flour instead of all-purpose. I punched it down, divided it into three portions, and froze one of the dough balls. (All the recipes in the mixer book are sized for the big mixer, so the one I used was 1 1/2 times bigger than the one on the web.) I shaped the other two dough balls and set them in loaf pans and let them rise for about an hour and a half or so. I then glazed them with an egg yolk wash and put them in the oven.After about 15 minutes, they had doubled in size (again) and were starting to get glossy and brown on top. Ten minutes later, they had risen even more, hit the oven rack above, and sagged down on one side. D'ohh! I shouldn't have let them rise so much!
After the loaves were done baking, I let them cool. They shrunk a little bit but not much. It was very tasty - eggy but not too eggy, and very buttery. Nonetheless, I'll probably go with fewer egg yolks/more whole eggs if I make it again. I'll probably also use all-purpose flour.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Queen of the Crevices

I went gold panning with T this past weekend. We went to a different claim than usual this time. It's still early in the year, and the water would've been too high at the other claim. The water was lower at this one, ranging from ankle to waist deep. This claim featured a mine, although I didn't go see it. It also allegedly featured a lot of gold.

It was a bit of a scramble down the hill to get to the creek. My knees did OK, but I couldn't have done it a few weeks ago. Once we got to the creek, we had to walk upstream about 40 yards. This was partly in and partly out of the water. Even though it was still early, the rocks were already slippery with algae. At the other claim, the water is a lot higher and moves faster, so it doesn't get slippery until midsummer. I did OK, but my balance isn't back to normal yet. My legs were shaky by the end of each day. Although I didn't injure myself or tweak anything, my knees were both sore or the first part of the week.

No skinny dipping for me this time. Due to the possibility of bears or of me getting injured, I stayed closer to where everyone else was working

Gold panning has a lot of amusing terms. I creviced, which means I scraped dirt/rocks/moss/etc out of likely looking crevices, put them in the pan, and then washed/sifted it to lose all the plant matter and lighter rocks. At the end, you're left with a mix of gold, black sand, and possibly a little orange sand, not necessarily in that order. The gold is then sucked up into a snuffer bottle, which looks like a between a hair dye bottle and a lab squirt bottle. It's all about density. The gold flakes sink because they're so much denser than everything else.

To get stuff out of the crevices, there are an assortment of crevice tools. heh heh. I've only been doing this for four years and i still snicker when i say crevice tool. They range from tweezers, a turkey baster, a brush, a little garden trowel, a crow bar, pick axe,and some scraping tools. The idea is to find crevices in the bedrock where (hopefully) gold has sunk into as the river washes over it. Tree roots by the rivers edge are also considered good, although I don't like to work the roots to much because of spiders and snakes. Some crevices are best left alone. I just got gold flakes this time.

T and his buddy Ray have a dredge, so they got in their wet suits, fired up the dredge and fed it rocks/sand from the areas that they thought looked promising. However, it took them most of a day to figure out what was wrong with the dredge. At the end they panned out what was left in the dredge. It wasn't much, this weekend. In terms of hobbies, it's not the most lucrative way to spend one's time.

When we got back to the campsite on Sunday afternoon, a bear had bitten a hole in a full 5 gallon gas can. It also chewed on the kerosene can but didn't manage to bite through. Meanwhile, a few feet away there was a grocery bag full of garbage that it totally ignored. Definitely not smarter than your average bear, but, as my friend Margarete put it, Yosemite is grad school for bears and this one obviously hadn't been there yet for advanced bear training. Nonetheless, I'm glad we didn't have an encounter with it.

I may go up to the main claim later in the summer. It's fun on an occasional basis, but I have yet to get gold fever and go crazy. It's mostly an excuse to go play in the water.