Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Happiness is...

...making a quilt for the expected granddaughter!

I grew up doing handwork, whether it be embroidery dish towels for my mother (the ultimate busy work until I embroidered to the knee of my red corduroy pants and instead of removing the stitches, I removed the knee--I was five, okay?), or crocheting oven pads or knitting an afghan, only to decide to start over when I was finished. Then I'd rip out and reroll the yarn, which explains why so few pieces of my handiwork survived.

I moved up to crewel and needlepoint and had a brief time with counted cross-stitch, but I found that too laborious. Plus, then, I had a toddler and a crawler and one cannot really count stitch cloth and stop a disaster in the making at the same time. I even hooked rugs.

I graduated to quilts: baby ones for my friends and then large ones for our beds. I made quilts of ties and embroidered them a la Victorian piecework.

Then I quit. For no real reason I can fathom, but I stopped.

Until the baby.

When my first son was on his way, we had a dog. I found a simple pattern for a puppy quilt and did a blanket-stitch applique. The quilt survived him, but has definitely seen better days. I stored it in the cedar chest.

Now with the advent of his daughter nearing, I needed to continue the tradition. They have cats and so the decision was simple: a kitty quilt. I searched the Internet for a pattern in the same vein as his and found one. It was even showcased in browns and oranges; poor kitty looked like a '70s throwback. I redid her in pink, yellow and green gingham--her mother's choice of nursery--and voila! in a little over a month I had the joy of handwork all over again.

To make it even better, the store where I bought the fabric, Happiness Is Quilting, in McKinney, TX, is showing it and the original on its site. Just scroll down to Kay's Calico Cats.

Only problem is, now I need another project.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Tweaking the fashion rules

Here in North Texas, the weather takes on sports-predictor status as the seasons change. It may be lake effect snow and skiing elsewhere in the country, but here it's 16 degrees one week and 80 the next, precipitation optional. Usually one can add in lots of wind to that, so that the daffodils (which are on time in their arrival) and the tulips (a month early, as usual) will be bowled over and broken in short order.

But we're in a mid-70, moderate wind week, so the heat is off, select windows are up, and the winter wardrobe is being pushed aside. I wanted something springlike, so I grabbed the denim gauchos and the early-spring green tee shirt and took a deep breath.

What to put on my feet?

Even I have my limits as to sandals--it was in the 70s, not 80s--as I needed more of a shoe. I don't like to wear my "tennis" shoes for anything but exercising, so I sorted through the late-summer pile and found some canvas sneaker-y (how's that for a new word?) type things and slipped them on. Looked so good.

If it were June. The shoes are white.

My mother's voice rose in the back of my mind: no white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. All good (now) middle-aged Southern women know this. I doubt it's still a dictum, but the guilt was there nonetheless.

The shoes were white, the month February. I looked at my feet. I looked at my image in the mirror. It was the only way to go.
After all, it was after Valentine's Day.

And all modern Southern girls know, you can't wear white before Valentine's.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

McDonalds, Starbucks and me, Part Two

I won't make you scan to the end of this post in order to learn the bottom line: Starbucks has nothing to fear in losing me as a customer, but, on the other hand, if McDonalds is my closest option for coffee, I won't pout about going.

After lunch today I was in the neighborhood of a large, very busy, McDonalds. The drive-through line being daunting (they had a clerk standing on the sidewalk taking orders so either the may-I-help-you box was broken, or this is more efficient), I parked and went into a virtually empty store. It was 12: 20. I ordered a small coffee, which for some reason was 89 cents instead of the advertised 99, was offered cream or sugar (took the cream, supplied my own artificial), paid, and waited. The manager (assistant or shift leader, perhaps?) poured my coffee from a carafe 1/3 full. He looked at it, looked at me, dumped it and the rest of the pot, and poured me a cup from a carafe nearly full and in the to-go window.

I was impressed. I swear I wasn't wearing my "I Love Starbucks" tee shirt. (Do they even have those? More importantly, can I get one?) But back to the day's adventure.

I doctored it to specs and was pleasantly surprised (as I had been previously) to find it quite good. Leaving it in the car while I stopped at a grocery didn't turn it bitter.

Now at this point, I had already considered making my usual stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee. Instead, I poured this over leftover ice and drove on.

Was it as satisfying as Starbucks? No. My customer loyalty is firm.

But that new McD's chicken wrap did look interesting...

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Starbucks, McDonald's and me

When Consumer Reports stated that McDonald's coffee was actually better than Starbucks, I was, well, verklempt. I'm passionate about my coffee, and in an atypical stance, I'm brand loyal. And that brand is Starbucks.

I wasn't always a coffee aficionado. I shied away from coffee until I was 25. Truth to tell, I don't know how I stayed awake in all those 8 o'clock morning college classes. Oh--now I remember--fear of failure. That aside, I didn't start my affair with coffee until my husband's grandmother laced a strong cup with sugar and cream and sent us on our way when we moved from Texas to Georgia. Coffee (and talking to the truckers on the CB--"you got your Lone Star, here, come back!") kept me awake as I drove one vehicle and husband the other. I fiddled with coffee for the next several years, knowing for sure I was enceinte when I couldn't stand the stuff, dying for a cup the morning after delivery. (I had a similar experience with bacon.)

Over the years, I developed a real love of coffee, the strong stuff, and when Starbucks first offered its Encore program of mail-order goodies, I signed on for 3 pounds every other month. There wasn't a Starbucks within 60 miles of me at the time, but as the brand has spread like a weed and came within 25 miles, the program was discontinued. I think it's back in full swing, but I manage to buy and have ground to my specs, what I need now.

Being picky about one's coffee means taking it with you to morning meetings, emptying the pot into a (Starbucks) to-go mug and sipping what you like while everyone else has the house's. I don't do this everywhere I go; I know who serves the good mugs.

So having Consumer Reports say McDonald's is better was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. We have a local McDonald's. If it was really better, than it would be really better here, too.

I timed my trip to coincide with my after-lunch cup. This is when I usually visit a Starbucks, so I thought that a fair comparison. My caffeine level would be the same for either. McDonald's does not have Sweet'n'low sweetener, so I provided my own. I usually treat myself to a dollop of half and half, too, but I knew I'd have to forego that. I didn't go through the drive through, but walked in.

Small town McDonald's, after lunch, place just recovering from the girl's basketball team who were all munching on fries and burgers, drive through line long. I'd been wise to come in. Ordered my coffee. Cheaper than Starbucks. I like a bargain. And then she poured me the absolute bottom of the decanter. Shook out the drops.

This was not a good sign. Starbucks would have asked me to wait and they'd make more.

I took my cup, doctored it, and tried. I'll give them this: even for the bottom of the pot, it was far superior to what they used to serve.

But it wasn't my usual experience. To be fair, I pass the arches every week on my sojourn into the city. I'll stop and try another cup. I've already stocked my purse with Sweet'n'low.

But if I were McDonald's, I wouldn't be holding my breath to have me as a new customer.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007


I belong to a luncheon group called, sometimes appropriately, Ptomaine. We rotate hostesses and meet once a month. We are assigned a specific category of food to bring: appetizer, bread, salad, vegetable, meat, dessert. Three times a year, we meet in the evening and have our husbands as our guests.

The original purpose was to try new recipes because the caveat of the whole thing is this: you're not supposed to bring a dish you've ever made before. Those of us who faithfully play the game have endured such masterpieces as Creamed Radishes and Chocolate Tofu Cheesecake. The latter probably wouldn't have been so bad had the other dessert that month not been a real chocolate cheesecake. To say it paled in comparison is to be polite.

But I've also gleaned some gems: a bread pudding, a ginger pork tenderloin that has become standard holiday fare, and several appetizers with a shrimp/crab theme. When the husbands are along, we aren't as adventurous; no one wants to listen to their spouse complain about someone else's cooking. Anyway, given enough libation, they're a fairly congenial lot, even when we declare "husbands cook". The fun then is in the descriptions provided of the dishes.

My assignment this month is a dessert. Desserts are coveted. No one is particularly fond of a new way with salad and veggies are second blah, uh, bad, but somehow we never tire of bringing dessert. Being near Valentine's, I found a recipe in the newspaper and have made a chocolate pie using 60% bittersweet chocolate and a little bit of cream cheese. It'll be topped with whipped cream. Tasting what was left in the bowl does not make me believe that this is an end-all-be-all chocolate pie, but somehow I think it'll be hard to keep the spouse out of it tonight neverthless.

I'll let you know how it stacks up tomorrow.

On the other hand, we've tried the next to last Bertolli in my arsenal, Shrimp Scampi and Linguine. Very good, but I'd still take the other shrimp, the Diavolo. Then I found another brand--okay, I had a coupon so I went looking for the other brand--Contessa. Two shrimp dishes.

Works for me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

When are you, Daddy?

I hope you don't think I dwell overly on my father. But the man who taught me what a man should be, no longer knows when he is.

I see Daddy 2-3 times a week. He's on a locked, secured wing of the facility, but still it can be an adventure to track him down. In front of the TV, sitting at a table, lying in his bed... those are easy. In the shower, in someone else's bed having a snooze, in the bathroom... those are more difficult, but the staff (wonderful, wonderful staff) nearly always knows right where he is.

Yesterday afternoon he was lying down. Flat of his back, hands crossed on his chest, glasses and jacket on, he wasn't asleep. I greeted him and sat in his old lounge chair beside his bed. I don't know if he ever sits in it, but it's a great old chair and the leather still smells like he did when he would come in from work years ago, a mix of lawnmower engine oil and grease. Some things are permanent.

He greeted me and asked how I'd gotten there. I am immediately on guard. I told him I drove. Really? Not fly? Wasn't that far? No. Just down the street. What about the airplane? Had they arrived safely?

And here's where I want to ask him when he is.

He loved airplanes as a child, would watch the Hindenburg fly over from his grandfather's dairy farm in New Jersey, or so he always said. He wanted to be a pilot in the Army Air Corps, but was color-blind and therefore disqualified. He could go home, they told him in 1940, or he could stick around and be an airplane mechanic. He'd had enough of the farm and he loved to tinker, so he stuck around. Before following Patton across Europe, he taught other mechanics and headed his own crew. Before he was 22, he was a master sergeant and youngest of the group.

Recently, he's thought I could fly (only with a reservation). So when was he? In Europe, in Canada (he told me he'd had to take the crew there once and I have no idea if it's true or not since I've never heard it before), or with me in my mythical plane?

Europe, I decided. He was troubled about it, some worrisome memory poking its ugly head through his brain fog. I was going to shift the conversation away from that, but he did it himself and we settled into our routine of the same three questions over and over.

Eventually, it was time to go. He'd never risen from the bed. I kissed his cheek, told him I loved him, and his answering reciprocation followed me to the door.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Playing catch up!

It's time to review all that I've written before this and make adjustments and amends.

Chicken Parmigiana and Penne from Bertolli. Good. I've like a few better, but it was a solid meal.

I've added links to my sidebar:
C.S. Harris: Loved her historical romances as Candice Proctor. Was very disappointed when she switched to historical mystery with the St. Cyr novels. Then I read one. Disappointed no more. Her blog is a mix of post-Katrina New Orleans and writing lore.
Celebrate Romance: Group of dedicated readers join forces once a year to celebrate the genre we all love. This year it's Kansas City.
Romance Junkies: Review site. Inter-view site because they interviewed me. From the main page, follow the author interview link.
Romancing the Blog: Writers, readers and industry pros discuss romance writing from every side. I've penned a couple of columns accepted for 'open blog' night.
The Rejecter: Young woman in an agent's office offers a no-nonsense view of the publishing industry. Not pretty or kind, but always illuminating.

Meerkat Manor: I hear there's a third season but I can't find a start date. Hope springs eternal, etc.

No more raccoons since One and Two jolly well took themselves to the country. Well, okay, we gave them a lift.

Taping the TV:
Still watching Desperate Housewives, and Brothers and Sisters has survived the season. It has become better.
Studio 60 on Sunset Strip has fallen off our radar, Vanished fell off Fox's, but 24 continues to make our day. And Antique Roadshow. How come I don't have a treasure worth a quarter of a mil either stuffed into a corner of the attic or left to me by an eccentric aunt?
Veronica Mars is finally back to first season snuff and Boston Legal continues to amuse.
Friday Night Lights has moved to Wednesday and I really don't appreciate it. Now it's on with all the other good programs. Since when did Wednesday become the go-to night? Bones is better, but my jury is out on Lost until I see another episode. At least they moved it to 9 CST.
My Name is Earl is okay this season but the freshness is gone. Ugly Betty is a guilty pleasure--love it! love it!--and Grey's Anatomy is not to be missed.
1 vs. 100 has caught my imagination but there are so many commericals, I run the tape through in about 20 minutes.

BISS: Because I Said So Movie Guide:
I'm way behind here, so I'll just do a couple.
"Dream Girls": Somewhere between matinee and full-fare worthy. I already had the CD soundtrack so I was familiar with the songs.
"Venus": Saw this yesteray at an indie-house matinee. For most people, I'd recommend it as Rent It, although I enjoyed it. It was lovely to see the female protagonist grow.

On finding one of my books listed on a used book site:
It has to be one I sent in for a contest. I did enter this one in several last year and since the judges could be all over the country, that has to be the explanation.

Caught up!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wading in the gene (cess)pool

How's that for a topic?

Monday's Oprah dealt with women who look younger than their age. They looked great, with bright smiles, good outlooks on life and doing what they wanted to do. New clothes, new hairstyles, new hair color, all courtesy of the show... heck, I'd look younger than I am, too.

I hope.

My mother looked younger than she was. This was partly due to being very overweight so there were no wrinkles. She also had great skin and had finally accepted her white hair, something she had fought from her 30s. It was great hair, even at her death at 75. Not that she had an enviable gene pool: the women in the old family pictures tended to obesity and arthritis, both of which she inherited. But somewhere, there was great hair and skin also.

So I was thinking that good as all those women in their 40s and 50s looked on Oprah, they had waded in some good gene pools too. Even without the extras, they had a leg up.

We can't, of course, help which gene pool we've been drawn from, the clear ph-corrected swimming pool or the cesspool. I got my mother's hair, including its prematurely gray-ness, and her skin. I also got her arthrits; my hands are turning--quite literally--into hers. I fight her proclivity to gain weight, but I exercise, something she was loathe to do. Let me correct that: something she never did. She wouldn't walk across the room for a glass of wine if someone could be coerced into fetching it for her.

From the other half of my gene pool, I seem to have Daddy's good blood chemistrys and a second dose of good skin from his maternal grandmother, a woman I met when she was nearing 90. I can only hope I haven't been stuck with his Alzheimer's.

There's no sense in worrying about it. I need to keep a good attitude just like the fortunate women on Oprah.

And I could do something about the hair color.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ad-ing up the Super Bowl

Since everyone else has an opinion about the commercials presented during last night's Super Bowl, I see no reason not to also.

As a whole, they were a disappointing bunch, but they're also the only reason I watched--and took notes! Knowing that the audience might not only desert to other activities but also be bored by a typically dull game (it wasn't), the best were in the first half.

Taking notes during the game was a lot like outlining a book. An order appeared and I'd never given thought to that before. But if one is selling ad time at over two million dollars per thirty second spot, order must be established.

In the first quarter there were five sets of commercials, seven or so in the second, I didn't count the halftime because it was mostly promo for CBS and what wasn't didn't rate on my ad-meter. Back to five sets in the third and five in the fourth. If they had unexpected commercial time, we were plagued with promos for CBS shows and do-gooding by the NFL. I realized that I don't watch any CBS shows.

I also realize that I'm not the target audience for Super Bowl ads. I am neither the right age nor gender. I use few of the products touted nor am I likely to. So, and here I have to wink, I'm not prejudiced in my assessments.

The first annual Sisker's Lair Super Bowl commercials awards:
Classiest: Coke. This is not a surprise.
Hallmark moment: GM's robot dreaming it was retired.
Poignant with a twist: Budweiser's mud-splattered canine finally getting respect when he looks like a Dalmatian.
Much ado about nothing: Blockbuster's lead-off rabbit and guinea pig squishing a computer-generated mouse.
Oh-ho! moment: Letterman and Oprah on a couch.
Cute: E-trade's what to do with one finger.
Let the public rule: Doritos contest winner. I had already viewed the five finalists and it would appear my fav was the runner-up (the grocery store clerk) when it was aired second.

And, the Sisker's Lair Clever Award goes to:
Connectile dysfunction from Sprint mobile. Didn't think we'd stop laughing.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A quick Bertolli

Chicken Florentine and Farfalle

This one had a white sauce as opposed to the tomato-based ones we've tried before. It was adequate, but we're just red sauce people, so I doubt we'll be buying it again.

Still to review:
Chicken Parmigiana and Penne (tomato)
Grilled Chicken Alfredo (white)
Shrimp Scamppi and Linguine (I have high hopes)