Jan. 7th, 2016 02:12 pm

Bereft

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
[livejournal.com profile] monshu also came down with something this week so I wasn't expecting any kind of fuss for Epiphany. I was totally prepared to be warming up a potato pie from Sunday and instead came home not only to baked halibut and sweet potato risotto but a tremendous nut-brown roscón de Reyes. Naturally, I found the coin, though my one official act as King was to take down the tree--ceremonially, that is, which is to say I removed the finial and extinguished the lights. Later I returned and put away the most important ornaments but lost steam before it came to wrapping all the glass baubles in tissue.

I also got to play Rex Magus at work, since the nameplates I'd ordered before New Year's came in and I made a point of delivering them personally in order to bask in everyone's delight. (Honestly, it really is the small things.) I also had something more personal to give away, my 2013 edition of Best European Fiction. I'd been talking it up to a Bosniak coworker and finally just decided to gift him with it. First, though, I had to make a push to finish the last dozen stories or so. I tackled most of them over break, but still had two unread as of Tuesday night, so I read one on the ride in (Eloy Tizón's "El mercurio de los termómetros") and the last (Ray French's "Migration") at work only moments before handing it over.

He and I both agreed what we'd really like to see is a bilingual edition, because neither of us can read all the languages represented but we could each make a serious dent. That's too specialised a market for a paperback, however, but would be easy enough to do electronically if not for the fragmented way in which foreign language rights are parcelled out. In any case, with that off my plate, I'm poised to make a final assault on the last quarter of Gösta Berling and select my next victim.
Dec. 28th, 2015 10:47 pm

Home again

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I wasn't so sure I'd make it home last night. Sometime during the night on Christmas Eve, it began raining in St Louis and it basically hasn't stopped since. In the past week, they've gotten 16 cm of precipitation--all of it as rain, too, because it's been much too warm to snow, just like here. Christmas night we had thunder and lightning, so by Sunday I was really worried about the state of rails. My father's story about being the last train let through before water submerged the railbed during the floods in the Great Plains some years back was at the forefront of my mind.

We had one slightly dicey moment, outside Carlinville near the junction of Shipman and Macoupin Station Rd. Water stretched away to both sides and lapped at the edges of the foundation. As we crept past, my seatmate pointed out a half-submerged electrical box. On the other side of the train I saw a street sign just above the surface of the water. The gregarious bear conductor who had to get out and flag the crossing (presumably because the electrical signals weren't working) told me it was seven foot high. But after that, it was smooth sailing; officially, we were only 16 minutes late. So in the end the greatest threat to my journey were the rivers of traffic for the Trans Siberian Orchestra concert at the Scottdale Center that I had to ford to reach the train station.

Union Station was nearly deserted, but in short order I caught a cross-loop bus. It wasn't one I was familiar with, so I asked about the route, and from this I think the guy boarding behind me assumed I wasn't at all familiar with the CTA. I kept expressing a preference for the express bus and yet he insisted I'd be better off taking the Red Line. Finally, he came out with, "You must not live here!" and I replied, "Only 25 years." He didn't speak a word after that, and I caught a northbound 147 within seven minutes of disembarking. As I sped homeward with whitecaps crashing on the shore to my right and the sumptuous lights of the Gold Coast on my left, I thought I hope he enjoys his trip through the sewers.

[livejournal.com profile] monshu had fallen asleep in the comfy chair waiting for me but perked to life when I walked in. So instead of waiting until this evening to fill him in on my adventures, I disgorged them in a marathon session that kept us up past midnight. Our tiny tree is now swamped with presents from the post-Christmas sales he hit and will stay that way until the big reveal in a couple days time. Meanwhile I've got to hold off the cold long enough to make it into work tomorrow, since some things just can't wait until the New Year.

Meanwhile, winter has at long last arrived in Chicago. We were predicted to get freezing rain turning to ordinary rain, but it did get up above freezing before sunset, so instead we were pelted with jagged bits of ice for the entire day. I went out to scatter salt in the morning, but it had basically no effect and the Old Man was back out in the afternoon to shovel. At least he got some help with this from the high school teacher in the other building. But the storm has passed through and the next few days should be mild and uneventful--and not just weatherwise.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
If the Winter Solstice were my holiday rather than Christmas, then I know just how I'd celebrate it: keep every light in the house burning to banish the darkness, invite a bunch of people over, and stay up until dawn telling stories. But destroying my sleep schedule is the last thing I need to be doing while dealing with the stress of travel and family. As it is, I didn't even get six good hours sleep last night. Will I be able to catch any z's on the train today? Who knows!
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
christmastree2015 Yesterday we put up the tree. I was worried about a mob scene at Gethsemane so I made it my mission to be there midmorning, but it was totally dealable. I had chided the Old Man before I left when he asked me what size tree we should get. "They're always the same size!" I laughed. But maybe that's because I've always been looking in the same place. The man at the entrance to the lot told me there were more shorties over in Perennials and on my way inside to pay for the one I selected I saw a couple of nice specimens in the 4'-6' range than I was tempted to get instead. But the strands of coloured lights wouldn't've fit the 3' fir I brought home if we hadn't eventually located the fourth one. Plus I think I got a deal on this one since there was no tag. I'm not sure how they do their pricing, but I saw others as tall and as full going for $5-10 more.

Saturday was a day to get things done--laundry, last-minute gift buying, cookie baking, etc.--so the afternoon got a little hectic and I got back to the front room to find the tree already seven-eighths decorated. Fine by me. As long as I can fiddle around a bit with things in order to fill some holes, I'm happy.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The Old Man wasn't in the mood for coca this year, but it just wouldn't be New Year's without me ruining my back wrestling with some sort of dough, so I decided to make oatcakes to compliment the Scottish smoked salmon he picked up for us. Much as I liked the look of this recipe in the Graun, I didn't even know what "pinhead oats" were, let alone whether we had any on hand. (Apparently they're the same as the steel-cut oats we make our porridge from.) Moreover, I did not feel like translating from the metric.

oatcakes
So I just used the recipe on the side of the box, decreasing the sugar slightly (and substituting brown) and doubling the baking powder (like [livejournal.com profile] monshu's grandmother always did). I'm quite happy with the results, though I think they needed a skotch more time in the oven. If I made them again, however, it would be worth buying a proper steel cake cutter. I tried using an old honey jar of appropriate dimensions, but even after switching to the plastic lid it was hard to cut through to the board.

The Old Man whipped up some horseradish cream to affix the fish with. Then he prepared a simple dish of fresh tagliatelle with oil, garlic, and anchovy and some chard with almonds and raisins. There's still plenty leftover for me to make a side of greens to accompany the hoppin' john I plan to fix for lunch. He also introduced me to the Laphraoig "Triple Wood" now that the bottle is nearly empty. (Mallachdan!)

Afterwards, he toddled off to bed exhausted. (Foreseeing that outcome, I insisted he open his Hogmanay gifts before the meal.) I went down to soak my back in hot tub for long enough that I could face the half-mile walk over to my friend the Ewok's place for his little shindig. I was underdressed for the cold, but it was only on the way back that I noticed it.

If there was any doubts about the extreme nerdiness of the gathering, they were quashed after the ball-drop when one of the young otters switched on Dragonball Z and half the crowd were transfixed by it. But I can't complain too much, since without him I would never have known about let alone seen Nick Offerman's full erect frontal in Deadwood. (It also didn't hurt that he was cute as a fucking button with his bowtie and Ruttles-snug slacks.)

When I got back, [livejournal.com profile] monshu was up for me to fill in on every silly detail. Can't say I'm thrilled with the note this year is starting on, but the fact is he's still here, I'm still here, and that's what matters.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Eight days of No-stress Christmas? Why not? After all, the feasting and celebrating hasn't come to an end yet. Though it was far from clear I'd get any feasting in today. As usual after a late arrival, I was too wound up to sleep even after our guests left. I forced myself to sleep in an extra hour, but then I decided to make some oatmeal and generally return to routine. But by 11 a.m. I could hardly keep my eyes open and, shortly before noon, crept into bed despite the imminent arrival of [livejournal.com profile] innerdoggie and [livejournal.com profile] tyrannio.

As a surprise treat, when they did arrive, they had [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo and [livejournal.com profile] mollpeartree in tow. They'd all attempted a visit to the odd Eritrean place on Devon. They hadn't mentioned this to us in advance, so we were unable to warn them that it had (recently?) closed. Fortunately, a newish place, Awash, is just around the corner, so the day was saved. I was in and out of the room making tea, so I didn't hear how good it was overall. It was a really pleasant visit, but it just about did [livejournal.com profile] monshu in and he retired immediately afterwards.

Our somewhat on-again off-again bear couple friends in Rogers Park had invited me to an open house/game day at their new place on Morse and--though I warned them it would all depend on what the Old Man needed--I really intended to go. [livejournal.com profile] monshu still doesn't have much appetite and is content with half a hotdog for dinner, so the only cooking I did was for myself, in order that the filet mignon he bought for Christmas Day doesn't go to waste.

But even though he didn't need me, I struggled to get myself going. I found myself planted in front of the computer for hours listening to Swedish indie pop. Every twenty minutes or so, I would apprehensively note how late it was getting, resolve to clean up and head out, and then do nothing for another twenty minutes. Finally, with barely two hours on the invitation left to go, I hurled myself into the shower, tied a ribbon around a newly-gifted container of tea neither of us wants, and threw on some clothes. By a stroke of luck, I caught the northbound bus and was there in under 10 minutes.

Their place is so unassuming (and poorly-signed) I walked past it twice. Inside, it is phenomenal. Most everyone was in wood-panelled finished attic--the "Bear Eyrie"--at one of two tables. I found JB explaining the rules of Seven Wonders to a crowd of strangers and plopped myself down behind him on the couch. One wonder (the Lighthouse of Alexandria) was unclaimed and, despite having to pick up the rules in the course of play, I through myself into the game and ended up respectably in the middle rank.

At one point, someone called attention to the four large eyelets screwed into the two rafters above the seating pit. JB related a conversation he'd had with his spouse before the party:
ND: We should hang something from there.
JB: You mean like a sling?
ND: I was thinking something Christmassy.
JB: You mean like a Christmas sling?
So not for this gathering, but one hopes maybe for the future.

Afterwards, I was introduced to a simple fast card game called "Pairs" which I think I need to buy for my nephews. This brought us to the official end of the night and, though I urged them to tell us all to go home, our hosts dismissed the notion. JB even broke out a game called Slash which is essentially Cards Against Humanity fornicates with fanfic. His enthusiasm noticeably dimmed before the end, and an hour later he was kicking us all out of his house.

I ended up walking back to the Morse El station with the only other guest I could tell for certain was homo. He's also in [livejournal.com profile] vianegativa's upcoming game, so we chatted about our characters along the way. It gave me some hints on how to distribute points, but I spent most of the stroll back elaborating her political philosophy. I doubt it will come up in play (and it shouldn't, since it behooves her to be secretive about it) but I wanted to give her anarchism some intelligent underpinning so it's not just a cheap punchline.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
As flight delays go, it was really nothing to complain about. Instead of being the death of slow cuts I'm used to, it was nicely straightforward: shortly before 2 p.m., I got a message that my 5:35 flight would be departing at 7:50 that evening. At 5 p.m., they were still saying it would depart at 7:50. So even though I was only guaranteed a seat if I was physically in the terminal at the time of scheduled departure, I hung around Sis' house until about 6 p.m. and had no more time to kill at the airport than normal.

I almost wished for a little more after bantering with the cheery white-haired man in the Steelers cap at the Schlafly's/Past House bar. If only I'd been feeling up to taking a drink off the sweet camp bartender. The worst part of the whole experience was the completely unnecessary panic I put myself through by misreading the Departures board right before entring security. But I was through so quickly it only lasted about fifteen minutes before I reached the gate and discover my mistake. Once again, I even had reason to compliment the agent who gave me my pat-down (taking me immediately, rather than making me stand around awkwardly like Midway seems to make a habit of).

I was able to pack leisurely, see a bit more of the boys before going, and even fit in a couple more games of Ultimate One-Night Werewolf and visit with a couple of BIL's old friends. The evening before, after getting waxed playing Carcassonne, I reminded him of the courtesy he and his wife normally pay of allowing me to win the last game we play together. "Well, this might not be the last," he said. And, sure enough, I won both games today (and would've lost the next one, since I was a werewolf both times and would've been killed outright the next time just on general principle).

All in all, better than expected given the crap-ass start to the day. At first, I thought we'd lucked out of more construction noises, but they simply started an hour later. I was so tired, though, I was able to go back to sleep mid-morning in spite of them, which should've been my first clue something was not quite right. By the time Dad arrived to take me to lunch, I knew skipping my zinc yesterday had been a mistake and my cold was not amused at being held at bay so long. Perversely, he decided to take me to a sports bar known for its meat-loaded deli sandwiches; I had potato pancakes and a salad, did my best not to lose my voiced shouting over the din, and counted the moments until we were back in the car.

I probably would've felt just as miserable at the zoo with the young'uns, but at least it would've gotten me out into the sunlight and unnaturally warm air. (The high today was over 10°C.) Dad was as low-energy as me, but he's in at least his third month of it. At least he did have a chance to show me the waterscape he's working on, but it was a little depressing to see how modest its size was given how long he's been working on it. It's sad to see an man as active as him losing his vigour. (He thinks he'll bounce back to where he was as soon as the infection's gone and his course of antibiotics is finished; I'm not so sure.)

The crowning luxury of the day was being met at the airport by [livejournal.com profile] bunj and e. and ferried back home. [livejournal.com profile] monshu was coincidentally waking up right as we arrived, but twenty minutes or less of chat drained him and sent him back downstairs to sleep some more. Something about his medication is not quite right if it's wiping him out like this. His appetite is gone again and I think a call to his primary is in order--except he's still in Pakistan and it will have to be the covering doctor. Still, much easier to do that from here rather than 300 miles away.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
BIL and OGI are in the living room trying to kill each other with foam Minecraft swords and the dog is trying to figure out who to defend from whom while Sis looks on. Big Brother is engrossed in his new RPG supplement, Little Brother and e. are safely on their way back to Chicago with a large box of heavy gifts for me, the younger generation are slaves to their screens in the playroom, and the older generation are struggling not to fall asleep. The table is groaning under the weight of cheeses, crackers, and cookies, all of which will have to be cleared to make room for the roast and its sides.

[Time to make the dinner!]

Now I know that the secret to a very successful sauerbraten sauce is a successful Einbrenne made with sugar. It's the only tricky part of the process and I very nearly screwed it up by forgetting the proportions (2 butter, 3 flour, 2 sugar) in the middle of the carmelising process. Fortunately, Sis was there to check them for me and even measure out the flour. Cooking is so much easier with two extra hands at my disposal.

Not to mention the right tools. Last year, no sooner was I back with [livejournal.com profile] monshu but we made a list of missing utensils--and then I managed to lose it until less than a week before Christmas, thus the mad dash to a restaurant-supply store on North Broadway to purchase them. So my gift to my sister ended up being a gift to me really. (I was literally standing there waiting for her to unwrap it so I could take the slotted spoon and strain the marinade.)

Still, she was happy to get it. My gifts went over well in general, which is a coup given how late I started on them. As usual, the last-minute inspirations were often more successful than the ones I've been mulling for months. My oldest nephew pitched in on Stepmom's Tillandsia ball and made it truly awesome. The nursery had one planted in a whelk, so I spontaneously decided on a beach theme and he obliged by raiding his extensive collection of tiny shells.

[livejournal.com profile] bunj and e. were willing to cart a box up for me, so everyone felt free to give me heavy gifts--including two wedding presents. I know one of them will knock [livejournal.com profile] monshu's socks off and the other will make him chuckle. I can't wait to see him again, but I've got almost another entire day to get through first. I really wanted to prepare for it by sleeping in, but once again the builders next door have other plans.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
BIL took the boys home before us so Sis and I could do a little more to help Stepmom cleanup from Christmas Eve dinner. We opened the door to find a handlettered note on a stool reading "Cookies this way!→". This turned out to be the first in a series culminating in a pair of notes next to a plate of cookies and a container of carrots helpfully advising Santa "The cookies˅and milk are for you and the carrots are for the rendeer (note: give one glass of milk for the rendeer)". The sheer amount of overthinking which went into the project is so recognisable to me from my own precocious childhood that an hour later I can't stop smiling.

The paella was a success; I managed to get through the whole preparation without my back giving out once. It helped that we had our whole village on the task: my sister stirred, my brother minced, SIL watched a pot of broth. We forgot only one ingredient, and it was once of the least essential (parsley). We learned a lesson about not getting the seafood from the Chinese market on Olive; the mussels and crab legs from Dierberg's were ultimately a better buy.

Perhaps because he'd run himself ragged trying to find that one gift for my youngest nephew, striking out at three different stores, Dad managed not to get into it with anyone. We ate too much, we laughed a lot, and my Stepmom gave me my first official wedding gift. All-in-all, I'm pronouncing Phase 1 of Project No-Stress Christmas a resounding success.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Could it be? Have the hammers and nailguns next door ceased? The next-door neighbours are building their dreamhouse. When I arrived, they had the first floor framed. Sis wasn't sure if they were taking the week off or not. They weren't here yesterday, but then it rained all day. That open question got a definitive answer at 6:53 this morning when we heard the pounding of a maul followed by the sound of rafters being hammered into place. There were...ahem...compensations (photos to follow), but on the whole I'd rather have had the zzz's.

Figures that this would happen after the first night of bad sleep. My cold has moved into the laryngitis-and-lingering-cough stage, just in time for the family Christmas party this eve. It kept me up (but, thankfully, no one else) past midnight and I was really hoping to sleep in or--barring that--get a nap. This is my chance. It's also the only chance I've had to log on in fourteen hours, thus this entry.

At least cooking went better today. With sleep not an option, I decided to knock out the red cabbage. It's simmering on the stove and my back is, amazingly, not screaming. Knowing how much slicing and dicing is involved, I forced myself to do as much sitting at the table as I could. It feels a bit awkward, but you can't argue with the results. And this is on top of helping out ECI make the waffles for the breakfast feast.

I'm annoyed I can't talk to [livejournal.com profile] monshu right now, but at least I can text him. He was meeting an old colleague today and I'm curious for a report, but looks like I'll need to wait a while. In the meantime, let's go for the power nap.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
It wouldn't be a proper visit with my family if it didn't involve at least one madcap trip to a store involving (a) erroneous directions; (b) awful weather; (c) a pressing deadline; or (d) all three. In this case, the driver was my mother (who didn't bother to write down the address and--despite having lived here almost here entire life--didn't realise Broadway is one-way through downtown), the weather was rain, and the deadline was a five o'clock closing time for the chef supply store hidden among the warehouses of the Near North Riverfront. Almost by chance, we stumbled upon the converted tractor warehouse now stuffed with wholesale restaurant equipment. Cooking Christmas dinner should be a noticeably less stressful assignment than in previous years.

Unfortunately, I had none of the new equipment while manning the stove tonight. Still, it would've turned out okay had I not been sabotaged by stick margarine (which exists why exactly?) disguised as unsalted butter. So it was one ugly frittata, but it tasted okay, and whatever emptiness left in anyone's bellies after sharing it out with my older brother (who's perfected the knack of being around Sis' place right around dinnertime) was plugged by baklava and Christmas cookies from the large and still growing store tucked behind the stove.

Afterwards we cleared the table for games, but what with trying to get the kids clean as well as put to bed, it was a while before we got started. Still, we had time for two rounds of Survive. I won the first handily, which--as usual--resulted in a target painted on my backside, so I got totally waxed in Round 2. We also had a game of Troyes on Saturday, one of those accounting-heavy German boardgames which appealed to me mostly on account of the ornate board and mediaeval theme.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The Lion in Winter is every bit as awesome as I remember it. And every bit as long--even with out an hour break to put party-hyped children to bed. It's amusing to realise just how far back my crush on Anthony Hopkins goes. (Especially when Hepburn is the only member of the cast I recalled correctly.)

Mom abandoned work on her place early in order to help us pick up the one last ingredient we needed for the sauerbraten (now souring in the fridge) and we ended buying my presents for Dad and Stepmom on the way. I planned out exactly what I needed and where to find it, and it just so happens that our route took us right past there. We actually tried to get the wrapping done while the boys were out celebrating their grandfather's birthday but the tape died and we didn't know where to look for the spare roll. Movie time!

To think that a month ago I hadn't bought a single present and, in most cases, didn't have a clue what I was getting. I should sleep soundly tonight. If only I weren't getting hoarse. (This damn cold hasn't gone, it's only gone underground.)
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today pretty much set the bar for flights home. Turtle and Turtlewife actually gave me a ride to the airport, which is a luxury so rare that I didn't even recognise Midway from the road. Security was quick and painless. Even with an opt-out, it took all of fifteen minutes--and that's including the time it took to find a supervisor to commend my patter-downer on his professionalism and efficiency. I found an end seat in the lounge and leisurely ate my packed lunch.

Despite boarding in the middle of the order, I got a sixth-row window seat. We lost ten minutes to de-icing but as compensation there wasn't a single screaming childhood or drunken douchebag. (The man across the aisle who I suspected of being one went right to sleep and didn't wake up until after landing; the nice quiet couple in my row pretty much did the same.) My only complaint about the service is that the supercute bear which I ogled all through the safety demo only started serving four rows behind me.

When I stepped into the terminal, we were so close to the exit it was actually inconvenient: the restrooms were so out-of-the-way I decided just to wait. As I was scanning the crowd for my sister's face, a small person slammed into me and clung on, then another. All four of my nephews had come to meet me and almost literally dragged me to the door as they fought over who got to sit next to me. (I sat in the way-back with one wrapped around each arm and the middle child in the middle seat squeezing my legs.)

I don't remember them being quite this affectionate before. But it continued back at the house, almost to the point of annoyance but not quite. We snuggled on the couch together before dinner watching an amusing animated feature. Afterwards, we visited the glorious foreign market in the Loop, where I counseled my brother on turkish delight choices and found marmalade from the West Muskerry Gaeltacht! After that, it was the Italian bakery for the best cannoli I've had west of Boston and then home for Lego board games with the eldest.

Now Mom and I are planning our shopping itinerary for tomorrow. Oh, and the nasty cold I had? Defeated by zinc. Seriously, I awoke yesterday feeling no more than a little tired and today there's just a hint of a sniffle. Sometimes it's a good thing we don't get what we deserve.
Dec. 17th, 2014 11:00 pm

One week

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
This is definitely on track to be one of the least Christmassy Christmases ever, at least chez Pod Klonami. If I was going to get a tree, Sunday was the day to do it, but it just didn't seem worth the energy. That would've prompted me to hang lights as well, but instead they've stayed in their boxes, as have the ornaments we hang in the windows. In fact, aside from the stockings hanging from the mantlepiece (there since St Nick's), the Advent wreath in the dining room, and a Christmas candle on the coffee table, there's nothing to indicate what season it is. Monday was the holiday party at work, which I missed completely, though I did make it to a holiday party on Saturday. And earlier this evening I played some carols on YouTube and wrapped a couple gifts (not at the same time, though). I'm thinking it may come as something of a shock to show up at my sisters and find a full decorated tree.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The tree is down but not out. I couldn't face tackling it in the morning, as I'd originally planned, and kept putting it off until almost dinnertime. The ornaments are put away and the room is back to rights, but if I take the little fir outside, it'll freeze solid and there'll be no hacking it up without a real fight. I've got it waiting in a corner of the dining room for now, and plenty of time tomorrow to tackle the job.

By then I think I'll be itching to leave the house for something. I stayed in today because I didn't really feel a need to claim bragging rights for being out in arctic weather. Besides, I thought for sure I'd be going out in subarctic weather tomorrow. Everyone at work remembers the last time we had a snow day; there was over two feet of it. No one can remember having two in a row. I actually had to replay the recorded message to make sure I'd heard it correctly. One unexpected day off is a gift from the heavens, and I savoured it like a gift. Another day on top of that? I almost don't know what to do with myself. It seems unseemly to simply blow it off like I did today, so it's time to think of some projects.

Not that I've gotten nothing done. Reading, for instance. I finished Winter's bone (not too bad once you get over the more Iowa Writer's Workshoppy bits) on Saturday, allowing me to focus more on English. I should finish it handily tomorrow. Meanwhile the Chen is languishing, but I wake up every day feeling too dumb for French. Maybe tomorrow will be different?

Supper was hash with some of the last of the standing rib roast. It felt wrong to be using such a good cut of meat, but better it get used than thrown out. We had no roscón, no kings' cake, but we finished off the last two pieces of the black cake, which was fit for a king. I've got to do something about my appetite. Every meal is an excuse to gorge and if I keep this up I'm wrecked. But the fridge is still packed and there are sweets lying around in most every room; unlike my sister, I can't bring myself to simply throw them out.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The main reason I didn't get more sleep in St Louis, of course, was that I was trying to fit in as many games as possible. Dad and his wife won't be here for another hour? Time enough for a game! Half an hour before the roast goes into the oven? We can fit in a game! Kids all in bed? Time to play a complicated game!

Here's the roster for the week (new games in bold):
  • Settlers of Cataan: 1 for 3[*]
  • Ticket To Ride: 0 for 1
  • Tenzies: Impossible to say.
  • Tokaido: 1 for 2
  • Small World: 0 for 1
  • Roll Through the Ages: 1 for 1
  • Love Letters: 0 for 1
[*] Second game was aborted due to a combination of Crazy Older Brother bumping the table and general disinterest, but I had good shot at taking it.

The reason I put "impossible to say" for Tenzies is that it's so quick we played at least twenty or thirty games without really keeping track. I think I was winning anywhere from a third to a half of the time. The conception could hardly be simpler: Everyone rolls ten dice. Each picks what number they're going for, sets aside the dice which show that number, and keeps rerolling the rest until they match. In short order, we started trying out variations (e.g. "Splitzies", five of each) and inventing our own. For instance, "Tower Tenzies" was too difficult given the unstable card table, so we came up with some pyramid variants: four of one number topped by three of another, then two of another, and crowned by one of yet another number. Fun fun fun!

One game I wished we could've played more of was my Christmas present for my sister, Tokaido. In form, it resembles a race game, but the goal is actually to take as long as possible since you win by netting the most points and you get those from stopping at various points of interest along the way. Each character has a different special ability. For instance, I first played (and won with) Hiroshige the Artist who gets a bonus Panorama card every time he stops at an inn. (Each card has a point value plus a bonus for being the first to complete a panorama.) Sis generally tried to spend her way to victory by purchasing souvenirs. (Again, there's a point value for each card and a bonus for completing a set.) It paid off for her in second game. I'm sure there are many more possible strategies but we switched to something else at the request of COB just as we were beginning to discover them. For instance, my second character was a priest who had the ability to make donations to temples without expending his own money. BIL tried to squelch this by occupying temple spots before my turn came up, forcing me to halt elsewhere, but I still got the bonus for most generous donor in the end.

If I have one complaint about the game, it's that it's a little more generic than I'd expected. I understand the need to space out the various stops (temples, scenic spots, villages, hot springs, etc.) equitably in order to support a range of strategies, but still I couldn't figure out why only the endpoints of the route were named. How hard would it have been to choose nine of the most famous temples between Kyoto and Edo and label them? I can't help but feel that if the designers had been Japanese rather than French, there would've been more attention to that kind of evocative detail. But at least they weren't German so it doesn't feel like a mechanic fitted to a theme by whim rather than by design.

Love Letters was another quickie. I feel it's very similar to an existing card game whose name escapes me. In any case, the goal is to end up with the highest ranking card and there are various ways to force another player to discard theirs or otherwise fold. We nearly had time for a second game but one of an uncountable number of distractions intervened. I was happy to end on Small World. BIL was happy to play it, since he hadn't had a chance yet that year. We've played it my last night for three years running and I think this was the first time I didn't win. I did come second, which is much better than I expected given my sister's outstanding performance. (Damn those Spirit Pixies!)
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today was my recovery day. Even though the flight back from STL takes less than an hour, between getting to the airport two hours before departure in order to meet up with my parents, accompanying them to baggage claim afterwards, and a truly horrendous commute back through downtown (some CTA drivers should simply not be allowed to work downtown without additional training), my total travel time was only two hours less than the train trip down. Fortunately there was no agenda today except for eating the meal that [livejournal.com profile] monshu would've had prepared for me had Mr Smith not treated us to dinner last night (a post in itself). In honour of being almost back to rights, a list (in no particular order) of things I missed while at my sisters:
  1. Porn. 'Nuff said.
  2. My cookware. My sister has a beautiful kitchen--granite countertops (and lots of 'em), two ovens, storage space for days--but some of her utensils are simply crap. And it's always things I wouldn't expect so I get ambushed every year by, for instance, her lack of a decent meat fork. (It's so ridiculously stunted I can't ever find it in the utensil drawer.) How she bakes hundreds of cookies every year with that embarrassment of a pastry cutter I'll never know. And thanks to her flimsy little meat thermometer, the roast was ruined. (Luckily we had my parents' old one as a backup.) One good thing about my airport rendezvous is that it led me to draw up a list; she can expect a fat package in the mail for her birthday.
  3. Sleep. I think there was one night I got to bed before midnight. Sis was really really good about letting me sleep in (and the boys have gotten a lot better about letting me--one of the advantages of their Minecraft addiction), but I had trouble pulling it off due to the general air of excitement in the place.
  4. Restraint. [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I don't keep a lot of snack food and sweets around the place. That's deliberate. However, it also means we're not accustomed to having to ignore it. I cannot walk from one end of my sister's to the other without passing a dozen things I want to eat but shouldn't. Moreover, chronic tiredness makes me seek consolation in food and attention, though mostly food. I really don't want to think how many calories I ingested while I was there.
  5. Mobility. I've complained before about how walking to shops isn't really an option in their neighbourhood. Between being shuttled around by car and having more than enough to distract me indoors, I walked more just leaving the airport than I think I did in the whole five days. I meant to get out and see the lights on Christmas, but between one thing and another it never happened.
  6. Music. Even though I don't use my iPod any more, a couple hours of my day is spent listening to music on YouTube. In the past my sister has had something--a CD console, an MP3 player--in the living room or the kitchen to spin Christmas tunes on. Not this time. I took the liberty of playing some tunes on the computer in the family room, but it drew OGI like a fly to rotting meat and within fifteen minutes he was bored with animated carols and just wanted to logon and throw himself down mineshafts. In the car, the radio was always tuned to some bottom-of-the-barrel pop, so I heard more KeSha than Kris Kringle. Sad.
Some things you would think I would miss but I don't really include screen time (filling time isn't really a problem there), fine food (the family are actually raising their game), and my man. He's only ever come down with me once, so psychologically I just don't expect him around. Plus I'm constantly surrounded by people who love me, so it's only when climbing into an empty bed (when I'm too numbed by exhaustion to be much aware of my surroundings anyhow) that I really have a chance to feel lonely.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Apparently I am helping to plan a straight guy's bachelor party. The brother of my cousin's husband, assuming the latter doesn't have a different recollection of events once sober. He and his wife live in Toronto and I was reminiscing with them about my last visit with and he exclaimed, "You know the city better than I do!" "We know different parts, I suspect," I told him. "I know the places my friends know." Then he mentioned that he was planning on flying into Chicago in May with his brother and ten buddies of theirs. "Friday we're going to a Cubs game, Saturday night is dinner at a steakhouse. Where else should we go?" I told him I'd ask around and get to back to him. Where would I want to visit if I were a hetero 20something from Canuckistan?

By this time, it was late in the evening and we were down to the last dozen relatives strung out along the bar. Sis&Co were long gone, but of course I wasn't leaving until Mom was ready and that wasn't until nearly 11, but I still had a buzz on from two Old Fashioneds hours earlier. There's something of a feeling of routine to her family Christmas party these years, but it's a good routine--to the point that being one of the hosts is hardly more work than being one of the guests. As I told her, I had the fun bit: Greeting, taking coats, and checking on everyone.

I gave one of the married-in's hell for not getting in touch during her recent visit to Chicago. (She's unflappable, however: "Actually I called e. and said, 'Don't tell [livejournal.com profile] bunj or [livejournal.com profile] muckefuck but let's get together.") I talked a lot with Gay Uncle and am still doing my best to woo him to Chicago one of these days. I praised the Santa-for-hire to Uncle Gun Nut[*]; having exhausted the store of relatives, he'd bribed a retired Boeing salesman with a box of cigars and the guy did a great job. (Shame I didn't get to thank him personally--he was actually an old German named Manny--but he was out of there as soon as he had the suit off.)

It felt a bit smaller than past years, but the relatives who were missing were mostly ones I don't set much stock by anyway. I had a couple of bittersweet moments, once when one of my cousins talked about our much-missed youngest uncle and once when I walked into an empty room and realised "Ave Maria" was playing, the version my grandma used to sing at family weddings. But there was no drama, no last-minute craziness. Mom and Sis kept the prep simple to the point where even arriving twenty minutes before the guests wasn't an issue.

Today is Wrapalooza at Mom's, which means I'll finally get a chance to size up the place. Then we're heading over early to Dad's to hang out and feast on goose. It's a short trip this year: I only got in 3 p.m. on Sunday (Amtrak was bang on time for a change) and I fly back on Friday. Until then, I'm booked solid: Boxing Day will be dedicated to sorting and archiving my departed aunt's genealogical materials. I thought I might at least make it to a store, but so far I've hardly stepped out of my sister's house. Which is fine: All I really need for Christmas is within these walls, or will be by this time tomorrow.



[*] Seriously, his favourite gift was the Ted Nugent Kill it and grill it cookbook.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I understand that I come from a rather unusual background with regard to my interest in and knowledge of plant species. Dad grew up on a farm, gardened, and liked to take us on hikes. (Still does, in fact.) But still, although he's a naturalist, he isn't close to being a botanist and I'm even further away. Even so, I find myself amazed by how little most people seem to know about plants I consider pretty run of the mill.

The Christmas parodies have been out for a while, and "Fuck you, mistletoe" is one that's been posted and reposted by several Friends (for what should be quite obvious reasons). But, as the close-up starting about a minute in shows, the offending sprig clearly has berries which are bright red. I'm not aware of any species of mistletoe with fruits like that; they are generally pale pink at best. I'm not even sure what real plant (if any), that artificial one is designed to resemble.

Close on the heels of that came the inevitable Miley Cyrus parody featuring a topless Santa. The chorus prominently features the line, "What is holly?" Really? Who doesn't know what holly is? There aren't that many plants associated with Christmas--it's basically mistletoe, Christmas cactus, poinsettias, and a handful of evergreens. And only one of those has prickly leaves and red berries. Not to mention that while mistletoe was something we bought in little plastic packages, there was always a holly tree growing outside somewhere near our house. When I was a kid, I'd go out and swipe my own sprig for a buttonhole. To me, asking "What is holly?" is like asking, "What is a sleigh?"
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
The tree is up! It's not even half decorated, but I guess there's really no rush. Tree trimming is actually kind of tedious on your own (even with appropriate musical accompaniment) so I'm just as happy to break it into quarter- or half-hour chunks over the next couple days. The prep work all went much fleeter and more smoothly than feared. In short order, [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I had assembled the sturdy new metal stand it took him six(!) stores to find and I'd hacked off a half dozen branches and several inches of trunk. It looks a little wonky, but its stability is unquestionable.

We went up a size this year. All the tabletop trees at Gethsemane were barely two foot and squat as shitting toads, so a helpful elf led me to the three shortest full-sizers on the lot. (Their pricing is so broken that I paid only $5 more for four times as much tree.) I grabbed the fullest of them and carried it home in my arms, then left it on the deck for two days while I summoned up the will. It's our first balsam fir and of course the smell is incredible.

This evening is our staff Holiday Party but I'm giving it a miss. One of my most treatured colleagues was vacillating about going and pointed out to me that since they're closing down the whole building this time, EVERYBODY will be arriving at once to a space which doesn't have the best flow under the most ideal conditions. I'm also feeling less than affectionate toward the institution again for a mix of reasons.

I mean, I'm thrilled for [livejournal.com profile] utopian_camorra for finding a job (a) in his area (b) in town; we all know how rare is these days. But it was, in the words of the aforementioned colleague, "wonderful and crushing news". Not only is he one of the most well-informed and politically-savvy people here, he's also one of the kindest and most supportive. I think back to how he intervened in my difficulties with his old department back in September. Then I ponder how none of the other principles involved has reached out to me since then (throwing considerable doubt on the sincerity of their motives in asking me to take a quarter off while they "get their shit together") and I feel very unhappy.

Yesterday another coworker called me "one of the most socially well-adjusted people in this institution". And the shame of it is I think she may be right. The context was that the bad habits of her colleagues are not making her attempts to overcome her own social dysfunctions any easier. I'm running into the same problem, getting a lot more reinforcement of my bad qualities than modelling of and encouragement to develop better ones. Why go someplace where I'll be reminded of that when I could be hitting the town with [livejournal.com profile] monshu, Nuphy, and Mr Cleveland instead?
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