Sunday, January 30, 2005

A Warm Welcome to...


Max Welcomes Tigger Posted by Hello

Big doings today at Cavy Companions. Max spiffed up, practiced his best rumble strut, and went on speed piggie dating with the three girls I introduced you to the other day. Tigger was first and she and Max went nose to nose right away, as if to say, "Who's in there?" He met Thelma next, and it did not go badly but Thelma just did not take to Max the way Tigger did. Holly and Max just did not get on well. Guinea pigs will sort these things out eventually, but for Max the choice was clearly Tigger.

Tigger is a real sweetheart who purrs when her back is scritched at a magic spot. Max and Tiggs seem very comfortable with each other. Tiggs is also pretty happy with us already, letting us pet her and enjoying a carrot and some web surfing during lap time.

I miss Ashleigh a lot today. We monkeys have a slower healing time. Tigger is good for Max, though, I can see it already. Welcome home, Tigger! We are all very happy to have you in the family.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Yin and the Yang of it

As so many, many stories of my life begin, there I was minding my own business, when...

...when I stumbled across an old folder of photos on my old hard drive. There it was, the picture I was so sad I never took. Two of them, actually. The famous Max & Ashleigh yin-yang pose.

yinyang1 Posted by Hello

They relaxed and napped snuggled together this way so often, with Max in the Big Pig Spot facing me in bed and Ashleigh keeping an eye on the world outside.

yinyang2 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The dreaded note

On my way out the door, rushing to get to the vacant rental to show it, and I get to my car and what do you suppose is on the windshield? A note. Folded and tucked into a plastic bag (this is rainy Seattle, after all). Aww, I thought as cartoon-style sparkles and hearts danced around my head. S. left me a note! I open it and-

I watched a person driving a dark minivan pull out of the house on the east side of the street and dent your car. The windows were up and the driver didn't stop.

What's tha-? Dent? My CAR?!?! I ran around and yep, there was a new dent. Paint scraped just to be sure I can't put off the repair.

Now I am on the hunt for a dark minivan driving guiltily on my block. Admittedly, my block is a parking disaster. Narrow, fairly steep hill, often parked up and competitive, cars on both sides of the street with driveways cut in at points that make us all, at times, very *close* to our neighbors. Do I take up one of the valuable street spaces? No, I do not. I block our own driveway where S. leaves his truck. We take two spaces no one else can take to ease the pressure out there just a little bit. My thanks for this act of neighborliness - one neighbor plows into my car and dashes away, and another better neighbor at least tells me about it, but leaves no contact info. That info would be very helpful now because there is no dark minivan out there, but there is a dark station wagon with storage thing on top and two dark SUVs. Could it have been one of these? And was it actually coming out of that driveway, or just parked on that part of the street?

I may never know.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Guinea pig match-dot-com

So, you may be asking, what about Max?

Max Looks Out On The World Posted by Hello

We lost Ashleigh last Sunday, and as you know, Max & Ashleigh were a bonded pair. Guinea pigs can actually grieve themselves to death when their mate passes away. They just stop eating, drinking, and lay down and wait. So we watched Max carefully for the next few days. I think he thinks the monkeys around here have gone nuts because we constantly pick him up, pet him, talk to him. He did have some stomach upset, the rescuer and vet think it was emotional, but it led to a small imbalance in his gut that we are treating now. He is really doing very well and we are proud of the little guy. He sits and breathes these deep piggie sighs.

I talked with the rescuer and we agree that Max is lonely, he misses Ashleigh but also he has never lived by himself. We decided to try and introduce Max to a few females in his age group and see if a pairing looks promising. She mentioned some of the girl guinea pigs up for adoption are on her website. I sat down with Max on my lap and we checked out the pix.

Max seemed to study each picture so intently. He is a 21st Century Pigster, down with the technology, loving the web dating on See what you think. Will Max find friendship? Romance?

Holly Posted by Hello

Thelma Posted by Hello

Tigger Posted by Hello

We meet the girls on Sunday & we'll tell you how it goes!

One sad day

Yes, I have been away from the blog for a while. Sorry about that. We had a very sad day here last Sunday and it took a little while before I could write about it, and its presence in my life was such that I knew I could not write about anything else until I did write about it.

Early Sunday morning, we suddenly lost our guinea pig Ashleigh. I know not everyone knows first hand how sad it can be to lose a pet, but love and loss are not hard to understand.

Ashleigh became part of our happy little group when we adopted Max. We wanted a companion for Max because guinea pigs are highly social and they are happiest in bonded pairs. You can read the story of how Max & Ashleigh met here:

Ashleigh was smart, funny, inquisitive, and brave. We are all going to miss her so much.

Max & Ashleigh in their house Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Blogging For Books #7: The Ghost of Queen Anne

This is my entry in January's Blogging for Books (#7): Life is as Strange as Fiction
For this month's Blogging for Books, choose which genre of fiction best represents your life - whether it be literary, mystery, romance, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, etc. - and write a fictionalized account of some incident in your life based in that genre.
Apparently, my life has just a touch of horror, as this is a true story.
The Ghost of Queen Anne

"Where is that draft coming from?" I asked, holding my hands out to feel the air brushing over my skin.

Having eluded us since we took possession of the old Victorian home a month before, the draft seemed to have settled at long last in the dining room. Every licked fingertip and every lit match pointed to a different source. Finally, we had to admit, we just didn't know.

"That's just the way it is with old houses," Stephan said. "Crown mouldings, high ceilings, and ghosts."

Shivering slightly, I stepped away from the draft and grabbed my favorite phillips head out of the toolbox. "Package deal, I guess. I'm going to start prepping the upstairs bathroom for paint."

"O.K. Holler if you need me. I'll take a shot at roughing up the dining room walls."

Even a whole floor away, the power sander was loud, its vibration creeping up through the floor and climbing the aluminum ladder as I reached overhead to unscrew the fan cover. The subtle shaking had me feeling less than steady on my feet and I was just considering switching to taping off the border of the floor when the vibration and noise suddenly stopped.

"Lil..! Lil..!!"

Racing downstairs, I saw the blurred image of my boyfriend floating behind the thick plastic tarps we had hung to prevent sawdust from drifting out of the room. "Steph? Where are you..?" I swatted at the plastic, looking for the opening. His hand shot out of the plastic and pulled me through the makeshift doorway.

"Oh my G-" I squeaked and burst into giggles.

"Yeah, yeah, O.K.," he said in that aggreived tone that always makes me laugh harder.

"It's just so..." I gasped. I had no word to describe the sight of Stephan coated from head to toe in sawdust. From the hair sticking up randomly on his head to the tips of his workboots, my boyfriend had become the carpentry equivalent of a tar and feather incident. "It's so..."

"Manly?" he offered.

When we both stopped laughing, I helped him out of his protective gear and he headed off to shower. Over lunch we decided to let the air in the dining room settle down and spend the afternoon on easier jobs.

"Do you see it now?" I asked from my perch at the top of the ladder.

"Nope," Stephan answered from his position on the floor.

"How about now?"


I wriggled the fishtape in the wall again and again as Stephan tried to hook it with his fishtape. Running cable in the wall of an old house is always a challenge and the cable company just throws the cable jack anywhere they like. They don't care where you might want it inside the house. We had gotten away with running it around the room on top of the picture frame moulding, but now that we had reached the right spot, we had to run it inside the wall down to the correct height for a television. Stephan drilled the holes, so all we had to do was feed one fishtape into each hole, "fish" around in the wall until their hooks connected, then pull it through so that we could use it to pull the cable through. Usually, this is not a hard task, but it had been taking a long time. My feet on the ladder had started to ache and I turned to watch the dust behind the thick plastic that sealed off the dining room as it churned and boiled through the air, slowly, slowly settling down.

"Hey, Lilly, can you feel that? Am I tapping your wire?"

"No, nothing."

"Hmm. Maybe there's something in the wall blocking us. Hang on." Stephan marched across the room to rummage in the toolbox and came back with a flashlight and a small mirror. He pulled his fishtape out of the wall and began looking in the hole. "Hmmm... No, nothing there... Nope, noth- WHAT THE-!"

My head snapped to Stephan as he raced backwards across the carpet until he was stopped by the far wall. His calm, relaxed manner was shattered. His huge eyes flicked between me and the wall, me and the wall, me and the wall, and the sound of his rapid breathing filled the quiet. I was halfway across the room to him before I realized I was in motion. "What?!" I demanded. "What is it?"

Folding my hands around the flashlight and mirror, he gestured toward the wall with his chin and said, "Go look in there."

I approached the wall slowly and sat down by the hole. Crouching close to the carpet, I clicked on the flashlight and looked back at Stephan. He was wiping his brow with the sleeve of his shirt. I mentally shrugged and leaned in until my face was inches from the hole. Directing the beam of light into the hole, I tilted the mirror this way and that, trying to see beyond my limits.

Suddenly, I saw someone inside the wall looking back at me. I blinked. The other eye was still there, and it looked very human.

My heart slammed against my ribcage as I flew across the room. Breathing hard I looked up at Stephan as my mind raced in a thousand directions. Who was in my wall? Was it the same soul as the ghost in the dining room? I thought about my friend who owned the only house in Seattle I had ever been in that was older than this one, and when he opened the walls he found a book on witchcraft. And I thought that was scary! Now we will have to sell the house because there is no way in hell I am living here with some person in the wall. No way, no chance, not happening, no no no...

Stephan's voice intruded on my adrenalin rush, but I could not make sense of it."H-h-huh?" I breathed.

"What color was the eye you saw?" he asked me.

Knowing that image will be with me until the day I die, I said, "Brown."

Thoughtfully, Stephan said, "O.K. Mine was blue. It's a mirror."

As we came to learn, homes built in the 1900's commonly had pocket doors that slid neatly into the wall to separate the parlor from the dining room. When Prohibition began in the 1920's, many people took out the pocket doors and used the space in the wall as a hiding spot for alcohol. After Prohibition ended, some people put the pocket doors back in, others sealed the space up. And, apparently, some used the space to store things, like say, a large dusty mirror and some old wallpaper.

I have never opened a wall since without holding my breath. You just never know what old ghosts you are going to stir up.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunami Relief - Help You Can Offer

Often, when large scale disasters strike, I think a lot of people feel the situation is just so big that it is beyond them to help. But when everything that you have has been swept away, receiving a small thing suddenly becomes a very big deal. Never underestimate the power in reaching out.

At first I thought I would not blog about the Tsunami in Asia because there was so much out there already. Then, two things happened. First, I was asked by two different people where I thought they should send a donation. Secondly, by way of BuzzMachine, I came across Anders Jacobsen:

"Whether you give money, time or whether you decide to share your link-power; if you create a post on your weblog front page or create permanent links in your blogroll and link to the below organizations, then link to my blog and this posting, I will pay US$ 1 to the British Red Cross."

Yes I will, Anders. And thank you!

*(I favor Oxfam, by the way, due to high percentage of the money going for relief as opposed to administrative, but a list of good reputable organizations appears below and now on the right sidebar under "Tsunami Relief").

International aid organizations:
UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund)
United Nations' World Food Programme
Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors without Borders (donate!)
CARE International
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Disasters Emergency Comittee (DEC) - comprises a raft of aid agencies, including the below and others
British Red Cross
Save the Children UK

North America:
American Red Cross
Canadian Red Cross
Save The Children

Anders Jacobsen: Webloggers: Give to tsunami victims and I'll give too!

You Can Take the Girl Out of New York...

With less than two days left on our annual holiday trip to NY, I feel the same deep seated longings that I do every year:

I love seeing everybody here, but I miss Mom & my brother. I miss my friends. I miss my house and my ongoing, neverending projects. I have had the requisite stressed out dream because all my inner alarm systems are aware I have not taken care of my guinea pigs in weeks.* And, for the love of G-d, cram that suitcase full of black & white cookies, because no matter how they want to believe they are offering black & white cookies at various Seattle locations, they are not real black & white cookies (and worse, because the look-alikes make me want one sooo much).

I have to say that I love Seattle. I have to say it because truly, it is a city in need of culinary help. Great for fish, of course, from salmon to sushi. Great for Japanese, Thai, Indian. Not bad for Italian and steakhouse, and phenomenal for organic foods. It is fine for chain restaurants - got your Wendy's, your Outback Steakhouse, etc. - although WTF is going on with Burger King? Every time I leave town, when I get back something major has happened. Major to me, that is. Time before last it was the disappearance of the Queen Anne Thriftway (best produce in the whole city), and through my sobbing and avowals never to leave town again, I was told it was really the same, management had just gone independent so the new Metropolitan Market was born. Of course, to me, it will always be, "Let's stop at the former Thriftway for cameo apples." Last time I had the nerve to leave town for a few days, I returned to find every single Burger King closed. Poof! Some were gone for good. One underwent renovations, and a few weeks later they gently eased me off the glass doors to open for business.

Seattle's food scene has its strong points, but every trip to NY starts with S & I turning to each other with sly grins, "So what do you wanna eat first?"

Listen up, Seattle. There are a lot of us expatriate east coasters living in your area now, and we NEED the following:

1. Deli. Get some Boar's Head cold cuts. Get some real deli case offerings. Get some knishes and some fricking black & white cookies. Not just cake cookies you disguise with some brown and some white frosting. No! I have tried every last one of those and they are wrong wrong hearbreakingly wrong. I will handcarry a few on the plane to any deli or bakery in Seattle willing to try and duplicate an authentic b&w cookie. Furthermore, once you offer it, I will sing your praises to every single person I know. In the meantime, if you are on safari to bag authentic deli, the best delis I have found in Seattle so far are the Other Coast Cafe, Buffalo Deli, Roxy's [pastrami!], and Leah's for knishes.

2. Chinese. I know, I know. You would think, being on the Pacific Rim and all, that Seattle would have amazing Chinese food. You, kind sir or gracious madam, are sadly mistaken. Vancouver, BC has great Chinese food. San Fransisco has great Chinese food. Notice anything? They have Chinatowns! Ah hah, you think, but Seattle has the ID (International District, for you outta-towners). Yes, there are some better-than-elsewhere Chinese restaurants in the ID. No parking, but good dim sum. Problem is it is still west coast Chinese. For those who have not lived on both coasts, let me explain. See that eggroll you are holding? Imagine it has a Granddaddy. On steroids. It fills the whole plate. You order one eggroll and split it with someone or else you won't have room for dinner. It was actually made there in the restaurant's kitchen, not deep fried from a bag of frozen little eggrolls. Sure the menus look similar, but read your menu. It should be filled with Engrish, and asking the waiter what is in the "chicken with vegetables" should elicit as much gesturing and unintelligible mutterings as asking for directions to the interstate. Why? Because this is your only hope at eating the real deal. But it still might be white-bread west coast American Chinese food, because the situation is actually far more subtle and complicated. The menus may look identical. Every person down to the busboy might be Chinese. And yet, the food is as different as a McDonalds burger and a steakhouse burger. If you have not tasted it, you will have to believe me, that the east coast fried rice is not the same as the west coast fried rice. The chicken with broccoli at Sam's or Sun Ming is not not not the chicken with broccoli at any restaurant anywhere on the west coast (possible exceptions in small areas of Vancouver BC and San Fransisco, although these too are being corrupted by the Pan Asian homogenization of good Chinese food). I honestly do not know why this is.

I do have a half-baked crackpot theory. At some mysterious, but mandatory, school, every Chinese person thinking about starting a restaurant in the US is told, Here is your Official American Chinese Menu. Mu shu pork, wonton soup, fried rice... never ever deviate from these choices. The east coast "rebel" Chinese restaurants offer those choices in addition to things like shark fin soup, braised eel in garlic sauce, etc. Maybe this attracts the better Chinese chefs? Want to take it up a notch? Go try a Chinese restaurant with someone who is actually from China. See your menu? See that telephone book your dinner companion is holding? Yes, that is his menu. Page after page after ever lovin' page of yummy dishes they won't list on your menu because it deviates from the Official American Chinese Menu. Much of it does not translate, so be brave and let your friend order for you. Have your friend write down anything you love so you have any hope of ordering it again.

If you want to try the closest thing I have found so far to east coast Chinese food in Seattle, go to Mandarin Chef, 5022 University Way NE, (206) 528-7596.

3. Friendly's. I grew up with their dinners that end with mint ice cream sundaes, Friendly fribbles, and the watermelon slice ice cream you can only get in summer with the chocolate chip "watermelon seeds." Ithaca, NY, recently grown from the one cow town of my memory to a full blown two cow town, now has TWO Friendly's. (Or is that Friendly'ses?) Two! Two! Seattle? Zero. I am so ashamed Seattle. Deeply, deeply ashamed.

4. Carvel. Yes, I worked there. Yes, Tom Carvel was an obnoxious bastard. Yes, I can still make a perfect soft-serve swirled ice cream cone dipped in sprinkles. But you are never going to beat that chocolate crunch Carvel puts in every ice cream cake. I even know how to make it and I can't duplicate it. Ohhh, I have tried. But one of the ingredients is proprietary, resulting in sad approximations and wishful thinking and, frankly, I must stop. Carvel cakes and flying saucers are popping up in supermarket freezers now, surely we can at least get these?

I know I am not in this alone. Elswhere wrote about the coastal food phenomenon and I think if we start to band together, we can bring about a change in the Seattle culinary landscape. We can go from "Seattle: Afraid to Admit We Are a Real City" to "Seattle: West Coast Hub for East Coast Cuisine."

Oh yes we can.

(*The Wonder Pigs are boarding with Mary, who has them burrowed in a huge mound of tinothy hay. When they see me they will hand me a small scroll listing their [mainly food related] demands before agreeing to come back home.)