Not just parroting her speech
Tuesday January 22nd 2019, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

My late friend RobinM told me of a book she’d loved and thought I would, too.

I finally did. “Alex and Me,” by Irene Pepperberg, a researcher who has studied the intellectual capabilities of birds, most notably one named Alex.

To quote from page 68: “My proposal was simple: I said I wanted to replicate the linguistic and cognitive skills that had previously been achieved in chimps in a Gray parrot, an animal with a brain the size of a shelled walnut, but one that could talk.”

Grays flock in the wild and are highly social, and the typical animal research of the day was to isolate the animal when you weren’t running experiments. Her take was that socializing was the point of communication–and that previous failures in research could be attributed to a failure to meet that part of the parrots’ needs. They need interaction. They need stimulation. They demand attention.

So she does it her way, and boy does she succeed. Like the time she was trying to demonstrate to a visitor that he could count small numbers. She wanted him to say two, but he kept switching between one and four. She knew full well he could do this. Without giving away the answer she tried again.

One four!


He gave her that insouciant look she knew so well when he was going to do things his way right now, thankyouverymuch. He liked being the boss of the lab. It wasn’t till she told him he needed a timeout and started to take him out of the room and away from this brand new interesting person to people-watch that he pleaded, Two! Two two two two…! to their great amusement. He was a character.

I’d say skip the first chapter, which gets a bit maudlin re his death when the reader hasn’t even met him yet, and get on with the story. But I found the story was well worth the read. Alex kept me laughing.

And hey, Constance? Your dad’s name’s in that book. Who knew?! You get my copy.

Pattern matching
Monday January 21st 2019, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

You know you’re doing this a lot when…

So there’s this office building that part of me has idly wondered in passing for thirty-some years now why it was plunked where it was, surrounded by strip malls and a shopping center and zero other offices. I don’t recall ever seeing an identifying sign, it’s just there. Most of what was around it has since been redeveloped or renamed (the Trader Joe’s was once a Crown Books and the mall behind it was bulldozed) but the anonymous office building lives on.

Today it hit me. It’s the chocolate bar molds building.

A monument to greatness.

It was going to be 70% till I put in an extra spoonful of sugar
Monday January 21st 2019, 12:03 am
Filed under: Food

Some friends stopped by yesterday and I apologized that I couldn’t turn off the noise in the background that, while not overly loud, was pretty low pitched, ie it tended to make it a bit harder for me to hear. Knowing that I would see them today, I did not tell them what all that was about.

Today I gave them samples of the source of those sounds.

Clearly we need to make bigger batches.

A factory reject, such a shame
Sunday January 20th 2019, 12:05 am
Filed under: Food

He got his really dark dark batch a few days ago; I wanted one a little less so.

Today’s lesson learned: trying to get every last drop of chocolate out of there and into the mold while it’s already starting to set up, and then trying to twirl it in so you don’t get one big plop on the back gets you, well, this. I think I Picasso’d the back of that last one.

Green, two days ago
Friday January 18th 2019, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Mango tree

It was warmer today, in the upper 60s.

This afternoon I found this.

Potty like there’s no tomorrow
Thursday January 17th 2019, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

And on a completely random note, I have a question: did any of you grow up with a Pittsburgh Potty? I didn’t even know there was a name for such a thing, much less that anybody else had one. The house I grew up in had one and it was the weirdest thing. How could you have that and not a sink for washing your hands afterwards? Did the builder’s mother know they got away with that? I think each of us kids clandestinely used it at least once just to prove it really worked (I remember asking Mom first if it did, but I didn’t tell her why I was asking. BYOTP.)

It was inside a built-in bomb shelter in the basement, and I always figured it was part of that particular Cold War trend. Since there were no walls around it, just that big empty room with cinder block walls built into the hillside and always cold in there, it was a good place for storing food and Mom and Dad put shelving in front of the thing and cans and jars to give it everything but a door behind there.

That room had its own part-walled-off hallway to get in, a faint attempt at a maze, to help protect you from, I dunno, nuclear fallout?

Here’s the link to what I’m talking about.

The potty part, anyway. There was actually a reason for them. Who knew?

Burst your bubbles
Wednesday January 16th 2019, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Food

The mound off the spoon.

And the molds–which I forgot to bang gently against the table a few times to get the air bubbles out, even though that’s why they’re sitting on a cookie sheet. Nobody will mind.

Back to the grind
Tuesday January 15th 2019, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Molds: still nope. Refunded, reordered. Which didn’t solve the problem of our only having enough right now to process one pound into those pretty bars when multiple pounds would have taken the same amount of work to do–it’s like, y’know, free chocolate! Effort-wise, anyway.

So okay, one pound it is. We wanted to see how the next batch comes out, we no longer had enough to share, and that wouldn’t do.

Learned since the last batch: the reason it seemed a bit sweeter further down is that I’d barely processed the sugar that time, leaving crystals that were heavier than the chocolate crystals. The sugar sank. Not that you could tell in a bite of the stirred finished cooled chocolate. So this time I Cuisinarted that sugar till I had white fog wafting out the top–it was definitely good and fine this time.

(Scraping down the bowl. Yum.) Tomorrow! Tomorrow! We’ll pour it! Tomorrow! It’s only a day away…

Gone missing
Monday January 14th 2019, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Food

Delivered, says the tracking.

Not so much, says me.

Either the mailman dropped it off at the wrong house (he does that–we joke that he’s trying to keep us neighbors in touch with each other), he checked off the wrong box on his screen, or someone stole the package.

In which case I can imagine the person opening it, looking at the wiggly silicone bar molds and going, Well, *that* wasn’t worth the felony.

And because I should send my Mom some
Sunday January 13th 2019, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

A friend asked us how much chocolate we planned to make, after savoring the small bar we’d just handed him to try.

The answer, it seems to me, is, enough to make sure we always have at least a little on hand whenever we might like to have some for someone who stops by like he’d just done. Right?

The extra sets of molds should be here tomorrow, at which point we’ll be able to start a larger batch than the previous one-pounders.

Malabrigo to the rescue
Saturday January 12th 2019, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life,LYS

Today we picked our daughter up on the way and discovered for ourselves why she loves Dandelion Chocolates in San Francisco so much. Wonderful, wonderful place: happy people, great pastries, and you can watch the chocolate coming to be, right there, while they offer you samples. Yum.

More on that later.

And then because my husband and daughter really love me they humored me in letting me spend a few minutes at Imagiknit nearby.

Before we left for the City, having read the weather reports, I grabbed a Malabrigo hat that matched my outfit just in case. The coldest winter Mark Twain supposedly spent was a summer in San Francisco, but the winters right by the ocean can be pretty brisk, too.

It came home again and got put back away unworn with the feeling that that just wasn’t quite it yet–but, something…

This evening we were heading out again and I found myself going back to that ziplock of recently-knit Malabrigo Mecha hats that were still here. I looked at the two teal ones and went no… They’re close, but not the one from this morning; this one instead. And stuck it in my purse.

We went to our Saturday evening stake conference (ie a semi-annual multi-ward meeting) and offered a ride home to a friend whose car had broken down.

We needed a few things on the way and so did Karen so that was easy; we stopped by Safeway.

She got a little ahead of me–there’s always something to be distracted by in a grocery store–and she stepped into a line behind a couple Richard and I recognized but don’t really know. She did, though. They had been at that meeting, too, and the wife turned to us and said she’d shivered through that whole thing and was still cold and wondered if we were as well? She was clearly seriously uncomfortable.

I was already silently noting how the hat in my purse matched her outfit.

How often do you get a chance to actually rescue someone from being cold in California? I told her happy birthday as I handed it to Karen to hand to her.

She tried to turn it down but when she saw I really and freely meant it she let me give it to her, gobsmacked and thrilled. It went right on her head and it was going to stay there. Her husband exclaimed over what a beautiful color it was.

Who else could it possibly have been for?

Besides, Karen (who had such a big grin on her face while being happy for her friend) already has hers.

Here try this tell me what you think I’m experimenting
Friday January 11th 2019, 11:29 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

The hearing aids needed cleaning and Los Gatos Birdwatcher where I buy my seed is less than a mile from there. So I combined the two trips, as I often do.

When the tech handed me back my ears I asked her, Do you like dark chocolate? Like, really dark chocolate?

She laughed at the highly unexpected question and said, I guess so, not knowing how dark we were talking here nor why on earth I was asking.

Well, we’ve been experimenting with our new toy… And I offered her one of the squares from our bars.

She laughed, she ate it, she was delighted at the idea of it and at my sharing. I’m not convinced she was entirely enamored of the actual chocolate, but she definitely went home that day with a story to tell.

On to the birdseed store.

Where there was a clerk I’d never seen before. She was warm, helpful, approachable, just a gem of a woman and after she loaded my twenty pound bag up for me I asked her the same question and got the same startled, laughing response–only this time with, I LOVE dark chocolate! Love it!

And oh she did.

She had no idea you could make your own. She sure does now, though.

I rather imagine soon she’ll have a story to tell me about her own.

Thursday January 10th 2019, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

Details in the mouseovers.

What it looked like from my driveway at the start of the day. I did not know yet how much it had wrapped around the fence; I knew it was pushing through it.

That photo with lots of small trunk pieces? That’s where the tree had split into multiple weak areas at bad angles.

Around 8 a.m. the crane arrived. There was no other way to take on such a giant. I tried not to get in the way, but I did get some pictures to document the redwood’s passing. The neighbor behind us walked over, saying he could see the top of it go from his house and had come to see, too, for awhile.

Section by section it came down, and the workers on the ground would trim the branches off so it could fit in the chipper, which looked very small by comparison. When they finally got to that monster section at the bottom hours later, there was no way; another truck showed up to haul that part off and the crane lifted it in.

I asked the worker nearest me if they were going to put the lumber to good use on that one, or?

The guy’s face conveyed, “I wish,” but he said no, it would just be chippered like the rest.

I went inside for awhile and when I came back out to check on the latest, another neighbor from down the street the other way was talking to Jim next door. The truck with the bottom section was gone, and when I regretted that out loud they went no, no–and she told me that she had asked them to drop it off in front of her house. Her husband would love to work with that wood.


I have no idea how they got those huge pieces off the truck and in place–the crane hadn’t moved yet I don’t think. But they’re there now.

I’d been looking at that tree for nearly 32 years and yet the size of its footprint surprised me just the same in the end. They went at that, too, cutting away and down and through, trying to prepare it for the stump grinder people, but in the process removed this small fairly flat piece that, with the neighbors nodding yes, I took home.

If only I were a woodworker. But I couldn’t let all of it just be gone forever. Maybe I’ll get to learn something new. (Hey, I know whose door to knock on now.)

Alright, here are the highlights.

What the guy is cutting in the last picture is around where what I took home came from. 

Oh I can definitely do that, too
Wednesday January 09th 2019, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

I was at my lupus group meeting today for the first time in months. I don’t go when I’m contagious: it’s too dangerous to the others. Which means I missed September, October, November, and December. Been awhile, and I’ve been missing my friends.

There is someone there whose story is not mine to tell, but let’s just say that the hat I knit her awhile ago was both quite needed and, it turns out, better received than I had any idea: she told me how warm it kept her, how much she’d loved it all winter, that she wore it practically every day.

And that she’d lost it.

She was wearing a purple jacket as she was saying this and I knew in that instant that what I had would match it perfectly. The hat that had bugged me to finish it, that my elbow had yelled over, that had already taken three days when normally it would have been done in one, that I finally made myself just sit down and do after Anne’s box came so that it would be finished and I could be done with it and go on to Anne’s yarns (which I did). I cast off with both satisfaction and frustration: why had this commanded so much of my attention, at a gauge that’s painful right now, when I didn’t even have a recipient in mind.


“I just finished a purple one,” I told her, and her face lit up and she sat up a little straighter right then and there.

I handed her my phone at the Add Contact page so that I would know where to mail it and she wouldn’t have to wait till mid-February for the next meeting to get it. We do not live close to each other.

I got home from that meeting with just enough time to run in the yarn ends (oops–hadn’t done that yet, it was just a stash FO), drive to the post office, and get it in the mail before it was time to go get Richard.

Knowing some of the things she’s gone through, and knowing now how much what I’d made had meant to her, you bet she was getting another hat. And in a different color in case she ever finds the first one.

Man, that felt good.

The other thing she asked me?

To teach her how to knit.

And more chocolate
Tuesday January 08th 2019, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

You knew this would be coming soon. Round two.

Just one pound again, because we’ve learned that that’s how much our set of four molds holds so we ordered two more sets but they won’t be here for a few more days.

Mistake made: if you have one, you’re supposed to Cuisinart the nibs and the sugar, separately, to make the conching faster and the nibs easier on the machine. This time I ground the sugar first.

But wait, he points out, looking at the bowl coated in a fine white afterwards (did some of it powder and then melt from the friction?) They said having the sugar touch the chocolate magically transforms the flavor to stop it from changing any more right at that point–do we want to stop it before it even starts? Would it, so early on?

He got out the second Cuisinart bowl (that I’d long forgotten existed.) I wiped down the only blade with a dry paper towel. Next time we will remember and pulse the nibs first.

So the melanger is working its initial magic and the sugar has yet to be poured in. But it’s ready.

Addendum the next day: we put the sugar in at about an hour forty-five minutes in last night. This evening, we put a metal mixing bowl in the oven at 100F so that the chocolate won’t cool too much too fast. Measured 4 g Mycryo powdered tempered cocoa butter, which comes to roughly a tablespoon for the pound of nibs we used. Poured the chocolate in the bowl, which was warm but 15F cooler than the stirring chocolate was, mix that powder in thoroughly and quickly, and then poured our mix into the molds.

I noted for the first time that the chocolate in the grooves of the rollers I’m starting to clean was sweeter than elsewhere.