Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I have to admit that I was giddy with delight when those little faces began popping up. I sang, “I've got Followers!” to my family and actually did a little dance. Then I got to thinking...

The term “followers” has a bizarre ring to it, particularly for those of us who live in Texas. Remember that group of “followers” in Waco? Does this mean that I should build a compound and claim a tax exemption?

Followers actually reminds me of that elusive cult-like group call the Travellers. After all, I have an Irish last name now and perhaps we can all learn Shelta together as we caravan from town to town.

Photo courtesy of Irish Aires News

But seriously, not to offend my new followers, but isn't following someone kinda like stalking? Will the literary paparazzi come banging on my door demanding more blog entries, stealing photos of me without makeup? Wait... I don't wear makeup, but no one should see me before my first cuppa coffee in the morning.

Hmmm, this being followed is serious business. So if you know a way I can cultivate more followers, drop me a line. And if you are just a lurker, you can comment anonymously.
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

I Knit

Knitting isn't what it used to be. Have you walked through your favorite craft store lately? Or even visited your LYS (local yarn store)? Inviting colors and textures await you. Wool, washable wool. Bamboo, linen, alpaca, cotton and more.

I taught myself to knit. My mom has said she taught me when I was little, but I don't remember. I came upon knitting because a series of events in my life left me unraveled. I literally had to find something to do with myself so I could sit down and do anything that required me to focus outside myself ... to do something to occupy my trembling hands. Back then the Internet only offered a smattering of knitting sites compared to today where you can spend days browsing... finding supplies, instruction, patterns and blogs.

I was browsing, looking for a how to knit website and came upon Tom, a kind faced man who was willing to share his knitting knowledge with the world. Regrettably, his site has disappeared. I printed out his instructions and static photos (hard to believe, but true, there wasn't really any video online yet). My equally neurotic friend and I went to a now non-existent shop and a kind gray-haired lady helped us select our very first needles and yarn. We sat for hours trying to figure out how to cast on with our friend, Tom. We mastered the long-tailed cast eventually and we were ready to knit, and knit and knit (purl came later).

The click-clack sounds of the needles became soothing music for my shattered and bruised psyche. The repetitive motion became my meditation. I finally felt as though my unraveled life could be knit back together again. I carried a knitting bag with me everywhere. If I needed a quick fix, a moment of calm or reassurance that my life could be “normal” again, I'd sneak off at work to the bathroom, or find a corner during my lunch hour.

Slowly, my first variegated purple wool scarf emerged. Wrapped around my neck, I still wear my “purple heart” with pride. It reminds me that I survived and came out the other end of my first clinically diagnosed depression. So if you are Tom, thank you for helping me save myself.

My "Purple Heart" Scarf

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bag O'Friendship

So you arrive at work early, isn't it always early when you have to go to that place? Anyway, A co-worker wags a zippy bag of something yummy and asks, "You want some?" Your coffee could use a companion... your sedentary spread begs to differ. Okay, just a little taste. Yum. Your pal now tells you, "Its Amish Friendship Bread and I'll bring you a bag of starter tomorrow with directions." Easy peasy. I can read and I can actually bake, which means you read all the directions.

Next day a zippy bag of whitish ooze sits politely by your keyboard and you dutifully carry it home and proclaim, "We'll have tasty Amish bread in ten days." Each day you squish or mush the bag, letting out the extra air (this stuff is fermenting away), and finally you get to feed it. Several more days and you're ready to give out several bags of your own mushy stuff and yes, bake it up.

My only problem is that I forget about baking until 10:30 pm. My husband ran out earlier to get the large box of instant vanilla pudding for the recipe. However, I forgot I need both baking powder AND soda. No box in the frig and any baker worth their salt (pun intended) knows you can't skip an ingredient. I'm texting my neighbor anxiously awaiting a reply, I'm cracking eggs, measuring cinnamon, salt, etc. Then, I find myself standing stunned in the kitchen. I was supposed to separate out those pesky "friendship" starter bags! I am not a good friend :(

The instructions basically tell me I'm shit out of luck... the starter is only available from an Amish person. What? Remembering that I live in Texas, I realize that the my chances were rather slim to find an Amish or Mennonite community, particularly after 10:00 pm.

So, what I do know of the Amish (or was it Mennonite) is that they had a farm stand in Homestead Florida. There you could purchase the most delectable, scrumptious strawberry shake. While slurping it down, you could purchase wholesome and amazing breads (dilly, a family fav), pies and veggies. I don't recall seeing anything that resembles Amish Friendship Bread. This particular group migrated from the North for strawberry season. Yes, the men and women were dressed in their plain garb, nearly all had blue eyes and were polite and soft-spoken. I doubt they would give any of their recipes away on a photocopied sheet. Besides, would they really use a box of instant vanilla pudding in any recipe?

So where did this recipe come from and why was I feeling like a bad friend? After dumping the less than friendly bread batter down the sink and cursing in an unAmish fashion, I remembered that I killed a Bag O'Friendship in the past. I am not destined to bake a bag of mush. But my curiosity was peaked and a quick visit to my friend wikipedia revealed, "There is no reason to think that the sweet, cinnamon-flavored bread has any connection to the Amish people although the name is taken from them. According to Elizabeth Coblentz, a member of the Old Order Amish and the author of the syndicated column 'The Amish Cook' true Amish Friendship Bread is "just sourdough bread that is passed around to the sick and needy...The instructions distributed with Amish Friendship Bread typically omit instructions on how to prepare starter from scratch, and frequently claim that the recipe is a secret "known only to the Amish".

Now I feel better. None of my friends are sick or needy at the moment. I guess its an omen and I'm off the hook.

BTW: Here is a recipe for a starter that I found on the Internet. And I thought the Amish did not embrace technology.

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C) 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided 3 cups white sugar, divided 3 cups milk


In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Let stand 10 minutes. In a 2 quart container glass, plastic or ceramic container, combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly or flour will lump when milk is added. Slowly stir in 1 cup milk and dissolved yeast mixture. Cover loosely and let stand until bubbly. Consider this day 1 of the 10 day cycle. Leave loosely covered at room temperature.

On days 2 thru 4; stir starter with a spoon. Day 5; stir in 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Days 6 thru 9; stir only.

Day 10; stir in 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Remove 1 cup to make your first bread, give 2 cups to friends along with this recipe, and your favorite Amish Bread recipe. Store the remaining 1 cup starter in a container in the refrigerator, or begin the 10 day process over again (beginning with step 2).

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The case of the Fancy Rat

Just what would be your first reaction if you were to ring the doorbell of person to provide them with a service and they answered the door with a rat perched upon their shoulder? Upon entering the residence, you would note that there were several more rats skittering about the home. The homeowner goes about her business as if nothing is unusual?

Well, our poor service provider did his job and left as fast as his big feet could carry him. He told his manager that our customer had unusual pets and notes were made to "the system." This mention of rats, like a bad game of "telephone" evolved into a rat infestation and before you know it, unsanitary or unsafe working conditions.

Rats? Who keeps rats as pets? One would think they might be raised to feed the huge bald python living in the basement. Or perhaps they weren't rats, but hamsters? Nope. These are special rats, fancy rats. When this complaint rolled across my desk I asked myself, "What the hell is a fancy rat?" I opened up the Goggle machine and was amazed at just what I found.

From our dear friends at wikipedia:

"The fancy rat is a domesticated brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), which is the most common type of pet rat. The name fancy rat derives from the idea of animal fancy or the phrase, "to fancy" (to like, or appreciate)... 
"Fancy rats have their origins as the targets for blood sport in 18th and 19th century Europe. Specially bred as pets since then, fancy rats now come in a wide variety of colours and coat types and there exists several rat fancy groups worldwide. ..."
Really? Bloodsport?  I just had to dig deeper and found that there is an American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association homepage. I found rather a disturbing history article by Nichole Royer that states due to an "...excess in the rodent population led to a rather unusual sport. In Victorian England, great numbers of wild rats were captured for use in rat pits. This pastime was particularly popular in London and involved placing a large number of rats in an enclosure with a dog. The dog would then proceed to dispatch as many rats as possible, and the one who killed the largest number in the shortest time was declared the winner. Bets were placed on the dogs and large sums of money exchanged hands at these establishments."
Was our customer running a rat ring in her country home? Would we divulge the dirty secret and would our unsuspecting customer make the headlines?


Did this person keep rats as pets? Okay... ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, but rats, with the long hairless tails? Yep. My customer calmly told me it was her husband's rat. When asked if she had more than one rat, she wanted to know why that mattered. The good news is that domesticated rats "pose no more of a health risk than other common pets. For example, domesticated brown rats are not considered a plague threat, while exposure to wild rat populations could introduce diseases like Salmonella into the home. While fancy rats are subject to different health risks than their wild counterparts, they are consequently less likely to succumb to other illnesses prevalent in the wild." Thanks again to wikipedia. I could tell my company with reasonable certainty that no one would be exposed to the plague!

Because I couldn't leave well enough alone, I learned that these fancy rats are bred for the coloring of their coats and are companion pets. YES! Rats as pets! Would you believe there are siamese points, dalmations, and cinnamon rats to name just a few. You don't have to search for yourself, people dress them up and take pictures.
Okay, Okay, I knit and I found this to be kinda cool in a weird knitty way!

I had to convince our customer that "fancy rats" were not your typical pet and ask her to kindly have them and any "signs" of rats out of sight before any service provider would return. After hours, yes hours of telephone conversations with our customer who made outlandish allegations she was being discriminated against for her pets just like "those people" but she needed her appliance so she relented and agreed to put away her pets, just like we would ask the owners of dogs to do.

By the way, just who are "those people?" Ahhh, I feel another Tale from the Service... customer service that is..