Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday Follies (aka dogblogging)

Now that Christmas day is over, renewed shopping frenzy begins--which is why I'm avoiding the store today, even the grocery. (I forgot how bad it could be when I decided to venture to the grocery store midday Christmas Eve--in addition to the crowded roads and lots, I saw a driver pull a dangerous stunt that I'd never seen before, and hope never to see again--Speed Racer streaked down the wrong side of the street to make a left turn [on the other side of the concrete median], to ignore an established left-turn signal lane that was within the proper side of the median strip, and barely missed being hit broadside by traffic coming down Pennsylvania Avenue. Unreal.)

Now, I'm trying to avoid being all judgmental about excessive consumptive behavior (too late!), I can't help but notice that it's so much running amok.

Joy to the world

The Christmas eats have been gobbled, the music and games have been played (and played), when Mr. Christmas begs the crew to visit, for the first time in many years, the national Christmas tree near the White House. Being a not-too-cold night, and needing to keep encroaching blubber at bay, the answer was yes.

We weren't the only ones by a long shot--it was a challenge finding parking, and the immediate area was packed, many families with children, and some families with their dogs--some very large ones, one very fat one, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that tried to butt into the following nativity scene:

Nativity sceneThe tree itself was spectacular in an odd way (all its ornaments were gold-colored), and looked even more so close up, surrounded by smaller trees from each state and territory.

National Christmas tree
As giddy as all the decked trees made me feel, I was impressed by the menorah, which was stately, and larger than I previously thought.

Giant menorah with Washington Monument in background
Fitting, as the crowd was as international as the seasonal symbols present. Joy to the world indeed!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve was a blast, again, with relatives and friends, good food, did I mention the food? The best ending ever, with auntie's homemade sweet potato pie, and another humongous, moist, delicious cake from Gerard.

The only truly questionable thing was, not one, but two sweatshirts of the following (neither of which belongs to me):

sweatshirt with image of Barack Obama as SantaObama as Santa? Ay ya ya...

* * *

Christmas day was the day to bake the sugar cookies, which came out great. The only thing that bugs me about cookie recipes is that they always specify a baking time that's entirely too long. Trust, if you leave cookies in the oven for more than six minutes, you basically have volcanic ash, not a dessert.

sugar cookies being cut
Rolling the cookies on lightly floured waxed paper made moving the cookies to the baking pan very easy--just peel back the paper, and off come the cookies.

The final result--

baked Christmas cookies Yummy! It's time to run over to eat, and give some of the above tempting treats away, as I've already had my stash.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Tis the season...

I love the holidays--the singing, special food and drink, decorations, cards, gifts, the whole shebang.

While there's little money for gifts this year, it's an excuse to make yummy homemade gifts to take to party hosts. The best part about this is that there are always leftovers! In addition to Christmas cookies (which will be baking tomorrow), I tackled, as it were, a criminally easy fudge, a bit of which will go to auntie as a present, some for a present tomorrow, and some to remain at home.

This fudge is absurdly easy because there's no candy thermometer to fiddle with, no baking, and takes, oh, ten minutes to prepare in all. Honest! (Recipe adapted from Shmooed Food.)

Vegan Fudge (makes one 9-inch x 9-inch pan)

4 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 nondairy milk
2 tablespoons nonhydrogenated margarine (e.g., Earth Spread or Soy Garden)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond (or other flavored) extract, optional
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Lightly oil or spray the baking pan and set aside.

Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder together into a large mixing bowl. (For my purposes, "sift" can mean stir around with a fork until the lumps are out, the ingredients are nicely mixed, and are lightly fluffed.) Add the chocolate chips, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the nondairy milk and margarine to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to avoid burning. When the milk is at a steady, strong boil, pour it over the powdered sugar mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon until everything is well combined and the heat has melted the chocolate chips.

Stir in the vanilla (and other extracts, if using), and the nuts, if using.

Spread the fudge into the prepared pan and refrigerate overnight to solidify.

Enjoy (a little at a time--this stuff is rich!), preferably with hot liquid refreshment.

cup of coffee with fudge * * *

Surviving the holidays...

An unfortunate side-effect of modern life is that many of us eat like the holidays much of the time, with high-sugar, high-fat diets year round. For many, this results in devastating conditions like strokes.

There is treatment available for strokes, when they are detected early. An easy way to detect if someone might be having a stroke is ask someone the following questions (STR):

S -- ask the individual to SMILE

T -- ask the person to TALK and SPEAK (coherently) a simple sentence

R -- ask the person to RAISE BOTH ARMS

If the person has trouble with any of these tasks, call 911 immediately, and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

Other warning signs can be found in Don Hazen's Alternet article, Want to Save Some Lives? Here is a Simple Formula for Identifying Strokes.

Please don't ignore the signs--I have a friend on the Hill who is alive and well today because her stroke was treated in time.

To paraphrase the old saying, a sign in time saves lives!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From the top...

It seems like everything about the Obamas creates buzz, even the possibility of the stylist who might become Mrs. Obama's hairdresser during her time in Washington. I'm hoping it's Barry Fletcher, for a variety of reasons.

For one, he's also a black first--the first black hairdresser to represent the USA in the Hair Olympics, and the first to represent using a black model. In addition to styling celebrities such as Halle Berry and Chaka Khan, he has had salons catering to non-celebrities as well.

I remember well splurging to visit his old salon in DC, near CBS News' Washington bureau office. Not only did my hair look great (although he was not the best stylist I've personally had--the best one, Crystal, unfortunately had a strong attraction to her inanimate namesakes, liking to ingest them nasally way too often), but best of all, my hair felt fantastic, in the best condition it had ever been in up to that time. I can't recall the name of the stylist at his salon, but whatever "system" Fletcher's stylists use is the best.

So, you can imagine my delight when I found out that Mr. Fletcher now has an entire hair care product line. Not only do his products make your hair clean and soft, they're not ridiculously expensive, considering that he leans toward using essential oils and other natural ingredients. I'm glad that I'm not the only one thrilled with them--blogger Spoiled Pretty has a soft spot for them as well. They're available from his website, or at his store in Maryland.

Now, if Mrs. Obama can only ignore Fletcher's penchant for publicity, because he's probably the only hair stylist who could ever come close to upstaging the future First Lady...

Getting it together?

A group of Washington area bloggers had a meetup last week, at RFD. Nice to know that even in tough times, mid-priced places will still be around, if only so folks can escape from their caves once in a while.

Anyhoo, although the gathering was small, nine or so (a few couldn't make it), there was still a diversity of ages present and topics bandied about, with a showing from native Washingtonians to the new in town. Their blogs include:, a DC blogroll on steroids, with commentary, old-school views on politics and life in DC, a bicycling blog from a regular ramblin' man, a quirky observational blog from the untragically hip, scenes from the life of the young and the restless, funny, infuriating, and scary tales from behind the pharmacy counter

The last guy, like many of us, wrings his hands about aspects of America's crazy quilt of a health care "system." A wild tale of mine was years ago, at a company meeting, when the then-CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of the National Capital Area (Guiliani, I believe Ben was his first name) answered a question from silly me, about how health care would be affected with the Clinton plan. His answer was, to put it politely, surreal, as for some reason he mentioned health care in Jamaica, of all places. When a presumably educated person wants to compare the American health care system, such as it is, with that of a Caribbean country, that's nothing but willful ignorance in action, to a frightening degree.

* * *

Those who still scoff at Obama's inclusion of infrastructure repair in his economic stimulus program, doubting the need to pay for increased infrastructure spending, must not have been watching today's news of the huge water main break in Bethesda (on River Road, ironically), making that street resemble a raging tributary of the Potomac.

Who's doubting now?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Everybody was kung fu fighting...

Wow, seems the world's in a fighting mood, although W, for once, is trying to keep the economic peace by today's announcement of an auto industry rescue package. For the very short term, that should keep some southern lawmakers quiet. I'm sure he's wanting a little holiday peace, after a true surprise during his unannounced trip to Iraq:

Further south however, say in Mexico, lawmakers are even less able to peacefully agree (on infrastructure legislation), and let fists fly:

There is still youth (and other) unrest in Greece, and South Korean lawmakers apparently can't all just get along either.

Such recent events seem to suggest that many folks are having a difficult time behaving better than animals, since we're fighting worse than cats and dogs, whose fights are usually akin to insignificant scraps like this:

Collection Of Fights Between Our Corgi And Our Kitty - The best bloopers are here

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas sparkle, green edition...

The Internet is brimming with tips on green gifts, entertaining, and the like. Of course, it helps to have your place decked out, the better to get in the mood for seasonal festivities. There's no need to empty an already-thin wallet or further foul the planet to make your abode all sparkly for the season.


I was walking, walking down the street...and spied something nice on the ground--a lovely winterberry branch--which I promptly took home to stick in a vase.

winterberry branches in vase
[Cost=zero, or the cost of picking up the branch off of the ground.] Also free for the snipping, boughs of (evergreen) holly which I have in the yard. Both the wintergreen and other hollies will keep about a week or so indoors.

holly branches over china cabinet It doesn't hurt to retrieve a few free finds left over from the year before (or the year before that), such as:

fall decoration of dried leaves, pine cones, and acorns[Cost=zero. However, my chances of finding the above (hickory?) nuts this season would also be zero, because they have been AWOL in this part of Maryland this year!] (Neither have I seen the usually plentiful acorns.)


A live tree for a small house--the solution--a small tree! You get the pine aroma throughout the house, but in a size where you can get the tree in the house. (And have a choice as to where in the house to place it.)

When the holiday season is over, this little pine will be broken into small pieces and scattered over the ground to decompose.

mini pine tree with Christmas decorations

[Cost=$10, at Whole Foods. Because I had my own decorations, I was able to stay away from Whole Paycheck's obvious sucker bait, such as the bags of cinnamon-scented pine cones.] However, I wish the store had the little rosemary trees, which appear fuller.

The tiny decorations were purchased last year, from Dollar Tree, which is cheaper than too-chinchy-to-pay-for-security Walmart. (Also, while both chains sell scads of made-in-China trinkets, Dollar Tree has a larger selection of Christmas decorations). Go figure.

All other decorations were saved from the year before--purchased at Target the day after Christmas, at a massive discount, so I spent no more than $6.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sign of the times...

Now, I've seen all manner of feathered critters in the Washington area over the years--the blue heron (at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and perched over the Suitland Parkway), heard and saw a woodpecker here and there (Capitol Hill and Bethesda), as well as the ubiquitous comeback kid, the crow, a wild turkey, off I-295, a thrush, and even a hawk, right near the playground.

But, today was the first time I've ever seen vultures. And not one or two, but about six or seven, on the side of the road heading to FedEx Field, eating from a red fox carcass. Ugh! Of course, I had to look (but not too close, because who wants to get close to vultures?), so an attempt at document their roadside uniqueness (also a bit scary because they seemed persistent--I mean, as soon as a car zoomed past, they resumed their meal--nothing was going to keep them from that!) was less than successful, trying to keep my distance and all:

vultures not far from FedEx Field That black spot in the street near the curb was one of the crafty critters. (The others jumped over the guard rail for a bit.) Again, ughhhhh.

Figures I'd see one of these buggers for the first time during this economic downturn, when industries such as banks and financial services firms have been ravaging the economy for years!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Follies (aka dogblogging)

With the refusal of southern Republicans in the Senate to ratify the auto industry bailout loan package, snarling about the high wages of its unionized workforce (while not complaining about the humongous Wall Street bailout approved previously on top of those extravagant executive salaries), it really makes you wonder, as Hale "Bonddad" Stewart muses in the Huffington Post, whether "The Republicans Want a Depression."

Visible proof of such ridiculous, circular behavior, also exists in the canine kingdom (which at least has the virtue of being humorous when practiced in the house):

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What--no white Christmas?

The adorable little snowflakes that plinked down last night were, admittedly, a lovely distraction, at least once I got off the road. (Hmm, how do folks not realize to slow down in blowing snow? Thankfully, it didn't last long, but still.)

Sadly, today's wind was enough to blow much of that little bit of snow away, although there was still a bit on some plants close to home, such as this beauty:

snow on holly

That (ill?) wind, however, apparently blew the wind off some lovely winterberry plants, which I am dying to see covered with snow, as they are the only deciduous holly plants--that's right, their leaves drop off in the fall, leaving clusters of beautiful red berries on the stalks, for people to view and birds to eat.

The beauty below, a winterberry, is showing off, as its leaves have dropped, so those berries seem almost huddled together--

winterberry from Oikos Tree Crops
Hope there's a chance of another dusting before Christmas. It would do Washington's landscape a world of good!

(The above winterberry photo is from Oikos Tree Crops.)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Attacking the air? (aka dogblogging)

Perhaps the holiday season is a slow news time, particularly in the transition between presidents--not that that's stopped criticism of a President-elect who's not even in office yet. An apt visual interpretation of such sniping is rendered in the video below, only the perpetrator of its foolishness is cuter than most.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

For a few dollars more (about the Walmart trampling tragedy)

Still struggling to think what could possess grown folk to first stand in line, in the cold, in the dark, to save money on, exactly what? Toys for the children, and just as often, shiny electronic toys for the adults. Because, let's face it, the Black Friday sales, like the one where the temporary worker at the Walmart was trampled, are not for boring necessities like food, diapers, or other sundry items. No!

This frenzied crowd behavior is all the more disgusting because it's in contrast to recent events, such as the giveaway of Thanksgiving turkeys and toys at FedEx Field, where, as far as I'm aware, people were behaving civilly, although there weren't even enough turkeys for everyone, because of increased turnout this year. And yes, although apparently there was also a higher than average turnout at the Washington DC Convention Center for its Feast of Sharing this year, there were no reports of beastly behavior there, either.

How sad. Americans have come to the point where we seem unable to distinguish between wants and needs--and will fight to the death over them.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tuesday Tips (the real deal!)

In trying to be environmentally minded today, I not only took a hot drink with me today in a Starbucks tumbler, then I used the same mug for another cup of tea at a vendor--I asked him to fill the mug up instead of using a paper cup, and he knocked 25 cents off the price of the tea, making it an even buck! Now, this was not at Whole Foods or some other organic emporium, but at the kiosk at a medical center. Small victories!

* * *

Accompanying a relative for a medical procedure, an MRI, I knew that everything metal had to be removed, etc.

What I was unaware of, and even the staff, cordial and helpful as they were, didn't clue me in on just how loud the noises coming out from this modern marvel would be--even with the soft foam ear protection that's provided.

Wikipedia gently alludes to the noise potential in its MRI entry, but I was in the room with the Thing as it was doing its thing (and the lights were on in the room--I might have sworn that I saw fireworks if the lights had been turned off) and, whoa, the noise level was similar to a construction site, with jackhammer sounds, firecracker-like loud popping sounds (the fire swamp, anyone?), and other sound effects, for ten minutes of eternity! Of course, the patient must keep still through this Universal Studios theme park ride, but even I was exhausted after that, and I was there for moral support! (It would seem that anyone with a heart condition shouldn't even be considered for such a test.)

Oh, all's well...