10:28 pm: pie
I don't usually make pie. I make apple crisp instead, or perhaps cookies. Pie crust doesn't seem worth the trouble, especially for a fruit pie. When I used to eat pie somebody else baked, I would often just eat the filling. (ETA: Except Fairion's pies. It turns out she bakes with coconut oil.)
Then I found a recipe for a pecan pie that tempted me. Next time I say the New York Times has become entirely worthless, feel free to remind me they published this excellent recipe. Lucky for us, my housemate occasionally brings home a paper newspaper, and he happened to bring home a NYT full of Thanksgiving recipes (even though neither of us would be home for Thanksgiving.) The pecan pie was tempting enough that I wanted to try taking out the dairy and the alcohol.
Redbird, Cattitude, and I set out to experiment, despite the fact that none of us have much experience making piecrust. We had difficulty with the oil being like melted butter at room temperature, and freezing very inconveniently solid in the refrigerator. (Admittedly, the room was unusually warm and the refrigerator unusually cold.) Still, very awkward to chill the ball of dough, take it out of the refrigerator and have to warm it up before being able to make a dent in it. We eventually pressed it into the pan like a tart crust, getting very irregular coverage. Advice would be very welcome indeed.
I want to make this pie again, because the filling was amazing. Usually, pecan pie is too sweet and not complicated enough, but this wasn't. 6 tablespoons coconut oil 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips 4 eggs 0.75 cup dark corn syrup 0.5 cup brown sugar 1 tablespoon cocoa powder 1 tablespoon orange juice 1 tablespoon vanilla large pinch salt 1.5 cups pecan halves (toasted, not salted)
Melt chocolate chips together with oil. Cool, then add to beaten eggs with corn syrup. Everything except the nuts goes into the pre-baked crust, then put the nuts on top of the liquid custard and bake 40 minutes at 350F.
Cattitude wants to put the filling in some other vegan piecrust, which would be a reasonable option. But I would like to make an actual coconut-oil piecrust, if it's possible to make one with sufficient integrity...it was rich and flaky and it tasted better than I expect piecrust to taste.
01:04 pm: recent reading
I've spent quite a lot of the last few weeks pre-reading books to check if they are appropriate for my favorite 8-year-old. Her parents thought the Prydain Chronicles and The Dark Is Rising would be too scary for this year, but that she'd love some of Lloyd Alexander's books for younger kids. So I've been going through as much of Alexander's work as I could carry home from the library.
Discovery 1: There don't seem to be many adventure stories as exciting as the Keladry books and Wrinkle In Time (which she loved even before she was such a big girl) that aren't scary.
Discovery 2: I don't like Lloyd Alexander's books nearly as much as I used to. The sexism fairy hit them awfully hard.
I also read A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. I LOVED it. It is wildly, completely, inappropriate for the 8 year old. (Not that I ever expected otherwise.) Sweetest proposal scene I've read in ages. And I love how the unreliable narrator gradually becomes less clueless about both dragons and foreigners. She starts off being painfully, realistically, appropriately (for her class and culture) insensitive to "those people," but it's pretty clearly the character being a jerk, not the author. (Unlike other books where a character suddenly become more enlightened between a book and its sequel, and the most likely reason seems to be the author's friends saying "yo. this is a problem.") Anyhow, Isabella learns a little better and it's perfectly plausible and I love her to bits. I returned the book to the library's "Awesome Box," and may get 2 copies. One for me to keep and hug, and one to hang onto and give the child when she's a teenager...
And furthermore, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper is really problematic. The first part of the book is the story of a Native American boy growing up in what is now Massachusetts. The strange customs of his people are described in ways that reminded me of Julie of the Wolves. First person description, yet somehow the strangeness of the customs felt exaggerated (unlike historical fiction that makes strange customs feel ordinary, as they do to the people who live with them.) Hawk dies as a young man, killed by Puritan settlers. The narrative then switches to a sympathetic Puritan boy, to whom Hawk's ghost eventually speaks. I can tell Cooper is trying so very hard to be sensitive and not racist, and it just doesn't work.
11:37 am: seawater
Is there some special way to wash seawater out of cloth? I know the ocean washes things clean metaphorically, but it makes them dirty and smelly and itchy in the mundane sense. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but my current washing machine is not impressively competent. I have detergent that's good at getting the smell of secondhand smoke out of my clothes, but it's not working for this. It's fine for the clothes I just wore at the beach, but the shirts I actually wore in the water still smell of the sea after 2 washes and there was even a tiny bit of odor transfer to other stuff that was in the washing machine. I had a good time at the beach, and the reminder was nice for a while, but it's getting to be annoying.
I know there's something you can add to the wash-water to get chlorine smell out of swimsuits. Is there something like that for seawater?
01:25 pm: paper
When I post flyers (please hire me to teach you math/help your kid get ready for the SAT/untangle the stats for your thesis), I have little tear-off tabs at the bottom of the page. As an aid to memory. That means at least 8 cuts. With some versions of the flyer, I also like to trim off the right and bottom margins so I can carry the papers in a smaller bag. So that's 10 cuts.
Obviously, it's a lot less trouble to stack up the pages and cut through a bunch of them at once, rather than cutting one at a time. Unfortunately, the paper I'm using now slides in the printer. I'm not talking about slippage in the stack I'm trying to cut. I'm talking about slippage during printing, so they're all supposed to be the same but one copy has a bottom margin of 1.5" and another comes out with a bottom margin of 1.625". It's easy to allow for that in cutting, but when the side margins slip it's a mess.
Can somebody recommend a grade or type of printer paper that is not-too-expensive that avoids this problem?
12:00 pm: the 8 little teacups (not how they grew)
Wordweaverlynn suggested I post a picture of the tea set I was just talking about, on the off chance one of you might be interested in it. So here it is. ( Read more...Collapse ) There are 8 of the teacups, 8 saucers, 6 dessert plates (7.5" square), a sugar bowl, a little pitcher for milk or cream, and 3 little serving trays (whose dimensions I neglected to measure before packing everything back in the bubble wrap.) There is a matching teapot I had intended to keep...but if somebody makes me a fabulous offer for the whole set including the teapot, and nobody is interested in the china without the teapot...I could be persuaded to part with the pot. I was kinda hoping somebody might want to serve coffee in the pretty little cups, and thus not need the pot.
It is Royal Albert bone china, with a little gold trim around the edge. It has a white background with a pixelated floral pattern that's meant to look like embroidery.
02:44 pm: cups and saucers
I love drinking tea. I love having a friend come over to drink tea and have a little snack. Nevertheless, my current lifestyle has no place for pretty teacups with matching saucers and little cake plates, all in the same china pattern. Even when I had the energy to entertain more often or more vigorously, that meant having people over more often to drink tea from big pottery mugs, with something indelicate like banana bread alongside. I don't know if it's just me (and the people I mostly socialize with) or if this is yet another way in which the world has changed since my grandparents were given this tea set.
So. I have no further use for the tea set that was sitting in a high cupboard of my old apartment, and in a low box of my new one. It's really very pretty, and I'm sure *somebody* would like it, probably even like it enough to pay a significant amount of money for it. Looking at similar things on Ebay, individual cup+saucer settings seem to be listed for $8-15. It's not at all clear to me if people buy those cups and saucers listed for $10. (I refuse to believe anybody will buy the set of 5 mismatched teacups priced at $1,650.00. That's some kind of a joke I don't get.)
There are 8 teacups, 8 saucers, a sugar bowl, and a creamer. Should this be listed as one big package deal? Nine -- with one for each tea-drinker, and one for the stuff in the middle of the table? Three -- two sets of 4, and one for the stuff in the middle of the table? I'd rather not list many times to sell each piece, fumbling around figuring out stuff that other people already know. (Ebay's idea of helping me sell more effectively consists of encouraging me to post things for sale repeatedly after they don't sell, advising me to lower prices, and suggesting I offer free shipping. Taken together, I could lose money on each sale.)
06:11 pm: permanent record
Last month, I went to visit Redbird in Seattle. I was going to visit Redbird, not Seattle as such, and certainly not to explore public transit in the Seattle area, but I still noticed some nice things about the transit system. And one impressive thing that probably isn't about the system.
There were only 3 passengers on the bus when it turned the corner in the big medical complex where Redbird had a doctor's appointment. The woman near the front stood partway up and turned to look out the window, and fell backwards. I couldn't tell if the hollow thunk was the impact of her wooden cane, her elbow against a hollow section of bus floor, or her skull hitting something solid.*
It was a scary moment. I reached to help, but (obviously) by the time I saw her falling it was already too late to catch her. She was frightened and confused and struggling to get up without her cane. She was clearly embarrassed as well as shocked and hurt. I've felt that kind of "oh, just go away and pretend this never happened" after any number of falls and head-bonks. Oursin described something similar with a minor accident: http://oursin.dreamwidth.org/1945010.html
The bus driver impressed me. He didn't just stop the bus, let me help the other passenger up, and go on his way when he heard her say something like "it's ok." That's kind of what I expected would happen when Redbird called out for him to stop the bus. He didn't just park the bus, go back to help the passenger up, and sit across from her talking quietly and paying close attention to her while she got her bearings. I don't know if that's how King County Metro teaches their staff to respond to possible concussions, or if one driver was going beyond the call of duty. Then the driver went back to driving the bus, and I sat with the person who had fallen, and we talked for a few minutes (agreeing that falling is scary and upsetting.)
When the bus reached the next stop, the driver impressed me by getting out with the passenger who had fallen, and walking into the building with her. She had already been taking the bus to a doctor's appointment, so there wasn't the usual question of whether to see a doctor after falling...but that last little bit of getting there safely was still important.
I tried to tell King County Metro that one of their drivers had done especially good work that day, but had trouble with their online feedback form. Redbird was able to file a commendation the next day, and was told her letter had been shown to the driver and his supervisor, and would become part of the driver's permanent record.
Memorable work ought to be part of his permanent record. Whether we're thinking "what great first aid practice!" or "how considerate of him!" (or possibly "what an intrusive jerk! why didn't he just leave her alone?") I'm happy about the transit system tracking this kind of thing.
When I went to report the incident, the feedback form asked me about the bus route and time of day. I couldn't tell them the number of the bus (the specific identifier for that vehicle, rather than any of the other buses covering that route) or the driver's name. Redbird was able to figure out the bus number, because it turns out that information is tracked--her transit pass doesn't just say it was charged $2.50 at thus-and-so time, it says it was charged $2.50 on bus #whatever at thus-and-so time.
I feel vaguely uncomfortable about the cards tracking location. I know this is not actually a significant increment of lost privacy. Still, increments of perceptible discomfort do not track linearly with significant increments of threat.
*I've had falls where I never did figure out if my head hit the ground on the way down.
02:36 pm: velcro
I approve of my rain gear fastening with velcro. I approve of the case for my smartphone fastening with velcro. I understand why my dress shoes fasten with velcro, even if I don't actually approve.
Velcro is really incredibly hard on dress-up clothes, ya know? I was going to say something like "especially summer clothes" or "especially women's clothes," but abrasion-resistant clothes just aren't very formal.
09:56 pm: housemate
Once upon a time, the University of Michigan asked 3 lifestyle* questions to match roommates. Do you smoke? Do you like to sleep with the window open or closed?** Do you like raw or cooked carrots?*** The last question was either a subtle psychological attempt to predict SOMETHING, or it was a ploy to make new roommates feel they had something in common, rolling their eyes together at the absurdities of the university housing office.
I don't know how well it worked, overall. (My mother roomed with her twin sister, and they found one another exactly as annoying as they expected.) I just thought of it a lot, when I was wondering what to ask potential housemates. And what to ask the people they gave as references. There were some nerve-wracking false starts.
I finally found somebody just before going out of town last week. He's an academic, living away from his family for a year or so while he does a post-doc. I don't know him very well--I can't know him very well, on such short acquaintance, but I felt comfortable with the guy. He's taking over the second half of the lease from Sovay, and I really hope it goes well.
*It's amazing how many aspects of lifestyle one person might consider significant and another consider trivial. What time do you like to shower? Do you whistle? (CAN you whistle?)
**This was a great way for the housing office to prevent roommate conflict for 6 weeks. Then the roommate from a warm climate realizes those last few words of "with the window open, unless it's freezing outside," might not go without saying.
02:36 pm: ginger ale
A few years ago, Coca-cola started advertising that their new cans of regular coke contained only 100 calories. They had reduced the calorie count by making the cans slightly smaller--it seemed like a nice thing to do for their customers who liked the taste of classic coke and didn't want too many calories.
A couple of days ago, I was on an airplane, and I asked for ginger ale when the flight attendant offered me a drink. I hardly noticed the little green box on the green Seagrams can, announcing "25% fewer calories than regular ginger ales." When I saw it, I thought maybe they were using less sugar--a less sweet ginger ale would be nice. (There's a version of frosted flakes that just uses less of the frosting and brags that it's a lower cereal.) Then I thought maybe they were using a smaller can, but the can had a weird aspect ratio, and I picked it up trying to read the label to see how small.
It was a little tricky to read the label, because I didn't have my reading glasses. (I just had my e-reader, which lets me use big fonts and my distance glasses.) So there was a fair amount of dumb luck involved in seeing the sucralose on the ingredients list in the first place.* It wasn't diet pop; it had lots of corn syrup. It felt like they were just sneaking the migraine trigger into the can and hoping people wouldn't notice.
They really are being sneaky. It's not just that I was oblivious or that I've had so little ginger ale this year (while irrationally thinking of it as a familiar product I don't need to investigate before drinking.) I went back to the little airplane galley to discard the unused can and see if they could spare me a little water, and the flight attendant was shocked. "What seat are you in? I could have sworn I gave you regular soda!" No, really, it's not her fault. It looks exactly like non-diet soda. By the standards of people who want the diet stuff, it probably IS non-diet soda. Seagrams is just being sneaky. Or I suppose a person could use a less polite word than "sneaky."
*The flight attendant gave me the can in the first place, instead of just pouring me a cup. I noticed the green-on-green box. I read the ingredients list, when I didn't expect any need to.
Office Manager: And what's your primary care doctor's name? Adrian: Doctor [name]. It's spelled [...] Office Manager: Do you know his first name? Adrian: Of course. It's Deborah.
The office manager was seriously flustered by her mistake. I'm wondering how, in 2013, she might have made it. It's not like it's UNUSUAL for a family practitioner to be a woman. What surprised me even more was her thinking that I might not have known my doctor's first name.
A long time ago, when I lived in Michigan, my doctor was Dr. Bernstein. He shared an office with Dr. Blum, and I went on seeing Dr. Blum after Dr. Bernstein retired. I think I had some abstract awareness that they must have first names, but I had no idea what they might be.
Is this a difference between the 1970s and now? Or between how children and adults interact with their doctors? Or is it not perfectly routine to know the first name of one's primary doctor?
12:16 pm: pigeon peas
Yesterday, I had pigeon peas for the first time. Perhaps I should say I ate pigeon peas for the first time. They had been sitting in the cupboard for months, since the time I asked the grocery delivery people to bring me 3 cans of black beans and they brought 2 cans of black beans and 1 of pigeon peas. (Along with a great many other things.) When I called to tell them about it, they didn't charge me for the pigeon peas, but they didn't make an extra trip to exchange cans, either.
So, yesterday. There I was, not really on speaking terms with my hand or shoulder, so it was not a viable option to go to the store. Fortunately, I had the can of pigeon peas, rice, canned tomatoes, half an onion, lazy garlic, soyrizo, cumin, oregano, and green olives. (And a few things not appearing in this production, but really not very many.*)
I found a recipe for arroz con gandules, substituting soyrizo for chorizo, and leaving out the pork and bay leaves. I'm not sure if the back of my mouth was trying to warn me, as it sometimes does: Danger! You've never eaten this before, but it feels like a migraine trigger! Or maybe I just didn't like it much. I ate it anyhow, because I was hungry and didn't want to throw away the resources** that had just gone into making it. And then I ended up with a migraine.
Does anybody know of pigeon peas being a migraine trigger? Everything else in that recipe was something I had eaten before, with no problems. Many migraines do not have food triggers, and this one could have been set up by muscle spasms in the shoulder. It's just that taste (that feeling in my mouth, equal parts taste and smell and fear) that made me think the pigeon peas were problematic.
*Pickled herring, prunes, oatmeal, maple syrup, pickled carrots, eggs, soymilk, frozen squash, and soba. I can make a few more meals out of this before going out of town on Thursday, but it's a bit of a challenge. I may end up going to the store, but with significantly less than my usual 5-pound limit. Meal-planning suggestions are welcome.
**In this case, the scarce resources are "food in the apartment this week" more than "food, generally," or "food I can afford." I can get groceries delivered when I come back from Virginia, but they only deliver large orders so I can't get a little now and a little next week (which would be really useful.)
07:32 pm: I should know better
I had a surprising amount of energy this afternoon, so I went out to the farmers' market. The Arlington farmers' market has excellent fish. (Not just from fish farms. I don't get it either, though of course I'm not complaining.) There are probably no cherries to be had anywhere, and I didn't waste carrying capacity on peaches. But I got various vegetables with the intent of making something (very) vaguely chowder-like I have made with great success in the past.
Unfortunately, getting the fish home used up my ability to cope. I don't have any left for cooking. And I just spent a significant amount on a piece of fish that I suspect will be noticeably less good tomorrow than it is tonight. And I need to be out of here by 9:30am, which makes it less appealing to cook the fish in the morning.
It's not a complicated fish recipe. It just requires cutting up fish and vegetables and putting them in a pot. And getting the pot out of the cabinet. And opening the can of coconut milk. And maybe opening the jar of curry paste, though I can skip that bit. There's no way to skip cutting things up or getting the pot out of the cabinet. And it's all just daunting.
I have not even visited this dentist's office, and they are already starting to annoy me. They sent me a very polite letter welcoming me to their practice and telling me about their policies for rescheduling and taking insurance payments. And they sent me a form to fill out with my medical history. Not surprisingly, the documents are printed on different kinds of paper. Absurdly, the one I am supposed to write on is on such shiny paper it won't take ink. *eyeroll*
It's always annoying to write on paper where the letters smear off almost as soon as they touch the page. It seems worse to know they had writeable paper right there next to the printer.
01:03 pm: almost
I made something with chard last week that almost worked perfectly. It worked well enough to be worth trying again, but I'm trying to figure out how to get it exactly right. (I mean, other than having all the chard cut up beforehand, rather than trying to chop the leaves while the stems are cooking.)
I started with a bunch of rainbow chard and 5 eggs. I started cooking some lazy garlic in olive oil, like you do, then added the chopped stems of the chard until they softened a bit. Then added handfuls of chopped chard leaves and let them wilt down until they all fit and I could cover the pot. Then more garlic, because I had a LOT of chard. And then I mixed the chard with a handful of raisins and put it in a baking dish, beat the eggs with a little salt, and baked it at 400F.
I liked it, but it needed something. More raisins? Lemon? There was just a little more egg than strictly necessary to hold the chard together, and I think that was right. There weren't any of the hot spices, and I don't think they would have fit...but maybe something like sumac/zatar or ginger?
03:42 pm: it must be the hat
I was at Readercon for something less than 3 hours. I contributed essentially nothing--no sparkling conversation or deep insight, no organizational help, no money. I talked with a handful of friends, greeted a larger handful of people, and went home Thursday night to sleep for a day and a half.
This morning, a stranger in Somerville asked if I'd been at that book convention in Burlington last weekend? Yes, but only for a little while... And he lit up like people do when talking about a new love. Wasn't it amazing? Yes. Yes it was. No qualifier at all. This afternoon, a different stranger came up to me in Cambridge, and said, "Weren't you at Readercon? Wasn't it great?"
I don't know if everything connected with Readercon, even a tiny bit, is still glowing a little because this year's con was so amazing. Or if people are just overflowing with good will towards the con, and they remember seeing my hat Thursday night. But I want to spread the word that there ARE people so overflowing with good will toward Readercon that they go up to strangers on the street and tell them it was wonderful.
10:32 pm: apartment to share
I'm looking for somebody to share an enormous apartment on Winter Hill, starting in September. (My housemate is going to move in with her fiance, so we need a subletter to take over the last 6 months of the lease.) The place has a big sunny living room, and an eat-in kitchen with gas stove. We have a washer and dryer (not coin-op) in the basement. When we first moved in, we assured the landlord that neither of us had any interest at all in offstreet parking...we might try to renegotiate that if you have a car. I walk from Davis Square all the time, but for less enthusiastic walkers it's close to the #80, #88, #89, #90, and #101 buses. Only 2-3 minutes walk to the #80 or #89.
The space you'd be subletting is a 10 x 12' bedroom with a standard closet, plus a smaller (9 x 10') room you might use as an office, study, or craft room. The landlord wants this to be a home for 2 people, not 3, so this might be a good place for somebody with a lot of bookcases. Rent is $975 for both, plus half the utilities.
I'm a bookish introvert who spends a fair amount of time at home, not necessarily being sociable. I'm looking for a housemate who doesn't think sitting on the couch reading a book is code for "I'm lonely and would like to have a conversation." (I do like having conversations sometimes, though. If you like that sort of thing.) I need to keep video and many perfumes out of common spaces. The apartment is and needs to remain smoke and alcohol free, pet free, queer-friendly, poly-friendly, and kink-friendly. If it seems like your kind of place, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss details.
(ETA: There is some flexibility in the rent, if the situation looks great otherwise.)
10:05 pm: well, here we go again
For somebody who likes stability so much, my living situation seems to be changing an awful lot this year. As you know, I moved in with Sovay this winter, after searching for an apartment in a frantic hurry. The place is gorgeous and I love Somerville and Sovay is a great housemate...but she wants to move in with her fiance quite soon. Thus I need to find somebody to rent half the apartment for half the term of the lease.
As you were so helpful in finding me a housemate in February, I'm hoping one of you can help me find another. For locals, I live on Winter Hill. For people whose friends or relations might be spending a semester near Boston, I'm walking distance to Tufts and have good bus connections to the Red, Orange, and Green lines (which get you to downtown and most universities.) Please, if you know somebody who you think might be a good fit for this, let us know.
I'll put a detailed description in the next post, for convenient linking. Right now I'm sort of hoping for sympathy and advice, if anybody has some to spare.
01:02 pm: text manners
I had a wonderful conversation last night with a potential customer, with an enormous number of text messages spread over several hours. I'm used to doing business by phone or email, and just using texts for quick reminders and last-minute changes of plans. (Now I feel like some kind of historical relic.) The speed and responsiveness was very convenient, especially that I could answer that yes, I am taking new students this summer, before he went on to describe his son's situation in more detail. But slower than phone...so I could look up schedules and maps between messages. And it was so very nice to not have to strain to hear! No background noise from fans or fireworks or the phone itself. No awkwardness of mismatched accents. We were going back and forth for hours, in a leisurely way.
The only problem was that I'm unfamiliar with doing business this way, so I don't know polite and professional ways to say, "This has been great, but I have to go now." Phone calls have clear endpoints. Email can arrive late at night and be answered in the morning. But after 2 hours of returning texts every 5 minutes, it seems awkward to just disappear. Even, "Ok, great. I will see [son's name] Monday at [time and place]," led to an ongoing trickle of questions.
This is, of course, a stranger who is thinking about hiring me. My usual way of ending an IM session for the night ("I think it's my bedtime, love. *hug*") does not seem appropriate.)
08:27 am: pro tip
When a round pan has 2 little handles on opposite sides, the pan should go in the oven with the handles to the left and right, not front and back. It's relatively easy to grab a rectangular pan where there is no handle, just taking it by the corner...but that's a much less comfortable option with a round pan.
11:09 pm: Wednesday reading
This week, I finished The Long Price Quartet, by Daniel Abraham. I'm not sure, but I think I was completely finished with Betrayal in Winter before this week, and only read An Autumn War and The Price of Spring this week (immediately going back to reread the beginning of A Shadow in Summer, for the sake of arguing with it, as one does.) The series does so many things right. I like how it shows characters actually maturing--not just growing out of childhood, or even out of fumbling young-adulthood, but through many stages of adulthood. I like how seriously it takes genocide, and how vengeance/forgiveness/moving on are all shown as so very difficult. I hope I'm mistaken in reading a pro-bullying message into the end.
I am also reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, which is just stunningly good. The fairy-tale parts are right. And the other parts are right, with parents who mean well and Just Don't Get It. Like making good choices now that you're in 6th grade doesn't mean going off to rescue your best friend from a snow witch. (Really, the responsible choice in that situation is to stop and put boots on, not to just sit there and do homework.)
On audiobook, I'm listening to Lower Corte, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I read it a long time ago, and I'm not sure if I'm perceiving it differently because my feminist standards have changed or because I notice different things at the pace of an audiobook.
On Friday, Sovay was coughing pathetically and expressing unhappiness about the need to go out into the dismal cold rain and deal with tax paperwork. As soon as she was out the door, I went looking for that book by Nevil Shute where the NHS is obviously the villain because England has such bad weather. (As compared to a fundamentally decent place like Australia, where the sun shines all the time, there's lots of poor immigrants providing free labor, there's plenty to eat with no rationing, and nobody who matters has to worry about taxes.) I looked at several, and it's remarkable how Shute draws me in, considering I don't actually like his characters very much.
I realized The Breaking Wave (also known as Requiem for a Wren was not the book I was looking for, about halfway through. (Though it's largely about how Australia is so much better than England, and is set shortly after WW2.) That's the one about the disabled pilot who goes looking for his brother's fiancee, after the brother was killed near D-Day. It's about people who take it for granted that a respectable person simply does not confide in those they love. Such people really annoy me, in fiction as in real life. But what bothered me more was the idea of war as a positive experience for young people. Not: unpleasant necessity. Not even: we remember it fondly because we were young and together, even though it was horrible. Rather: it was so exciting anybody who experienced it once will want more of it.
I have a shelf full of Shute (--now on a shelf, rather than in a box! I finally decided we are staying in this apartment, with all its flaws, and started nesting in earnest.) I went on to read The Far Country (I don't know the other title.) I'm less than halfway through, but the NHS has already been established as a great evil. So has the UK generally, because rain and cold and food shortages and equality. How dare a country tax the rich to provide health care! The little old ladies starving to death because they're too proud to accept charity from the government. (Accepting money from the government because of what one's husband did decades ago occupying India is respectable. Accepting money from the government because the government is offering to help just anybody is NOT.) It would all be very much funnier if the NHS and the underlying idea that it's good for poor people to get medical care and enough to eat were not under active attack.
09:09 pm: broiler difficulties
I learned how to use a broiler when I had an electric stove. I had cooked for decades without any broiling at all, and still don't feel comfortable broiling meat. But I liked using it for toast or eggy things. I especially liked being able to leave the oven door open a little and peek at the top of the food to see how done it was.
This apartment has a gas stove with the broiler in a drawer under the oven. (I don't know if all gas stoves have that kind of broiler arrangement.) Because it's an unfamiliar stove, I expect to do some fumbling around getting used to how long things take. Just like I had to learn this oven's idea of 375 degrees F is a bit hotter than my Arlington oven's. I don't have a problem with that. I'm annoyed that there doesn't seem to be a way to adjust the vertical distance from the heat, but I can be ok with that too.
What bothers me is that it's so painful for me to move the drawer in and out. I can't tell if this is a problem with my body or with the stove. Either way, it makes it extremely difficult to adjust timing. I can't watch the food while it cooks, because the drawer has to slide in to put the food under the heat. I'd like to slide it out frequently to check for doneness, and that's a horrible strain, even when I'm sitting on the floor so I can pull straight out without twisting. (And so I can peek at the food with minimal sliding out.) It's painful enough that I've been choosing not to cook foods that would need broiling.
Is this a solved problem? Is there some kind of lube that makes broiler drawers slide easily, and doesn't catch fire? Or is it just common knowledge that moving a broiler drawer requires a nontrivial amount of arm strength and a few healthy joints, like lifting a full stockpot or putting a turkey in the oven?
ETA: The stove is new to the apartment, but not "new" in the usual sense. (There were a lot of renovations before we moved in.) The drawer rails don't seem to be bent or damaged, but it's hard to know for sure. I slid the broiler drawer out as far as possible without lifting, and the rails weren't obviously distorted.
12:25 pm: more about the apartment
I still love Somerville. The more I explore this side of Somerville--Magoun Square, Winter Hill, east of the main library--the more I find to like about the place. For more than a week, I was even feeling thrilled with the heroic building inspectors of Somerville, as well as the parks and libraries and interesting little shops.
A few days after we moved into this gorgeous apartment, we discovered the windows didn't quite close. When we called the landlord, he acknowledged there was a problem with 2 windows, and said he was planning to have those fixed in a few weeks. As you may know, Somerville is in New England, where the end of March is still awfully cold. Thus we called the city, and they sent out The Heroic Building Inspector to have a look.
It wasn't that simple. I'm afraid it's never that simple. The landlord was willing to replace 2 windows because they didn't open properly. Sovay and I considered those a nuisance--with 16 windows in the apartment, it's not that big of a deal to just leave a couple of them closed. But 14 windows that don't close tightly are a serious problem, and the landlord really doesn't want to fix those. I can understand why...it's an expensive project. But sometime expensive repairs are part of owning rental property.
I am so very discouraged. The Notice of Violation was written up by the Heroic Building Inspector, and I think that still exists. Technically. But 2 out of 3 building inspectors think there's no violation, so I'm afraid it's going to evaporate any minute now. And thus we will have no excuse for withholding rent, demanding further repairs, or breaking the lease.
11:47 pm: building code
Sovay and I are going through our apartment. We want to have a list of our concerns before the housing inspector turns up. So the inspector doesn't look at the terrifying windows, then go away without seeing the dubious back door. When we actually sit down with the building code, there turns out to be a LOT of dubious around here.
At least we don't have raccoons. Or squirrels. Or daleks. (We're on the second floor. I suppose we'd be safe from daleks no matter how incompetent the builders were.) It seemed so nice when we signed the lease last month. And even when we moved in, earlier this month. But now winter is coming INSIDE. The newly-installed windows don't close, in part because the window frames are set into the wall with mind-boggling ineptitude.
It's so very frustrating. We never thought about the doorposts of the house (except in thinking about mezuzot, obviously), and now it turns out Sovay can pry some of them loose with her fingers. That's just wrong.
I believe the landlord had the whole apartment gutted after damage from the previous tenants, and rebuilt with a somewhat different floor plan. That's why I have such a big bedroom with a walk-in closet and six windows. And why the kitchen was completely refurbished. We walked through in February while they were laying the new floor, and thought all the renovations would have that level of craftsmanship. The windows don't even meet code! (I called the landlord when I noticed. The installer had told him about the problem with a couple of the windows, and he had planned to replace them in a few weeks. That was when I asked the city how they dealt with building code violations--they're sending an inspector sometime this week.) I'm torn between wanting to keep a good relationship with the landlord and wanting to push him as hard as necessary to make him repair this [obscenity] properly and fast.
Getting the repairs done properly is a big deal. One thing I'm afraid of is that the landlord will say he'll make the repairs, and then just wrap some absurd amount of weatherstripping around the windows, so it looks kind of marginally ok until the next bad storm. I don't know if the landlord was taken advantage of by a wildly incompetent window-installer or an incompetent/dishonest building-inspector. (Do these things even get inspected?) Or if the landlord knew perfectly well what was going on, and did it that way on purpose.
I don't want to move again. I want to live in the apartment I thought we had found, if it can be made to exist. Meanwhile, I'm cold and scared.