Yesterday we spent the whole day preparing for our Halloween Cocktail Party, we needed to buy a few things, finish decorating the house, plate all the food and put on our costumes.
It turns out that having university professors over for a cocktail party is far more civilised than hosting a party for university students. There was so much less mess to tid up, no furniture got broken, nobody threw up and no bands gatecrashed (although admittedly having a band gatecrash your party to play a set is really cool); plus we now have several nice bottles of wine and we were able to comprehensively taste-teste two delicious cocktails!
I think everyone had fun, and there were some great costumes. I particularly liked that two people turned up in very different costumes that happened to both involve integral mugs.
The absolute star of the party was Edith Cavell-Cat, she clearly thought people had come simply to admire her and had a lovely time wafting around the room being fussed over. She also took the opportunity to climb into the fireplace whilst Doc and I were distracted, but the stupid cat then couldn't work out how to get back out through the chain mail fireguard. I'm just glad I spotted her before the gas fire flared up again, that would have ruined her beautiful fur.
Nancy, on the other hand,spent the whole party hiding under our bed and only cam downstairs after everyone had left. Considering her name-sake, Nancy Wake, was an incredibly courageous and resourceful spy, I'm sorry to say that never was a cat given a less fitting name.
Today we have tidied up the party debris, not tha there was a lot to do, and then grazed on left-over party snacks (also I discovered this morning that brushing your teeth straight after eating a handful of wasabi peas induces a minty burning sensation) whilst catching up on the TV shows that Doc C missed whilst he was at his conference.
All in all, I have had a really great weekend! Hooray for Halloween!
The house smells like cookies and cupcakes, and it's draped with streamers and cobwebs.
It turns out that 1 bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk makes 15 frogs, and I had four bars of dairy milk; so now I have 60 frogs. I also hand-painted markings on all 60 in two shades of green.
So for each batch I melted the dark green candy melts and painted that on to the moulds, then melted the light green candy melts and painted that on. Before I could temper the chocolate I had to wash the double-boiler thoroughly and dry it super carefully to make sure there was not a drop of water left, because that would ruin the whole batch. All of the chocolate had to be finely chopped to make sure it melted uniformly, then stirred until it was cool enough to pour into the frog moulds.
To get the bubbles out you have to whack it down on to the worksurface, before putting it into the freezer for quarter of an hour. Once set you flip the mould over and whack it the other way up on a chopping board, and the frogs hop out. Making chocolates is a surprisingly noisy endeavour.
So yeah, I spent the whole day making chocolate frogs and now I'm exhausted.
Yesterday I decided to move the bookcases on the mezzanine; at the same time I also decided to get rid of some of the books that I'd read and was unlikely to read again. I lugged a laundry bag full of books into work this morning and left them on the giveaway table, by the end of the day only a few of the really cheesy looking detective novels were left.
The main reason for re-organising the mezzanine is to clear the floor space, because I've found a really nice rocking chair on sale on the Urban Outfitter's website, and I think that plus a nice rug would make that area a perfect place to curl up with a book and a cat.
I am never going to be a shining proponent of minimalism, but it's actually kind of relaxing to reduce the amount of STUFF in my home. Actually, whilst Doc's away, I think I'm going to go through my wardrobe and thin that out too. Maybe. I'm not promising anything here.
This weekend I am on an organisational rampage! Roar!
I have thrown away or recycled an estimated half-ton of cardboard, paper and other assorted gubbins, moved all of the suitcases to the loft space and donated half of the Christmas decorations to charity shop - thus the mezzanine is clear. I've also re-organised the shelves in the living room, so that they are both functional AND aesthetically pleasing (or at least inoffensive).
But that's not all!
I've also organised the booze cupboard, by type of alcohol and then by volume of fluid left in th bottle. All of the cookie cutters are packed away in the Campus Queen lunch box, which freed up a lot of space in the baking supplies drawer; so then I HAD to re-arrange that too.
All of that and we went to the Ghost Train, I slept until 2 this afternoon and I got mouse blood out of the carpet after a second rodent met Edith and Nancy last night.
It is finally Friday evening.
It's times like this that you really appreciate the forward passage of time.
At lunch time yesterday I had a couple of things that I had to do in town, so I walked over from my office and on my way I decided to briefly stop at the large antique shop on the high street. Well, it says antiques over the door, but really it's a flea market and that's actually fine with me because I usually want something vintage and cheap, not appraised and expensive.
I was looking for something to store my make-up in, because proper make-up cases are ludicrously expensive and I really couldn't leave all of that stuff sitting on the side in the bathroom anymore. It was taking up all the space, and there was always the risk something would get splashed with water and ruined. I'd tried organising my cosmetics collection into a vintage thermos lunch tin, but I wasn't 100% happy with that. Anyway, at the antiques shop I found a number of oddly expensive lunch boxes, but none with a print that really spoke to me; a large vinyl doll case full of battered barbies that smelled strongly of stale tobacco smoke and then I found the Ugly Kitten Box.
It's another doll case, this one is designed like a small steamer trunk in tiffany blue enameled metal with white plastic edging, and metal corners. Gorgeous! The enamel is nicely beaten up, and the corners have a charming rusty patina to them.
I'm sure you'll be wondering why I call it the Ugly Kitten box, and I think that's a fair question. Let me show you:
It really could have been such a tasteful box, but then someone slapped a cartoon kitten with a bunch of daisies on the lid! I love it!
Plus all of my make-up fits inside neatly, but with room for my collection to grow and it was only $10. Happy sigh.
So in the early hours of the morning I was woken up by Doc C getting up to go and see what was going on downstairs, because he'd been woken up by the loud squeaks and the sound of thundering paws.
Pinky the mouse was back.
This time we left them to it, because if a mouse really has that little instinct for self-preservation there is really not much you can do for it. We didn't get much sleep though, because it was a pretty lively mouse and they were running around for hours. Anyone who uses the phrase "cat-like" to mean quiet has clearly never lived with a cat.
At one point the noise suddenly stopped, and I came down to see if the mouse was dead so I could stop them eating it. It wasn't dead, it had merely wedged itself under the heater, so Edith was just sitting there playing wack-a-mole with it. It did sneak past her though and then I got to see both of the cats working as a team to corner it; which was pretty impressive, if you managed to ignore the fact that they were toying with a live creature.
By the time we got up (which was something like two hours late because we overslept), the mouse was lying on it's back but still breathing. I scooped it up into a vase, and we detoured on our way to work to drop it off in a wooded area near the river. I don't know if it's going to live, but at least if it does it won't get back into the house and go through all this again.
According to an impeccable source of information, The President enjoyed a slice of carrot cake in one of my favorite lunch places yesterday. An excellent choice I must say they do serve a cracking slice of cake there. No word on if he had a sandwich with that though.
Further excitement, but of a less pleasant nature, also happened yesterday, and spilled over to today; one of the faculty in my department had her wallet stolen from her office, and campus police had photos of the couple who had tried to use the card in a cashpoint in the Student Union.
The investigating officer brought the photos to show to people who work in my building, to see if we recognised them but nobody did.
However, when I went to lunch today, there they were walking down Doc C's hallway an wearing pretty much exactly what they had on in the cashpoint pictures! I dumped my bags, got the secretary in Doc's department to call the campus police and I followed them. The Doc came too (I think mainly in case I showed an entirely uncharacteristic urge to tackle them. As if.), but from the way they behaved I was fairly sure they knew we were watching them. They just walked a very serpentine route and stopped in an odd place, I think to see if we would walk past them, which we did but then turned round.
Anyway, long story short, I called the police back and told them what the suspects were wearing, and which direction they were heading in. I don't think the polic caught up with them, because later in the afternoon the cops showed Doc the photos I'd seen that morning, and Doc agreed it was the same people we had followed.
Hopefully this will help catch the little swines, at the very least it narrows down their pattern of movements!
So, apparently, the President was in town today. I say "apparently" because no-one I know saw him first hand, and the pictures of him in the general store buying macaroons could have been photoshopped.
Still, the local traffic ground to a halt and there was the distinct sound of helicopters overhead, so I will concede it seems highly possible. At least he had the good manners to visit mid-afternoon, so he didn't mess up the commuter traffic. When W visited London a few years back, TfL had to re-route the 38 bus, and the driver of the one I was on got lost. We ended up heading over Battersea Bridge looking for a roundabout so we could turn round and head back the other way. That was, admittedly, the best excuse I have ever had for being an hour late into the office, but it did nothing to improve my opinion of Bush the Younger.
Last week I bought some very elegant willow branches to arrange in a vase with a few whisps of cobweb, but it really didn't have much of a visual impact. Yesterday it occured to me that I wanted to make it a much bigger, and wilder.
So I went outside to collect small fallen branches from the maple tree at the front of our house, and added those to my arrangement. It looks as though I have a winter tree growing out of my bookcase now.
That's much more what I was hoping for!
Today we cleaned the house, and I did a whole bunch more decorating for our Halloween party. Doc C has been persuaded that being a mad scientist would be a great costume, especially as we are going for a 50's / 60's feel. I'm tweaking my costume a bit to be a witch, along the lines of "Bell, Book and Candle" or "Bewitched", so it's a mid-century atomic witchcraft mash-up! Squee! There will be strange mutant experiments and half-completed spells jostling for space on the work surfaces, as well as a distinct culture clash in the decorating.
As ever I find myself wishing for a smoke machine, but then who doesn't want their own smoke machine? In the absence of that, I think the bare minimum requirements is a large number of glow sticks. I am kicking myself for not grabbing two dozen when Woot.com had them on special offer two weeks ago. I knew the would come in handy, but I fought the impulse. When am I going to learn to trust my instincts?
This is the bird feeder (that's what it was labelled anyway - but I think it makes a better bird bath than a bird feeder, because surely it's just going to fill up with water when it rains?) I bought in Old Salem yesterday, the shell is about the size of a hand and the little metal bird is probably a little bit smaller than life size. It was only ten bucks! Score!
So far the birds have totally ignored it, but that's hardly surprising as it has nothing in it.
This is right next to our now empty seed holder, which Doc filled up on Thursday and which was then systematically emptied by the cheeky chipmunk that lives under our house. This morning I saw a squirrel hanging on the empty feeder - Sorry Nutkin, too slow! The chipmunk is quick and efficient!
Being animal-loving softies we are secretly rooting for the chipmunk, and so we didn't chase it away or remove the feeder when we saw what it was up to. Of course that doesn't mean we are going to refill that feeder any time soon, the chipmunk has more than enough to last it for quite some time and the birds won't really need our help until it snows.
Sadly, there is a down-side to being animal loving softies. Apparently when you rescue a mouse from certain death at the jaws of your cat and release it from the front door, what the ungrateful wretch then does is run round to the back of the house and climb back in through the tumble dryer duct. I know this because I saw a mouse sitting in the middle of the downstairs bathroom when I got up this morning, and I am pretty damn certain it was the same mouse from last night.
I called Edith, who naturally ignored me completely, but when I got her and carried her into the bathroom she pretty soon figured out what I was trying, in my moronic human way, to tell her. The mouse slipped away under the washing machine, and Edith so has been on high alert ever since. She has been patrolling downstairs and checking all the likely places a mouse might hide, including a very close examination of under the sofa. She is very thorough.
If I were this mouse I would get the hell out of here, but, seeing as it came right back to where it was caught last night and then just sat in the open where even a dopey human could see it, I'm assuming it's Pinky and not The Brain.
Today we took the little car to the Mini dealership in Winston-Salem to get the oil changed. We then had lunch at a great wine bar called "6th and Vine", before strolling around Old Salem where I purchased a small bird bath.
When we got home Edith was running around the sofa, peering under it and generally acting like there was a mouse underneath it. Probably because there was a mouse underneath it. About half way through "Project Runway" (TiVo'd from last night) she caught the rodent, and started running aimlessly around the room, mostly trying to avoid us because she knew we would take if away from her. I caught Edith, and she immediately dropped the mouse.
Doc C saw it go onto the bathroom, so we ushered Edith in there after it because we knew we wouldn't be able to catch it. This was a good strategy, because it turned out to be a really fierce mouse; at one point both cats were in the bathroom, the mouse walked up to Nancy, reared up onto it's legs so it could go nose-to-nose with her and then the tiny little thing hissed in Nancy's face. Yikes.
Not long after that Edith caught the mouse for a second time; we were able to get her to the front door before making her drop it outside, and letting it run away. We praised her like crazy, and she spent the rest of the evening double-checking the living room for anything else she could hunt. There was a leaf that she took some frustration out on, but no other rodents inside the house. Which may have disappointed her, but I'm quite pleased about personally.
First of all I woke up really late because I'd turned off my alarm, then Doc C made pancakes. After that I had a shower and got dressed, before spending what was left of the morning making chocolate frogs and spiders. I am very pleased with how they look, I hand-painted the molds with different colours of candy melt to get the markings; the problem is that we only had chocolate chips in the house, so the texture is wrong. As everything I read about molding chocolate had predicted, the chocolates are just too soft and melt to easily. Well, I've bought some different chocolate to experiment with, so suppose that means I'll have to taste test chocolate all over again. Deep sigh.
After that I practised applying my new mineral make-up, watched the first episode in the new "Psych" season and finished making the party invitations.
We also spent a fair amount of time today watching the chipmunk that lives under our house. It discovered the bird seed that Doc C had left on the porch for it (the man is such a softy, but don't tell him I said that), the chipmunk had to make two trips and ludicrously overstuff it's cheeks to transport all the food back to it's nest, but that is a very determined little rodent. Edith was fascinated, and very excited.
Later I looked out if the kitchen window to see (probably the same) chipmunk swinging from the bird feeder. Again it did this a few times, so I got to watch it shimmy up the feeder's metal stand and then leap across to the feeder. It was pretty impressive.
Now I'm watching "Alien" (1979), eating smoked salmon pizza and drinking pumpkin beer.
It's been a bloody nice day.
Today I found myself getting a little overwhelmed and tearful because of a spreadsheet.
To be specific, it wasn't actually the whole spreadsheet, it was that the person who had filled in the information had left a column blank right in the middle, and so when I used the sort function it shuffled some but not all of the data. This wouldn't be a huge deal normallyThe reason this was a problem was because I didn't know that had happened, and I've been working with flawed information for a week. I think I've fixed all of the issues, but it was very frustrating, and now I need to have my work proof read before I carry on.
Meanwhile, a student came into the office who I know by sight, but I don't know her name or anything else about her. Well, I didn't know anything about her, until she came into the office today panicking about a course she was being charged twice for. This was a problem because her husband committed suicide a few months ago, and so she's been trying to complete her degree, whilst looking after her kids and coping with the financial maelstrom a sudden death can create. She has hit the limit of things with which she can cope, and I had no idea there was a thing wrong because she is always friendly, polite and smiling.
And so now I'm thinking that a frustrating spreadsheet issue is actually be a walk in the park. Ok, on this particular spreadsheet walk (stay with me here), I may have stepped in something nasty but it can be cleaned up and everything will be fine.
Let me walk you through my process.
Step One) I hand coloured the flamingo, because I didn't have any card in the right shade of pink; so I used a sickly shade of lilac and cross-hatched it with a hot pink gel pen. Then I used my iPod to find an image of a plastic flamingo, and traced the outline onto greaseproof paper; I used that tracing to make a template which I drew around. Finally I cut out ten flamingoes, by hand, from the now pink card and hot-glued cocktail sticks onto the back of them.
Step Two) I used a round cookie cutter as a template to draw ten circles of the same diameter onto the mottled grey card stock, and then I hand-cut those out too. They were then stuck onto the invitations, trying to get them all in roughly the same position.
Step Three) I cut out ten strips of white card, and used a Martha Stewart paper punch to get the fence cut-outs. I folded the strips in half and stuck the back half onto the card so that the fence folded around to the front of the invitation.
Step Four) Having not found any suitable grass (I was really hoping to find bento grass food dividers, but then I remembered I live in a tiny town on top of a mountain in North Carolina), I was going to cut it out of green card. Then I found a packet of acid green shredded paper which I bought at Easter to pack cupcakes in boxes with and then never used - It's the perfect colour, and, hello, it says "Easter Grass" right there on the bag! Perfect! So then I had to pull out individual clumps from the tangle inside the bag and comb it out using my fingers, line it up and cut it in half before hot-gluing it to the card. Once in place I trimmed the grass, so it wasn't covering the moon.
Step Five) I hot-glued the flamingo to the card so it was silhouetted by the moon.
Step Six) I folded the fence up over the bottom of the grass and the base of the flamingo's stick, and hot-glued it into place.
Step Seven) Place in a row on the mantel piece to check quality control and uniformity across the production line.
Step Eight) Force husband to admire the damn invitations you've spent hours making.
And I still have four to finish.
This evening Doc C and I were invited to join Anna's pub quiz team, and I am very pleased to report that Stormageddon came third. Not bad for an opening gambit.
We have lulled them into a false sense of security, and next week we shall sweep to victory! Victory!
Sorry! Can't blog - making Halloween!
There are some mornings when both of your precious darling cats have thrown up in various places, and, whilst you clean that up, the kitchen fills with smoke because your breakfast bagel has burnt in the toaster.
It is particularly important on those mornings to take a deep breath, and also to appreciate a moment of unexpected beauty when you walk around a corner to see misty sunlight shining on autumn leaves.
Ugh. This week has been tough going, today was actually not that bad - but I suspect it's the calm before the storm. Tomorrow has the potential to be REALLY bad, but let's keep our fingers crossed for a change of pace.
My strategy is to dress for a challenge; probably my black shift dress with knee-high black DMs, and use that costume as a way to psych myself up to take on whatever the day may bring.
And make sure we've got gin and tonic in the house for when I finally get home again.
This evening I'm cooking for the University's fledgling band of heathens - The Atheists and Agnostics will be getting almond mini cupcakes with a raspberry compote, and a deconstructed pumpkin cheesecake (spiced pumpkin creamcheese piped onto a graham cracker (English Translation - A square biscuit that is sort of like a slightly less crisp digestive)).
It's rather convenient that these are two of the items on my Halloween buffet menu, isn't it? But I'm sure the students won't mind being culinary guinea pigs.
Doc C took the cats to the vet for a check-up this morning, and they are both very healthy. In fact when the vet's tech weighed them and reported that both cats were exactly the same weight, Doc couldn't believe it; so they were weighed again. Both Edith and Nancy are both ten pounds.
Both cats are so very different from how they were when first saw them a the human society, Edith's personality has really blossomed but you can actually see the change in our Nancy.
Fat Nance was once this skinny little thing:
And now look at her!
Eh, whatever! I now have a panel of the TARDamask Threadless t-shirt hanging up on our bedroom wall right underneath a largish crack in the plaster. It couldn't be much better really could it? (Don't worry Moth, I darkened the crack in this photo to make it a bit more prominent.)
As you can see I also made some mini panels with just one TARDIS on them, this portrait one is ok, but I really like the square minis better because the whole design will fit diagonally rather neatly. I put one of those up too, on the other side of the bathroom door, so we have TARDIS whizzing off all over the place. That seems much more appropriate than them being entirely confined to nice neat rows, don't you think?
I still have half of the t-shirt left, it was a front and back all-over print, so I could make a larger panel, or a cushion maybe.
I'd already arranged the dried rosebuds, assorted foliage and ribbon (which all came from the lovely bunch of flowers I was given by a colleague who does weddings - So this is a recycled bridesmaid's bouquet!) onto the vine wreath, but it needed more. Specifically it needed moss, fake cobwebs and plastic spiders. The plastic spiders are rings that come in packs of 50 from the dollar store, but I had to get 2 packs because they ar a mix of the black spiders that I wanted and bright orange spiders which did not really work for this particular project. I wanted to make this look like a really lush wreath had been left on the door for years and was disentegrating, but was still just about being held together by the cobwebs -Actually the rosebuds kept falling out when left to their own devices, so the cobweb really is integral to this project.
With Edith's help (how do people manage to do any sort of DIY craft project without a cat around to helpfully try and eat everything?), it took me about forty minutes to get the whole thing finished and now it's on our front door.
I then spent a couple of hours watching old episodes of "CSI" and cutting the rings off the backs of the orange plastic spiders that I deemed totally unrealistic for the wreath. I then poked a whole in the back with my handy bradle and then stuck a cocktail stick in each one. I now have orange spider cocktail sticks, perfect for my Halloween party snacks and drinks! Thanks Martha!