Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Valentine's Day! We don't tend to be terribly invested in Valentine's Day around our house -- I'm not the kind of lady who wants expensive bouquets of flowers or fine jewels. But we do often take the opportunity to spend a nice day together if our schedules allow, and to make a yummy dinner. This year, though, I got inspired and had a lot of fun putting together a very fun Valentine's gift for my sweetie! As part of this gift, I decided to make CW a really nerdy card (sometimes I just overflow with nerdiness! Also, it felt appropriate, seeing as Tuesday was Darwin's birthday.)


We also made a really yummy breakfast -- Ranchero Breakfast Tostadas with black bean mash, egg, and avocado. I found the recipe on the Bon App├ętit website, via Pinterest. It comes Sara Forte's "The Sprouted Kitchen" cookbook (http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2012/09/breakfast-tostadas-sprouted-ki.html). It is a delicious concoction -- a blend of fabulous flavors! And, to top it all off, it was incredibly simple to put together.


It's been a good day so far -- and it's not over yet! On tonight's menu: restaurant-style top sirloin steaks, pan-seared brussels sprouts...and, for dessert, dark chocolate mousse! All of this means that tomorrow's menu will consist of: coffee, with a side of celery; celery sandwich; and grilled celery!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Acculturation

Yesterday was a big day around here. My father-in-law's 60th birthday is coming up, so we held a celebration, which involved lots of family and lots of pie! He's a big fan of pie, so we baked up a variety of kinds and had a nice little get-together with the whole crew. (I made a key lime pie and a mixed berry crumble pie -- delicious, if I may say so myself!) Having gotten up bright and early to start baking, and having been in party mode all day, I was exhausted last night. CW and I had a nice lie-in this morning, and when I finally rolled myself out of bed, I was determined to keep today a low-key day. So, I put the makings for a vegetable soup into the Crock Pot (or, what I like to call "My Personal Chef") and just let it stew for the day.

When it got to be supper time, I decided that we needed some cornbread to eat with the soup, so I whipped up a batch in my well-loved, kind of ancient cast iron skillet. While it was cooking, I brewed a batch of "sweet tea" (AKA "iced tea"). I realized that I have been down here in the South long enough that I am beginning to "acculturate." Making tea and cornbread seemed like a perfectly natural accompaniment for the soup -- there was no question in my mind that meal demanded it. Cornbread was a rarity to me growing up, especially the kind that they make here in the South. I am fairly sure I had some version of it as a kid, but mostly when I used to think of cornbread I thought of a kind of round loaf we used to buy that happened to contain some cornmeal. It was bubbly and chewy, but more like loaf of artisan sandwich bread than the soft, crumbly skillet bread that is made down here.

I was plenty familiar with tea growing up, but to me "tea" is hot tea, served with milk and sugar. If you ask for tea down here, you will be given a tall glass of incredibly saccharine clear black tea served over ice. I'm still not quite Southern enough to drink proper "sweet tea," which is sweet enough that it sets my teeth on edge! But a tall glass of not-too-sweet tea is an incredibly refreshing drink, and I have developed quite a liking for it.

The whole point of this story is that it is amazing to me how quickly you can reorder your "world view" and become used to a different way of doing things and a new sense of "normal". I'm still a Canuck at heart, but after nearly 8 years, and many batches of cornbread and glasses of sweet tea (oh, and the best barbecue I've ever tasted), I feel like I can begin to call myself a Southerner-in-the-making. This dual sense of identity is a nice feeling -- the anthropologist in me loves it!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

World's Oldest Figurative Sculpture

Sharing another nifty archaeology story, this time about the Lion Man sculpture from Ulm, previously dated at 32,000 years old. When it was discovered back in the 1930s, approximately 30% of this mammoth ivory anthropomorphic sculpture was missing. Researchers have tracked down another thousand-or-so pieces in recent excavations and have been working, painstakingly, to refit them back into their original form.

Photo: Thomas Stephan @ Ulmer Museum. Source: http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Ice-Age-iLion-Mani-is-worlds-earliest-figurative-sculpture/28595

In addition to "fleshing out" this sculpture, these new discoveries provided additional dateable material from the strata where the ivory fragments were recovered. Dates have been returned that push the age of this piece back another 8,000 years, making the Lion Man the world's oldest figurative sculpture at 40,000 years old!

This is some exceptional artwork for having originated so far back in antiquity. Especially impressive, I think, is the quite expert 3-dimensional rendering. It is one thing to draw a 2-dimensional representation on a cave wall; it is quite another thing to be able to conceive of and render a 3-D specimen! Mind you, the Upper Paleolithic stone tool technology that was being produced at this time required impressive 3-dimensional cognitive abilities to execute, so the translation of these abilities into the production of complex artwork is not surprising.

Here is a link to a good article about this find:

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Ice-Age-iLion-Mani-is-worlds-earliest-figurative-sculpture/28595

Cozy Feet

I am pleased to report that, as I was eating my breakfast this morning, I finished my other sock, and now have a PAIR of socks! Yay! CW is very excited that I can now start on his. I believe that might be this evening's project, although I may need to just start with swatching, as his feet will still be at work by the time I'm done for the day.

I am in writing mode for the afternoon, and I must say my feet are exceptionally cozy, which is a nice change from them freezing this morning). These socks feel fantastic (as CW said "They'd better, seeing as they are custom knit to your feet!") and they're so nice and snuggly. I think I may be hooked on sock knitting. It's a nice kind of project because they're so very usable, being something you can wear almost every day. I always feel a little sorry for my lovely and exceptionally cozy hat that I knit that spends most of our mild winters languishing in the front coat closet. I only bring it out on particularly chilly state occasions. But socks...well, those I wear most every day in the late fall - early spring.

I am going to have to get paying work, though, to support my new habit. This is not an enterprise for a starving student! Thank goodness for Joann, Michaels and Hobby Lobby 40% off coupons!


Back to work I go, with toasty toes!

*ADDENDUM: Just thought I would mention, for the benefit of anyone who wants to try knitting socks but is intimidated by the prospect (as I was), I used Ann Budd's book "Getting Started Knitting Socks." It is a 2007 Interweave Press volume, and it is fantastically user-friendly! She provides readers with an understanding of the "sock formula," which can be adapted to meet any gauge your yarn happens to produce. The illustrations are very clear, the patterns are easy to follow, and she even provides some excellent "troubleshooting" information -- how to prevent gusset holes, for example. All-in-all, a great addition to a knitter's bookshelf!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Lovely Surprise

I mentioned in an earlier post that we really haven't had much in the way of winter down here in the Midsouth this year. We never have much of a winter, compared to the winters I grew up with, but this has been an exceptionally mild one. Today felt particularly spring-like; the sun was out and the air felt a little "warmish." It was beautiful, and all the critters outside seemed to agree! The birds were chirping, frogs were singing, the bees were buzzing, and the feral cats in the woods....well, let's just say they seemed intent on making a few more feral cats!

The cats were making such a racket out there at one point that I decided to poke my head outside to make sure they weren't messing with Martin and Fred, our outdoor cats who are skittish and obliviously friendly, respectively. Marty was thrilled to have me outside with him. He was positively rumbling as he trotted along beside me while I went in search of the feral critters. (I never did find them, but they were quiet after that, so I assume they went in search of a little more privacy!)

On my way back from the woods, I paused to have a little peek at the garden. Mostly, I wanted to check up on my little daffodils that had budded-up right before the snow and freeze we had last week. (Incidentally, they made it through the freeze quite unscathed and look primed to "pop" any second.) What I hadn't noticed before were the fat buds on my reticulata irises. They caught my eye today when I saw this:


 Aren't they beautiful?! They are such quietly pretty little things -- a spectacular color in a small package -- and a lovely harbinger of spring. I think this was the Universe's way of telling me it is time to weed the garden! I have been quite surprised by how much "green stuff" has remained in the garden over the winter. I really thought my last fall weeding session would have been my last until March, perhaps. I could easily have weeded a few weeks ago, though! Crazy Southern winters. Well, I know what I'll be doing on my next (warm) day off -- can't wait to play in the dirt!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Richard III

This is just a neat archaeology story I wanted to share. Check out Alan Boyle's article on the skeleton discovered at Greyfriars last year. Results of the DNA studies have come back and, along with some good physical evidence (e.g. the poor fellow's horrific scoliosis), it seems to indicate that it is the skeleton of Richard III!

http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/04/16832540-verdict-issued-on-skeleton-found-under-parking-lot-its-king-richard-iii

You can read all about it on the Cosmic Log.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Art Day!

We had a somewhat rare treat this weekend: the husband had an actual Saturday/Sunday weekend off! It does happen on a regular, albeit infrequent, basis. I don't know why, but a Saturday and Sunday off together always feels more special than two weekdays off together. I take my days off when he has his days off, so I think it makes me feel like a member of "normal" society, someone who gets to work M-F. (I realize that this isn't a lot of people's "normal" but it still feels awfully nice!)

We had company with us for Friday and Saturday, but they headed home this morning, so we designated today as "Art Day." This is one of the many reasons that I adore my husband: he suggests a day full of art as the ultimate relaxation/date day for us.

For my project I settled on a portrait inspired by Lindsey Bugbee's work over at The Postman's Knock (http://www.thepostmansknock.com/how-to-create-a-crayola-crayon-portrait/), which I found through that marvelous social networking medium: Pinterest. Her work is done using wax crayons, but all I had was a pack of 24 Crayola crayons that didn't have quite the color range I was looking for, so I busted out my stash of Prismacolor colored pencils. (My Mom and Dad gave me those pencil crayons many, many years ago, and they remain one of my very favorite art supplies!)

The husband (CW) and I had gone on a lunch date the other day to one of our local favorite Thai restaurants, and our sushi looked so pretty that I pulled my camera out of my purse and started snapping photos. In the middle of my photographic frenzy, I took a picture of CW that I really liked, and I decided it would make a suitable subject for this portrait experiment.

So, I began with a nice light pencil sketch:
(Sorry for the not-great photo quality, but I really was trying not to use to heavy a touch with the pencil!)

Next step was to ink it in. I reduced the saturation on the original photo (so it became black & white) and boosted the contrast so I could see the light and shadow clearly.
And then came the colored pencils. While I normally would be quite concerned with trying for "photorealism," this time around I just wanted to emphasize broad swaths of color in order to integrate it nicely with the sharply defined areas of shadow. Here is the finished product:
There are a few little finicky issues I have with it, but overall I think I'm fairly content with how it turned out. And CW seems to approve, so that's a bonus!