2018: The Prof. Kitty Index

Happy New Year! How was your 2018? Here are some numbers from my year.

800+: running miles logged

86,000+: running elevation logged (in feet)

2: times the family went bowling together

3: days spent with hundreds of women I've never met before at Big Birdcamp (weekend gathering hosted by women's running brand Oiselle)

365: days I didn't drink alcohol

30: books I read this year written by women

0: books I read this year written by men

17: times I "climbed the Rattlesnake" (ran up the local mountain)

4: number of years as of 2018 that I've co-directed the annual Turkey Trot race

1: place in work pie contest earned by my Classic Banoffee Pie

1: place in Guilford Fair Produce category earned by my 3 garden zucchini 

3: number of times I volunteered at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

50: number of kilometres I ran in April in my first official race at this distance

7+: number of hours the 50k took

600+: miles I drove with my mother & daughter on a round-trip to my hometown for a party

853: dollars earned by my son selling popcorn as Cub Scout fundraiser

850: number of popcorn fundraiser dollars required to earn the "Escape Room Game" prize

The 30th book I read this year, finished today on New Year's Eve, was Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkeban, written by JK Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay

My (homemade) punch-card for climbs up Mt. Wantastiquet, with 17 punches

Detail of piece from the "Don't Call Me Princess" show by Orly Corgan that I volunteered at in October. Check out Anita Hill testifying in the lower right-corner, and a little bit of Christine Blasey Ford in the lower left corner.

Prize winning squash!

Prize winning pie!

Climbing course at Big Birdcamp—I climbed both the structure on the left and the pole thing on the right.

Lauren Fleshman, one of my personal heroes, singing about smashing the patriarchy and a few other things, also at Big Birdcamp.

At Birdcamp we each wrote a word about what we were hoping to get from the experience and taped it to the wall. I went and read them later and so many of them said: Connection. Is it coincidence that "Connect" was my chosen Inspiration Word for 2018?

So those are some things that happened in 2018. But rather than taking credit for them, I prefer to think that I'm here to appreciate them. Do you know that Frog & Toad story called "The Garden"? Frog gives Toad some seeds to grow, and Toad plants them. But when he checks back, they haven't grown. Each day he tries something to help them grow. He yells at them. He sits with them all night by candlelight. He plays them music. He sings. He reads them poetry. Finally, the seeds sprout. And Toad is worn out with all the work he had to do to get them to grow. I feel this way about life: how much success is related to our efforts, and how much is due to just... being planted?

I also had some seeds that did not grow this year.

I never updated my résumé. 

I didn't pay down my credit cards as much as I wanted.

I failed to get the local running club together to talk about finances, though I've laid the groundwork to do that in 2019.

Despite vaguely earnest (or earnestly vague) intentions otherwise, I attended only ONE yoga class, and it was 364 days ago, on January 1, 2018. 

I did not start publishing a series of "5-sentence stories" on my blog (here!)

How about you? What are you favorite numbers from 2018? Did your garden take a lot of effort? Did you plant seeds that didn't grow?

Rad DIY Black Leather Earrings

Oh my goodness, it's December again! Lately my crafting bug has been coming back, and I made these rockin' black leather earrings as a recent do-it-yourself project. I felt they were missing from my life. Sometimes I'd get dressed and look at myself in the mirror and CRAVE long, dangly, aggressive earrings to complete my look. 

I put these together with components from Brattleboro's fantastic local bead & jewelry store, Beadniks. You can make them too—for yourself or maybe as a DIY gift for someone special.

Here's what you need:

2 silver kidney wire pierced earring findings
1 yard of 5mm wide black leather 
2 large silver ball-chain sections
2 silver headpins, about 3 cm long
pliers & safety pin

First, cut the leather into 4 strips of 2 lengths. I made 2 strips about 17 cm each, and 2 about 14 cm each. Cut the ends at an angle. Then fold the strips in half and press between your fingers to lightly crease—see photo below.

Next, where you've folded each strip in half, make a hole right through the strip using the safety pin. (The safety pin is wider and stronger than the head pin.) You can even wiggle the pin around to make an even wider hole. I stuck the pin through from the smooth side of the leather to the rough, so I could make sure the hole was going right into the center of the strip. Do this with all 4 pieces of leather.

Next, stick a head pin from the rough side (inside) of a short strip through to the other side. You're starting to build the earring.

Now stack a longer strip on top of the short one from the same direction (poking the headpin through from the rough underside). You should have both strips stacked on the headpin like this:

Next, put one of the large ball-chain sections over the headpin like you're stringing a bead.

Finally, use the pliers to create a loop at the end of the head-pin wire, and add the kidney wire earring finding. With the pliers, twist the extra wire around the next of the loop. I had a bit more wire sticking out, so I pushed it down into the ball-chain. The image below is a little out of focus, but trying to show how I made the loop and twisted finish that attaches everything to the kidney wire.

Now repeat the procedure with the rest of the materials to make your second earring. All done!

Do you have handcrafted or DIY plans for holiday gifts? For yourself? Please tell in the comments below!

Morrocan-style Potato and Carrot Tagine

Do you like Moroccan food? I was fortunate to grow up in a family that did, and we even visited Morocco in 1980 when I was 8 years old. The two things I remember about the country are the donkeys and the mint. We were given bunches of mint to inhale while visiting the odoriferous dye vats. And when visiting carpet dealers (which seemed to be constantly, but may have been only once), they served hot mint tea by pouring it from the pot in one long, lifting arc so that it cooled as it fell into the glass.

I also have great memories of Moroccan restaurants in North America, including the Sultan's Tent in Toronto (which has now moved downtown) and the Casablanca in Harvard Square (now closed). 

But guess what? There is no Moroccan restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont. So sometimes I make my own Moroccan food. This particular dish is adapted from several Internet recipes. The addition of green olives and preserved lemon gives it amazing flavor angles you wouldn't get from an ordinary veggie stew. 

The Brattleboro Food Coop sells preserved lemons in
jars of two. They are salty and meltingly soft.

I'm calling it "tagine," although I don't have the proper clay pot or much knowledge of actual Moroccan cooking apart from watching youtube videos. So that's also why this is "Moroccan-style" (or Moroccan-ish): because it is a loooooong way from authentic.

2 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped (or try grating for more sweetness)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, chopped or grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 cup water (more if needed)
4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 can chickpeas/garbanzos
1/2 cup pitted green olives (pit them with a knife if needed)
1 preserved lemon, quartered with seeds scraped out
parsley or cilantro for garnish

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute onion for 2-3 minutes, then garlic and ginger for 2-3 more minutes, then turmeric, pepper, and cinnamon for another few minutes.

2. Add the carrots and stir around to cover with the spice mixture, then pour in 1 cup water (or more to cover, if needed). Bring carrots to a gentle boil.

3. Add the potatoes, chickpeas, olives, and preserved lemon quarters (I tuck the quarters around the edges). Add more water to cover if needed. Cover with lid and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. After 20 minutes, check the liquid. If there's a lot left, uncover and let the liquid reduce to make a light sauce for the veggies. Once the potatoes are soft and starting to fall apart, you can serve!

I served the veggies topped with cilantro and chopped chiles from the preserved lemon jar. We had couscous and naan on the side. I buttered the naan, but otherwise everything is vegan. (I used naan because it was the best flatbread I could find.)

I am obsessed with preserved lemons now.

So back to my first question--comment below if you like Moroccan food! What's your favorite dish or restaurant? Have you ever been to a restaurant with a belly dancer?

Of Stone Walls & Apples

You just never know what you're going to find on the back roads of Vermont. Did you know that Scott Farm Orchard on Kipling Road in Dummerston (and location for the film Cider House Rules) is home to The Stone Trust, where those interested in all aspects of dry stone walling can come for hands-on workshops or to tour examples of traditional building techniques?

If you were wondering where the only facility in North America is with regular test days for wallers to get certified by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, this is the place.

The 1862 Scott Farm historic cow barn (above) is now an Indoor Training Center for dry stone walling.

Inside the barn are dry stone walls in various states of completion. Wallers dismantle and rebuild them to practice the techniques.

Outside and past another barn is a mill pond. Cross a small bridge...

...and on the other side you can explore the Master Features park. 

The walls and structures here are gorgeous. We came on two different fall days to explore the walls and other stonework.

The far end of this wall is in progress.

Up close, you get a little idea how the wall is shaped and built up.

This beautiful wall is a medley of techniques, including tall flat inset slabs that act like immense bookends.

It reminds me of a knitting story about the sweaters of Aran. It used to be that in church each week, the women would check out each other's sweaters, looking for interesting new stitches and patterns and cables to try. The sweaters themselves were the pattern books and inspiration for others on the island. Don't these stone walls seem like similar storehouses of information and fancy?

One side of this is tidy and finished.

On the other side, stacks of rocks are ready to use.

Do stop by The Stone Trust, if you're in the neighborhood some sunny afternoon! Then get some drinks and donuts from the farmstand, housed in the white building shown above. 

Scott Farm itself is pretty fascinating. It's been operating since 1791 and is now owned by Landmark Trust USA, and they grow a wide variety of heirloom apples and can tell you about the history of each one. Two of my favorites are the Sheep's Nose, named for its long, tapered shape, and the Blue Pearmain, a type preferred by Henry David Thoreau. (Lucky for us, Scott Farm apples are also stocked at the Brattleboro Food Coop, so I can buy them in season any time.)

Museum Security Guard: What I Learned

After my momentous art viewing experiences at MassMOCA last spring, I decided to volunteer at the local art museum.

Here are a few things that I learned volunteering at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

I learned that a woman wearing a badge that says "Security" is an irresistible target for remarks from some types of people. Usually that remark is "Security!?" said in a tone of mocking disbelief. Ha ha.

I learned that abstract artist Debra Ramsay took walks on a forest trail in spring, summer, fall, and winter, and took a photo every 18 feet. She then selected a color from each photo and created the work "Painting Time." Above and below are features of the installation.

I learned that people don't really read signs, as they would come into this room and wonder aloud what they were looking at. Although I had read the sign, I did not fill them in because I figured the discovery, if any, is part of their personal viewing experience.

I learned that glass artist Robert DuGrenier had a historic barn full of beloved animals that was destroyed by fire in 2015. All that remained after the fire were the metal parts of the tools and implements that had been in the barn.

I learned that Robert DuGrenier used these tools in a body of work called "Handle with Care." I swear I could feel the pain of the animals and of his loss emanating out of the metal in this room.

I also learned that glass-handled tools are irresistible to some people who feel they HAVE to touch them to believe them. My job as Security was to stop them before this happened (which is difficult).

There will be new exhibits when I volunteer again at the end of next week. I can't wait to learn what else people might find irresistible!

Do you volunteer? Is there a local museum where you live?