Monday, December 29, 2008

Xmas recap

Christmas began, as per usual, at Nana and Grampy’s on Christmas Eve.

Stabilicers
Santa gave me some special shoes to help me walk on the ice.

The Schofields

Later that night, we drove on up to my parents’ house in P-town, and on Christmas Day we celebrated with my family.

Locomotion
Logan and Grandma Nan playing

Train boys
Logan loved his train set, but I think his Da-da and his Unkie Rob loved it even more!

Unfortunately, many of us were hit by some kind of Post-Christmas Vortex immediately thereafter. We’re still not sure exactly what it was or how we got it, but there was a lot of puking going on. Luckily, Rob has remained in good health so that he can sort of look after me (“More Ginger-Ale, please!”). We are back at home now, and for the past couple of days I’ve either been in bed or praying to the porcelain goddess. As I write, I’ve been about 24-hours without puking—even though I don’t feel so great, I really hope I’m on the road to recovery.

Another downside to all this vortex is that I have momentarily stopped being a vegan. This is really frustrating to me, since I worked hard to ensure a Very Merry Vegan Christmas, but after so much vortex, I decided that if something non-vegan sounded good to me, I might as well eat it. I’m hoping that once I get myself back on track, I’ll be able to carry on vegan again. Until then, I guess I’ll just be a vegan, interrupted.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The shortest day

Today is the winter solstice. The first day of winter. The shortest day, but the longest night. It’s my favorite holiday because, among other things, it’s the day beyond which you know things cannot get worse—at least in terms of daylight. Starting tomorrow, the days will become longer. It will be slow at first—tomorrow’s daylight will increase by just 3 seconds—but by the end of January, we’ll have 10 whole hours of light each day, and the sun won’t set until 5:05pm. All that’s left to do is just hang on.

The first day of winter did not disappoint this year. The windchill hovered around 25 below zero all day, and I think the actual temperature made it all the way up to 2 degrees at some point today. As if the extreme cold and 30+ mph winds weren’t bad enough, the entire world is covered in a sheet of ice. Seriously people, I can handle snow and cold to a certain extent, but ice is completely unacceptable in my opinion. And even though today is just the first day of winter, it feels like the city has already thrown its arms up in disgust and given up on even attempting to plow or salt the streets.

Last night was our neighborhood holiday party. It was only a block away, which was good, because I practically made Rob carry me over there. I am terrible on the ice. In the past couple of weeks, two elderly people have passed me when I’ve been out trying to walk on this stuff. I am considering making my own snow shoes by drilling screws into all my shoes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have the right kind of screws for that, and it’s too damn icy to go to the hardware store.

In true west-Urbana style, last night's party was a real, old-fashioned, neighborhood holiday sing along. It was the kind of thing that belonged in a black-and-white film. Everybody was all dolled up and had brought along homemade Christmas cookies. There was hot mulled cider brewing on the stove. We actually all stood around the piano and sang Christmas carols. I am not kidding. When it came time to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” each guest was assigned a different “day” (I was “nine ladies dancing”). When we sang “We Three Kings,” three of the male guests sang the magi’s verses as solos. Before he realized what he was getting into, Rob was somehow volunteered to sing the part of Melchior. He did so well that he will probably be asked to sing this part again next year. It was fun, it was folksy, and—despite the fact that over 90% of the party guests still have Obama signs in their yard—it was real America.

I’m hoping that when I wake up tomorrow morning, it will be warm out and my knee won’t hurt anymore so that I can go running. Keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monkey talk

Today I went to talk to my friend Cara’s 6th graders about howler monkeys. I went to speak to her classes last year as well, and for the second time, I was amazed at their inquisitiveness. 6th graders have so many questions. About everything. At any given moment, there were 25 small people seated in front of me, all frantically waving their arms high in the air trying to get me to pick them next. Their questions were really great, showing that they’d paid attention to the story they read prior to my visit and that they were paying attention to the things I was talking about. One girl asked, “How did the monkeys get to Ometepe Island?” which is a really great question nobody has an answer to. A lot of students wanted to know if I’d kept a monkey as a pet or if I’d brought a monkey home with me. I tried to impress upon them what a bad—and illegal—idea that would be. I explained that monkeys are wild animals who belong in the trees, that they are not happy in captivity. I likened it to trying to keep a squirrel as a pet, and most students thought that was hilariously ridiculous. “But Willie Wonka had a pet squirrel,” one student pointed out. Before I even had a chance to contemplate that statement, another student countered, “Yes, but Willie Wonka is fiction.” Enough said.

Some of my favorite questions actually had nothing to do with monkeys:
  • “What is your Japanese sign” one student asked me. My what? I had no idea what she was talking about. “Your Japanese sign,” she said. “Uhh, I don’t know,” was all I could say. “Mine is the rat,” she said proudly. So I guess she meant the Chinese Zodiac. I don’t know what my sign is, but I’ve since looked it up and found it is the ram.
  • “Look, I can write in gnomish.” It wasn’t so much a question, but a proud statement and display of a sheet of notebook paper covered in strange and interesting symbols.

And in the last class of the day, as the bell had rung and students were gathering their things and filing out of the room, one particularly energetic boy (who’d asked about a billion questions) rushed up to me, gave me a hug and a handshake, and asked for my email address.

At any rate, I really enjoyed speaking to Cara’s classes. It’s great to be surrounded by students who are still young enough to be excited about everything. The only downside is that, just like last year, my throat hurts from demonstrating howler monkey vocalizations all day. Oh well, I guess a sore throat will be company to my sore knee, which has been bothering me for a while now. As it turns out, my refusal to give myself a break after the marathon has resulted in some nasty tendonitis. It’s not the end of the world—it just means that I can’t run for a while, which is excruciating for me. I’ve been going strong at 30+ miles a week since August. And now I’ve come to a complete standstill. Considering that the world outside is a solid slick of ice and snow and the windchills have been below zero for a few days, I guess a rest will do me good. It’s just frustrating to be immobilized, but I’ll try to hang in there.

Again, thanks to everybody for your get well wishes to my grandma. Please keep her in your thoughts! Thanks for reading.

You're a vegan? What do you eat? (#1)

So a while back, I mentioned that I was thinking of starting a segment on the blog entitled “You’re a vegan? What do you eat?” I’ve decided to try to do this once a week (I’m tentatively thinking Wednesdays). I feel like, for the 11 years that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve had a pretty good diet, but ever since becoming a vegan, my diet has improved by leaps and bounds. Seriously, I’ve never felt better. Most people seem to think that eating a vegan diet must be impossibly difficult (an opinion I definitely shared before actually trying it myself), but really, it’s pretty easy.

I’ll start off by introducing a winter staple around the Ragfield house: Minestrone soup. I generally don’t follow a recipe for this (just using whatever I have on hand), but a good template for this soup can be found at Vegan A Go-Go. Some basic essentials are garlic, onions, celery, and carrots. Beyond that you need kidney beans, tomatoes, vegetable broth, and some kind of pasta. I also usually add chopped kale and red cabbage.

The particular soup in this photo was actually proclaimed Melissa’s Best Ever Minestrone by none other than Rob. And it was really great. The thing is, I’m not sure what I did to make it so great, and I’ve never quite been able to reproduce it. What I am sort of suspecting is that in this particular batch, I’d used the last of the garden tomatoes (the ones I’d picked green before the first frost and let ripen in a paper bag in our pantry). Maybe it’s the canned tomatoes that make this soup a little lack-luster. Even so, a sub-par minestrone is still pretty good. And right about now, minestrone is Rob’s favorite thing to eat. He doesn’t mind eating batch after batch of the soup as I try to recreate that Best Ever Minestrone made with the season’s last fresh tomatoes.

Minestrone


Minestrone

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 15, 2008

One more post about the Christmas tree


Can the internet handle one more picture of the Ragfield Christmas tree? Rob and I were at Target the other night, and as we walked past the aisles of Christmas decorations, this beautiful silver star caught my eye. It was only $9.99, which I considered totally worth it. For years I’ve been looking for something like this, but I’ve never found any that I liked enough to buy. Now that it’s on the tree, I’m not sure if it makes the tree more or less folksy than the red and gold bow that was there before. Either way, I like it.



Thanks to everybody who has called, emailed, etc to ask about my grandma and wish her well. It really means the world to me, to know that there are so many people out there rooting for her. Some have asked if there is anything they can do to help, and I’d say, just keep Grandma (and my mom and aunt too) in your thoughts. All that love and energy really does help, I can feel it. Thanks again so, so much.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The things I couldn't say

Sometimes, there are just things I can’t write about.

For whoever finds this blog, please send your very best thoughts and wishes to my grandma, whose health has taken a turn for the worse, and to my mom and aunt, who are looking after her.

The women in my family (myself included) tend to have a stubborn streak, to harbor strong opinions, to fight like a lion for those that we love, to be unable to do things in moderation, and to feel that we must never be idle because there is always a meal that needs to be cooked or a tub that needs to be scrubbed. All of this stems from grandma, and for 93 years, she’s been going strong. Recently, she’s had to slow down a lot though. On Friday afternoon she suffered a series of strokes or seizures or both, and now we’re all having to come to terms with the fact that things aren’t going to be the same anymore.

I still can’t really say or write the things that are going on in my head. Auntie is the one who’s probably sorting it all out and writing it into one of her poems that sums up everything and makes us all smile even though we’re kind of crying at the same time too.

I keep remembering that when I was in second grade, I had to do this art project where the teacher gave us the beginning of a sentence and we had to complete the thought by drawing a picture. The phrases were things like, “It makes me happy when…” or “My favorite food to eat is…” One of the phrases was, “Sometimes I cry when…” I finished it off by writing, “when its time to leave Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” I drew a picture of Grandma, her hair red (rather than the blonde she always insisted she was) and Grandpa, with his cap on, standing in front of the barn with their dog Tasha. It doesn’t really feel like it was more than 20 years ago that I drew that picture.

At any rate, I can’t really write or draw these days. I’m only posting this with the hopes that anyone who reads it will take a moment to send a thought or prayer or wish—whatever you call it—to my grandma. I know it works, because the love and energy that people have sent to me during tough times have gotten me through a lot.

Thanks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Ragfield Family Christmas Tree (cont'd)

The Ragfield family Christmas tree

If this tree gets any more cute and folksy, it will wink and say, "You betcha." (Let's hope it doesn't come to that.)

I actually really love our folksy tree. Making the popcorn and cranberry garland took forever, but it was a nice way to be productive during my unrelenting insomnia.

I haven't had any luck in finding a more suitable top for the tree. You wouldn't think it would be too hard. All I want is a plain silver star. Over the weekend I looked at Prairie Gardens and Michael's, and neither of them had anything even remotely like that.

Here are a few photos of some of my favorite ornaments.

I picked up this ornament in San Francisco in a cute little shop at Fisherman's Wharf for only $1.49


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Round and round the Christmas tree

When I was little we had this stereo-hutch type thing that held an actual record player. Around Christmas, we would play actual records on this record player. It may have been a bit of an antiquated system, even at the time, but I always remember it as being so much fun.

There was one particular song I remember listening to all the time. I don’t know who sang it or even what the name of the song was, but the chorus went something like this:

Round and round the Christmas tree
Opening presents with the family
One for you and two for me!
Oh what a Christmas Day!

Last night as Rob and I decorated our tree, that song was going through my head. In case anybody who found this doesn’t already read Rob’s blog, here is a video of us decorating the tree. A while ago Rob built this remote timer thing for his camera, and while we were decorating the tree he set it up so that it would take a photo every 10 seconds. Then he strung all these photos together and made a video out of it.


video

(Technical note: Okay, I just looked at this post and realized that the smallness of the video really sucks. I need to get back to my dissertation now, but sometime soon I will try to fix the video. And maybe also convince Rob to add some kind of music to the video [if that is even possible]).

If you look closely, you will see that at one point we dropped an ornament and it shattered. At the time I was disappointed to have broken an ornament, but in retrospect, it is pretty funny on the video. Also, you may see me go in and out the front door a couple of times. Although it looks like I am trying to run away, I was actually just putting up a wreath and some other small decorations outside.

I would also like to point out that (what may end up as a future blog entry), the finishing touches have not yet been added to the tree. I am trying to make a popcorn and cranberry garland (which is taking a lot longer than I'd hoped), and I'd kind of like to get an actual star for the top.

Thanks for reading!