Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wassail a la Turner

Once upon a time, my friends Kelly and Karen threw big parties at the holidays. What was memorable about these parties was the number of people all toiling away on sewing projects for other costumed galas, and Kelly's wonderful wassail on the kitchen stove.

I recently found a xeroxed copy of the recipe tucked away with my other treasured recipes. While many in attendance at those long-ago holiday parties are no longer physically with us, the camaraderie continues on, so I'm taking the liberty of turning Kelly's recipe loose in the world. Make this punch, invite a bunch of people over, and sew something pretty for the holidays!

(This recipe is a perversion of the one found in the Playboy Bartender's Guide)

Brown sugar
White sugar (optional)
Stick cinnamon
Ground ginger
Ground nutmeg
Whole allspice
Whole cloves
Brandy (apple brandy works best)
Apple cider (apple juice will also work)

Core approximately 10 apples and place in a 13x9x2 baking pan. Fill cores of apples with brown sugar. Pour 1 cup water into bottom of pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Combine 5 sticks cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 6 allspice berries, and 6 cloves on a square of porous cotton fabric (a large-size coffee filter will also do). Tie into a packet using a piece of string. (For a little extra flavor, add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the mixture.)

Pour 1 gallon cider into large stockpot. Add baked apples and juices from pan. Add 1 cup sugar (brown or white). Add 1/2 of a 750ml bottle of sherry. Add 1 cup brandy (or more, depending on your taste). Slice up 1 orange and float slices in mixture. Add spice packet. Heat slowly over low flame. Do not boil--it will remove the alcohol!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dress Journal #4: Excavating the Sewing Room

I've been a bit busy. Between grad school, regular school (the one I teach at), holidays, and construction on the house, I haven't set foot in the sewing room since Memorial Day weekend, 2010. That changed today.

Part of this sudden desire to clean and tidy is simply not being able to stand the mess any longer. On the other hand, if I clean up the sewing room, I can begin working on the wardrobe I need for Gallifrey One next February. There's quite a bit to build and--by my calendar--only 315 days left in which to build everything.

I'm not exactly starting from Square One: Dress Journal #3 details everything I need to build; all the fabrics, notions, and findings were purchased last year and carefully put away in one place; some of the underpinnings are already cut out and partially sewn. Now I just need to find my sewing room so I can go back to work. As you can see from the photo, it's pretty small, so it's easily buried under the debris of daily living.

Excavating it wasn't quite as difficult as I thought, and turned up a couple surprises. The first was money--$11 stuck on a shelf after a trip to the fabric store and subsequently forgotten. The second was some additional fabrics I didn't remember buying, and a beautiful length of navy blue silk ribbon for a hat. Another pleasant surprise was how far along everything was before life intruded on my costume construction: nearly everything is purchased and all the fabrics have been washed and pressed, so I can focus on the cutting and sewing.

Next steps:
1) Dyeing the weft yarn to weave 2 yards of blue-gray herringbone tweed for a vest.
2) Replacing the cover on Helga, my long-suffering (?) dress dummy
3) Finishing the underpinnings so I can start construction of 2 different sets of outer garments
Old House Blues: Attack of the Mole Men

2011 will go down in history as "the year we really worked on the house." We've owned the Big Damn House for 17 years. It was in decent shape when we bought it, and we've done some additional work on it ourselves, but it's now 103 years old and some major issues need to be addressed. The floors are a bit "bouncy," I've spent 17 years patching cracks in plaster that magically reappear after a dry summer and/or a wet winter, and both bathrooms really need some attention.

When we sold the Los Angeles house in 2009, we decided to use the money to work on the BDH rather than invest in another piece of property. We paid the horrendous taxes, banked the money, hired a civil engineer, and had plans drawn up to tackle the biggest task on the long "to-do" list: replacing the foundation. It really is a problem area: the concrete used in 1908 was crap, there are no proper footers, and 103 years of shifting soils--and a major earthquake in 1989--have pretty much destroyed the foundation. It's cracked in several places, and one of the cripple walls (additional bits of the foundation that support interior load-bearing walls) completely tipped over at some point. The foundation has shifted enough that it's very slowly tearing the house apart--replace it, and a host of problems, from doors not shutting properly to the never-ending plaster cracks, stop.

By late 2010, we had the plans, sent out requests for bids, and--once we recovered from the shock of what it was going to cost--hired a construction company to replace the foundation. It's a tricky job: we're still living in the house as they very gently slide huge beams under the house, slowly level it, then dig out and replace the foundation. That's where we are right now.

The construction crew (christened "The Mole Men") are usually here when I'm at school, so this week--the first week of Spring Break--is the first time I've been around when they're here. It's a bit disconcerting, and I've had to adjust my "non-work" schedule a bit: the Mole Men start to work at 8:00 a.m., so no lounging about in my bathrobe, drinking coffee and answering emails. The dye yard is full of lumber so I can't dye any fibers outdoors. There's an amazing quantity of banging, power tool noise, and periodically jackhammers and reciprocal saws as they clear away the old foundation and the hillside to make room for the new foundation. At one point yesterday we lost our electronic connection to the rest of the world when a Mole Man dropped a beam on the digital wiring and pulled it out of the terminal box. Today they were adding some additional beams under the house and the entire house was shaking and and making the sickening noises houses make during earthquakes.

It's all scary and an inconvenience, but there's already a difference in the house: the floors feel less bouncy and the house seems more stable. Eventually, this attack of the Mole Men will end: they will leave a much better house in their wake.
A Bit of Housekeeping

I'm microblogging (i.e., I'm tweeting) quite a bit these days. Much of this is due to getting an iPhone at the beginning of the year, which has turned out to be an amazing communication device. I love being on the InterWebz whenever and wherever I want, and I'm sharing more of what I think is interesting (and most likely isn't to other people) with the world.

All this microblogging has meant that I'm not sitting down to write proper blog entries as often as I used to do. It's difficult to write an entry (which can take me from a few minutes to over an hour) on a regular basis when I'm also posting to Twitter and Plurk. Technology to the rescue: Twitter has a widget which echoes my tweets to my blog. I've added a Twitter feed (it's on the right), so my blog is now up-to-date.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


For the first time in nearly two decades, I spent the weekend at a science fiction (SF) convention. Not just a run-of-the-mill, literature-based science fiction convention, nor a costuming convention. Nope: I went to Gallifrey One, the big Doctor Who convention held over Presidents' Day weekend in Los Angeles.

The last SF convention I went to was ConFrancisco, the WorldCon held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend in 1993. We bought the house a few months later, and weekend-long events such as conventions (aka "cons") were left by the way, along with a lot of costuming. It's hard to make the time to build elaborate costumes when paint needs scraping, flower beds need weeding, and money needs to be earned to pay for the work on the house.

I ended up at Gally--the nickname most fans use for Gallifrey One--due to the efforts of one of my fiber friends. Our paths have unknowingly crossed many times in the past thirty years, as we're both geeks interested in science fiction and fiber. After she attended her first Gally a couple years ago, she began bugging me to go, and after last year's con, I broke down and bought a membership. I also set myself some rules:

1) No making myself insane over building elaborate costumes. If it isn't built by the end of 2010, it isn't going.
2) No apologizing for not having elaborate costumes. I have a life, darn it!
3) I will enjoy myself, within reason.

Gally was held at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott hotel: a brilliant choice for a good-sized convention. The hotel is just a few minutes by shuttle from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and is large enough to handle the needs of a convention for nearly 2,000 attendees. The hotel also has a very large lobby seating area, strategically placed between the registration desk, a Starbucks, and the bar: the area has become notorious for a multi-day party known as "Lobbycon" as fans hang out to relax, chat, and drink their choice of beverages.

Gally is a "media" con (different from a literature-based con), so many of the panel discussions were about different aspects of the long-running TV show Doctor Who and its spin-off, Torchwood. There were also photograph sessions with actors and actresses who appeared on the series, and autograph sessions with actors and writers. I skipped the photograph and autograph sessions (I'd rather drink and chat with people than bug them for pictures or signatures), caught a couple panels (I especially enjoyed the "Crafting Who" panel), and spent much of my time hanging out in the "TARDIS Lounge" with the other knitters I had previously met online through Ravelry on the Who Knits? board. I earned my keep: the group knits a copy of one of the scarves worn by Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor each year for a charity auction, and I worked on both scarves over the weekend. I also worked on my own scarf for a future costume.

Science fiction conventions have changed since the last time I attended one. The biggest change is the ready accessibility of social media. On Thursday night, a sign at Lobbycon said, "What happens at Galley is on Facebook in nanoseconds." It's true: as soon as something happened, fans were pulling out their smartphones and tweeting their words and pictures, all marked with #gally. I even managed to send a few tweets myself, mostly about what I was doing and how a long-time costuming friend won the Saturday night masquerade.

All in all, it was an enjoyable weekend; I had enough fun that I sprung for next year's membership. I'm also starting to plan some elaborate costumes for next year's con.