Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Countdowns

I am currently living in a series of countdowns. These can be seen in two ways:

1. Impending explosions
2. Launching new and exciting things

My current countdowns vary from work stuff (upcoming events, one single full work week until January, projects to be completed before 2009, etc.) to house stuff (two guests coming, multiple party/events, necessary winter cleaning/decorating, etc.) to personal stuff (travel, doctors appointments, choir rehearsals, etc.).

All in all, my life is about to become junior-year-at-USC-busy (when I was: coaching two volleyball teams, president of the Honors College student body, RA for the CMC, working in Columbia Hall, taking 18+ hours a semester, planning my senior thesis, teaching Sunday school and occasionally attempting to have a life - among other, regular college things).

I'm a little nervous about the impending schedule. There is so much going on in the next two months (which you'll be hearing about AFTER it happens for the most part) and I'm not the same girl I was junior year. At that point, I'd been building up my schedule over two years and I had a pretty solid support system in some fellow RA's and friends. Now, I may be out of practice. But, I'm not letting my nervousness get the better of me.

Because everything coming up is so exciting. I mean REALLY cool. Including, in January (after the storm of other stuff), going to an inaugural ball at the Air & Space Museum. Which is a totally fantasy evening for me. A fabulous dress, an inauguration, shagging (all that practice at midnight - for my friends who remember our bring-your-own-blanket events on the Horseshoe), and all of it in my favorite museum. It is so absolutely dreamy to me. I'm trying not to build it up in my head too much, just in case!

This brings us back to the countdowns though (since I mentioned space). I am hoping for all launches. But I know the statistical ratios aren't in my favor. Actually, I have a record sort of like Werner Van Braun before they decided on the Atlas rockets (get yourself a little history if you need an interpretation). So what I'm hoping is that my experience - however limited - in handling multiple events and such, will bring me up to the level of Saturn V testing. The Saturn V was a pretty darn good rocket (and they had most of the kinks worked out by then).

Fingers crossed.

In the mean time, my number line in countdowns:

CJ2-BC5-FY7-CG8-CS11-SF17-TH21-ME22-BP27

I'll send a batch of Christmas cookies to anyone who can untangle that whole code. Just pop me an email with your guesses and your address. Hint 1: a letter never stands for the same thing twice.

More hints to come until someone gets the series right.

Off to un-shuck my pomegranate!

Love always,

~Heather

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Making Apple Butter

Or: Apples in Iowa Volume 2

See previous post for the first day of fun in Iowa.

So Saturday morning we got up early and were working in the apple butter by 8:30 a.m. Here are some groggy morning shots.

It was a bit foggy outside.


Over by the giant cauldron (seriously, Voldemort could have come out of that thing it is so big), Caroline's parents were already really absorbed in the apple butter.

Some interesting tidbits about making the apple butter in the cauldron (fine, giant copper kettle):
  • The flames need to be hot and high enough to get it boiling, but not high enough to scald the butter to the bottom.
  • It needs to be constantly stirred to assure there is no burning or sticking to the sides or bottom, or it can mess up the flavor of the batch.
  • We put pennies on the bottom of the kettle (from before they stopped making pennies out of things that weren't copper, so no worries), so the stir stick could really keep everything from cementing on the bottom.
  • This process can take 4 to 8 hours. Yep, constant stirring, constant fire, 4 to 8 hours. Good thing there were lots of us to help stir (see totally posed picture below) one-at-a-time in shifts.
Yummy deliciousness in a pot (above). The different types of applesauce were poured in as equally as possible so that the apple butter would be sweet enough and have a well-blended flavor.
Many hours later, it was time to start getting the 70 quarts of cooked down applesauce out of the kettle and into the apple butter jars. Apple butter is, in fact, basically just cooked down applesauce and flavoring (cinnamon and sometimes sugar). Caroline's parents and grandmother are pretty-well experts at this whole process (above). Inside, I was helping prep the sugar-free batch (both below).


Everything had to be boiled, including the lids to the jars and then the jars themselves once filled and closed. The sealing doesn't take place until after the full jars are boiled and start cooling (below).
One of their neighbors came by to help speed things along, since everything is supposed to be hot when it goes into the jars (below).


The cauldron was finally empty (above) and we finished up the last of the jars in the basement (below). I'm holding a magnetic stick that helps get the boiling metal lids onto the jars without too much finger scalding. Behind my wrist on the table are the special jar tongs we used to get the cans in and out of the boiling water. And as a final note on the image - you can just see Caroline's grandma who was excellent about explaining the history of their family canning things and how canning of apple butter works.


And above is the final result. 64 quarts (that's 18 gallons folks) of apple butter. We only had one jar break in the boiling pot (apparently this is totally normal, but no one told me and I was really afraid I had screwed up - it was luckily in the last batch) and less than five didn't seal. Considering the gajillion jars we did (because some of the jars were cup and pint size - including a series of baby food jars), those numbers were pretty good to me.

Oh, and we found a few more pennies in the bottom of the cauldron then we remembered putting in, so we're pretty sure (but fingers crossed) no one will be spreading Abe Lincoln on their breakfast toast!

Also, this was shockingly only about 1/3 of our day's work. You can check out the cider making in a future post.

Love always, ~Heather

P.S. - Special thanks to Caroline's whole family out in Iowa who not only taught me tons of stuff about apples, canning, and making things out of apples but took me in as one of their own from the minute I arrived. It was such a fabulous trip!

And You Thought Iowa was all Corn

I finally made a trip out to see Caroline in Iowa, and this is the first of a couple of photoblogs to show you about my exciting vacation.

Caroline's sorority house at Palmer Chiropractic (above) and another sorority house across the street (below). Loving the architecture.

On the road as we turned towards the "farm" in Tiffin.

Once we arrived at the house, we got right to work making applesauce. We'd need it the next day for apple butter. I spent most of my time using the squeez-o and cranking boiled apple quarters (below).


We filled each and every one of those 3 and five gallon pots with sauce before the end of the day (above). Don't you just love the fashionable apron I got to wear? (below)

After all the saucing, it was time to kick back. Caroline's dad prepped the fire we'd use in the morning for the apple butter and Caroline and I had s'more fun (below).

Our marshmallows roasting on actual roasting sticks - as opposed to real sticks from the yard (above). Prepping the sticks (below).

Me eating my first s'more in a really long time (above). Caroline showing off her sticky fingers (below).

This may or may not have been the s'more I decided to make without the graham crackers (since I don't really love those). I was a chocolate and marshmallow mess and laughing so hard I could barely eat the darn thing as it melted onto my fingers (below) .

We went to bed shortly after this. I was totally exhausted (being out the door by 4:45 a.m. and gaining an hour will do that to you as you sneak towards midnight) and yet more relaxed than ever. What a terrific, costume-free Halloween.

Also, I hope you note the lack of corn in these photos. Just goes to show they have way more than that in Iowa.

Love always, ~Heather

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

October Optics

And here now is a visually interesting version of October.

Mt. Vernon at twilight, before we had partaken of the fabulous wine tent.

The view of the Potomac from the back side of the mansion, still sunset, obviously.

My wine glass in front of the seasonal decorations at probably the fourth or fifth table.

And mid-month, Dana came to visit from Wisconsin.

We had lunch with Bill and Mason in the cemetery at Christ Church in Old Town. A favorite luncheon spot of mine (above). And then had a little photo-shoot afterwards because for some reason we are rarely in pictures together (below).



We went to the Sports Pub to watch the Gamecocks vs. LSU game. There weren't enough chairs for the twelve or so people who showed up for our table, so she was on my lap for a portion of the night (above). Below, she's with her friends from Madison who happened to be in DC the same time as her (from left to right, Scott, Dana, Luke, Damon).

Afterwards, we went back to the townhouse for a commiseration cookie party. It was a bake-off of epic proportions as my traditional 20 minute start-to-finish recipe challenged Rachel's two day NYTimes recipe. Rachel with the cookies that won by majority vote (below).

There was much cookie-eating by all, including Cag, who seemed to think his cookie was naughty or something.

And there were still TONS of cookies leftover, despite the ten or so guests.

All of the pictures above are from Cag and Dana. In my defense, I did take pictures at Mt. Vernon, his just came out better and Dana was in charge of taking pictures the weekend she was visiting. For the rest of those, check out Facebook.

The only other pictures I can dig up from October (which was really just waves and waves of working crazy hours for one event after another at work) are from the very last day of October, spent in Iowa. But all of those pictures deserve their own posts.

Love always, ~Heather

Boo, Malcolm Forbes, boo

The quote that just came up on my quote wheel was:

"Failure is success if we learn from it." ~Malcolm Forbes

I am currently on a campaign of resisting what has become (over the past couple years) a regular habit of mine. I would say that the most recent manifestation of this habit was a particularly large failure - and one that cost me many months of agonizing. I comforted myself primarily by reassuring myself that I had learned a lot in the process.

So, faced with falling into this habit (obviously not the best one ever), I'm doing my best to resist.

And, I don't really like it.

It's like resisting chocolate. Who wants to do that? Chocolate is pretty delicious.

So then I see quotes like Mr. Malcolm's and am reminded that I'm supposed to be resisting. Well boo to you Malcolm Forbes, boo to you being right and reminding me why I'm doing this anyway.

But I'm not giving up chocolate. At least not while doing this too.

Love always, ~Heather

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

September Shots

I feel pretty bad about not blogging consistently over the past couple of weeks (um, okay, months). But it is National Blog Posting Month and this is really my motivation to get blogging. So, I'm a few weeks late ... eh, I'm late with everything lately. This is not a characteristic I'm okay with, but I'm going to do my penance in a series of photoblogs over the next couple of days (finally having downloaded some of the pictures off my camera and from my email).

So here, from the superbly-stupendous September, I present, my missing blog posts in photos.


Foggy Bottom (above) and Georgetown University (below) while sitting in traffic on the Key Bridge on my way to rehearsal for the gospel choir concert mid-month. Foggy Bottom shot includes (left to right) the Watergate Hotel, Washington Monument and Kennedy Center.


The townhouse, with our (unintentional) front-yard-jungle. Over 10 foot tall sunflowers, zinnia at around 4 feet, morning glories taking over the gate, and a regular sized dogwood tree that blends in a little since it is still summer-y and green.




From a brief trip to New Jersey for the funeral of our dearly departed great-grandmother, Nanny. It's difficult that the family only really gets to come together for weddings and funerals now that we're 30+ members strong. Above, the picture my aunt took of me since I was hiding behind the lens shooting many of the family photos. Below are the cousins who were able to make it to the service.


National Book Festival on September 27 on the National Mall. It was a rainy day, but it was totally worth it.

Two of my favorite childhood authors: Katherine Patterson (of A Bridge to Terabithia fame) (above) and R.L. Stine (below).


A rainbow after waiting in the rain for an hour for a signature on The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (above). Sign from our line (below).


Scieszka himself. It was one of the most hysterical talks I've ever heard. Totally loved it.


October tomorrow. Love always, ~Heather