Here's the chair Stephen was working on when he cut his finger in February. He's turning an Ikea Olle into a rocking chair. Progress on this project has stalled since then, largely because his hand was bandaged up for several weeks. But that always happens, doesn't it? I tend to run out of steam on a project the first time I hit a roadblock. I change my mind about a color once I've bought the paint, realize the sandpaper is the wrong grit and the store is closed, or find out a hat is too small as I bind off the last few stitches. Then I put the project away, eager for distance after this letdown, and never pick it up again.

We just got a notice about renewing our lease, which reminds me that we've been in this apartment for almost two years. It still feels so new in some ways, almost like we're still moving in. There are a few stacks of books in the living room that have yet to find a home, and two of the closets have never quite worked; everything's sort of piled up in there. I have a bunch of "house" projects on deck: refinishing Stephen's desk, sewing new curtains, adding shelves to the hall closet. I'll feel really defeated if we move out before these things happen.

Often, though, I imagine the projects I'll do after we move out, when I have more space and freedom than a 500-square-foot rental affords. We visited the Peaboy Essex Museum today and saw Yin Yu Tang, an 18th-century house transplanted from southeastern China to Salem, Mass. The building was beautiful. It made me want to have a house with a stone-lined courtyard and latticework windows. I'll probably never get a chance to design things like that; we're much more likely to buy something that's already been built when we get a house. But that's years off, so for now I can write these hypothetical to-do lists for myself with abandon.

Stephen, I'm happy to say, is much better at getting projects done in the here-and-now. While his knuckle was patching itself back together this month, he whipped up this little stool from a 19th-century Swedish design. I think it's from an old woodworking curriculum. I'm going to paint it some fun color, as soon as I can decide which one. (Some other things that Stephen has made are listed here: click "Craft".)


St. Patrick's Feast

These geraniums are ready for spring, and so am I. It was warm and sunny out today, and we had lunch at the Blue Shirt Cafe in Davis Square. I had cheddar cheese with caramelized onions and Granny Smith apple slices on toasted sourdough. Apples seem like such a novel thing to have on a sandwich. I read this today and thought that I ought to try making fancier sandwiches for myself. I usually stick to PB&Js at home. A woman at Blue Shirt was telling her companion that she wanted to get a sandwich maker, and that suddenly seemed like a very good idea to me, too. I remember watching an infomercial for sandwich makers once when I was litle, and I thought they looked awesome, especially the way they cut the bread into triangles, like this.

For dinner, Stephen and I had a veggie approximation of my mom's corned beef hash. It wasn't quite the same (my mom definitely doesn't use SmartBacon), but still delish and very simple: diced onions, corned beef (or whatever) and boiled potatoes, fried in a little butter and milk, with salt and pepper on top. Can't go wrong with "fried in butter," can you.

It's Evacuation Day today, too, which is when Boston celebrates the British evacuation after the Revolutionary War. Stephen and all the school kids and government officials around here had the day off. I suspect that the popularity of this holiday stems in no small part from its convenient overlapping with St. Patrick's Day.

I read in the Boston Globe yesterday that the Franklin Park Zoo was admitting people named Seamus for free on Sunday, on account of the holiday and this little guy:

Seamus is a baby Baird's tapir, born on March 16, 2007. I first learned about tapirs when we visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History last spring, where they had a stuffed specimen in the Hall of Mammals. The plaque below said that tapirs are solitary, shy creatures who travel through the jungle with a characteristic shuffling gate, mostly alone, and usually at night. They have long snouts, and are somewhat related to horses and rhinos. Doesn't that sound like a creature straight out of mythology? Or maybe a Miyazaki film. We haven't seen Seamus in person yet, but I hope to this summer.


Night Out

We finally saw the Mountain Goats at the Middle East last night. This is the third concert we've tried to get to in the past few months, and our first success. We're not so good at securing tickets sometimes. We missed getting seats at the upcoming They Might Be Giants show by about two days. Darn!

We met Nat and his friends early in the day for dinner in Porter Square, then pointed them back towards Route 2 and dashed over to Central Square so as not to arrive late--but we needn't have. The Moaners (warning: sound), an excellent all-woman rock/punk/blues band with delightful southern accents, opened for the Goats, and they didn't take the stage until two and a half hours after we arrived. I'll admit that I haven't been to very many concerts, but this seemed unusual. I began to wonder if they would cancel the show altogether. Were the bands stuck at Logan? Snarled in traffic? Getting ice cream? Stephen and I played Boticelli, Twenty Questions, and the Alphabet Game (take turns naming a brand/food/town in Massachusetts that begins with each letter of the alphabet) as we waited. Stephen got a beer. I found a bench to sit on. We people-watched. There were folks of all different ages and sensibilities there, which was cool. College students wearing witty t-shirts, hipsters in tight jeans, outdoorsy thirty-somethings with beards and polarfleece, older folks in wool sweaters and sensible shoes. The Cambridge Crowd.

Once the show got going, everyone was into it. John Darnielle told us his birthday was the next day, and we sang Happy Birthday. Stephen and I realized we could perch on the back of the bench and get a good view of the stage (difficult for me, at just under 5'2"). I haven't listened to any of the new Mountain Goats stuff, so I didn't know the lyrics, but the sound was familiar.

The show ended just before 1, with time to get the last train home. That's the latest we've been out in months, if not years, and I'm glad I don't do it every day. (Yes, that's right. I'm 100 years old and eat dinner at 4:30 so I can be back from Bingo by 8.) We were yawning by the end, and I slept in way too much this morning. But it was fun. Isn't live music always fun? Yes, it really is.


Sitting, Reading

Look who we're hanging out with! Everyone is out and about for Spring Break, but Stephen and I are here working, which means we get to dog-sit. This is Cadi, short for Acadia, the sweetest border collie you ever did meet. Unfortunately, she is also an early riser who thinks Stephen and I and our over-sleeping are very lame. She may be right. I still haven't gotten onto Daylight Savings Time, so 10 am seems like a fine time to get up on the weekend.

I have accomplished one thing today, though - I finally finished my February book. It very much made me want to give up processed food forever. I'm shoving Doritos in my mouth as I type this, though, so there's some cognitive dissonance at work. But Michael Pollan did convince me to finally invest in a CSA share, so that's something.

For my March book (March/April, most likely), I'm going to read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. Sarah loaned it to me, and I think it fits well with the theme I've unwittingly established: a non-fiction book that everyone seems to have read except me. I'm starting to think that's an illusion, though; while I was carrying Omnivore's Dilemma around, at least half a dozen people remarked to me that they'd heard about it and meant to read it, but hadn't. Only one person I talked to read it, and he hadn't finished it at that point, either. So maybe what I'm reading is Famous Non-Fiction: The Great Unread.


How to Make Caramels

We went crazy with caramel-making last month. I always do something elaborate for Valentine's Day, and I'd been toying the idea of making candy for some time when I found a link to this, and started thinking how fun it would be to wrap up a hundred caramels while watching TV. And it was! The wrapping was probably my favorite part, actually. Repetitive, mindless, and rewarding. How could it not be rewarding. You've got a huge pile of hand-wrapped sugary homemade goodness at the end.

I got the recipe from How to Cook Everything, or, as we've dubbed it, Mark's Book o' Recipes. It's astonishingly simple to make, as long as you have a couple of somewhat specialized items: a candy thermometer (obtainable at most grocery or hardware stores, I believe) and corn syrup. We made the chocolate variation of the recipe, and halved it.

Then made it three more times.

Chocolate Caramels
Makes more than 1/2 pound.
Time: About 20 minutes, plus time to cool.

3/4 c. heavy cream

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
pinch salt
3/4 t. vanilla extract

Line a small baking pan (we used a loaf pan) with parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a small saucepan and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves, then cook, stirring only occasionally, until the mixture measures 245 degrees F (a small piece of it will form a firm ball when dropped into a glass of cold water, but the thermometer is an easier and surer test).

Stir in the vanilla and pour into the prepared pan. When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, remove the block of caramel from the pan and use a sharp knife to cut it into small squares. Wrap each square in waxed paper or plastic wrap. These keep for weeks, but are best eaten fresh.


Forward, March

Welcome, March. This is going to be a busy month, and I've already screwed up the first thing I meant to do: see my older-younger brother, Nat, in his college's production of A Doll's House. It's the last play he'll be in before graduating, so I'm sad to miss it, but I got confused about dates and missed my chance. Hopefully he'll go on to be in lots of plays professionally someday, and I can go see him and bring roses to throw on the stage and shout "Bravo!" during curtain call.

Alex, my younger-younger brother, is taking to the stage this month, too, as Angie the Ox in the high school's production of Guys & Dolls. I hope to make it home to see that. I've never seen him sing, but he plays the drums, and taught me how to play Guitar Hero last time I visited, so I'm sure the musical genre will come easily to him.

I've been to a lot of concerts in that high school auditorium. My siblings and I were all in the bands (concert band, marching band, wind ensemble, jazz band, etc), and my brothers and I did the annual musicals. Nat was always the star of the show, though: lead in the musical, drum major, big parts in the dramas they started doing in later years. I'm proud that he's still following that dream. In fact, he's coming to Boston later this month to audition for post-college roles. I'll have to see if I can bring roses for that.

In the meantime, I've got a midterm to study for. I haven't taken a real sit-down, calculator-and-#2-pencil test since...well, since the GRE, but that was the first one in a long while. So there's much studying to do this week. Flashcards to make, review sessions to attend, panicked emails to send in the wee hours, asking classmates to clarify the difference between confounding and effect modification in a retrospective cohort study.

Next weekend, when the midterm is a happy memory, Stephen and I will fly to Maryland to visit our friends Sarah and Adam in Takoma Park. This is a fitting time to make the trip; ever since I drove to the White House with friends for a protest in March of my sophomore year, I've associated the DC area with early spring. We were there last year when the trees were full of blossoms, and I keep thinking about a walk we took in Georgetown, where there were petals scattered all over the sidewalks. Here's a photo I took of Stephen and Sarah that day:

DC is so lucky, getting spring weeks before New England does. So I like visiting in March.

(P.S. Ian: Want to borrow Chicken w/Plums? It's a good read.)