Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 wrap up.

2010 kind of sucked for me.  It wasn't what I would consider to be a great year, but it wasn't all bad.  I figure that I should take some time to concentrate on the positive as we transition into 2011... for which I have great hopes.

  • The evil turd-counting neighbour moved out.  The new neighbour has never once knocked on my door to express imaginary complaints about my dogs.  He did, however, come over and offer to pay half for the row of lilac shrubs that I want to plant along the property line.
  • I still have a job.  I quit twice, so this is something of a miracle.  I really, truly quit.  I told the bosses I wouldn't work under the circumstances at the time, and went off to find something else.    Luckily for me, other arrangements were made to accommodate.  Now I've got a new job that I  enjoy, working with a new boss who I like and respect very much.  
  • I took a few steps closer to my goal of ecological living and found local sources for 
    •  humanely raised organic meats
    •  eggs from free-run chickens
    • farm-fresh produce (Two, actually.  One's organic).
  • Despite dire threats from neighbours, my house hasn't fallen down.   (Bonus points here because I won't have to reroof my house ever again.  If those same neighbours don't have serious roof envy now, they really should.)
  • Cotton got through the summer this year without panic attacks.
    • In fact, I think there was only one unscheduled vet appointment this year.  WOOHOO!
    • My book experiment helped me to find some of the best books I've ever read.  (The Help, The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Sh!t My Dad Says... the list goes on.)  I'm aware that I haven't updated my reading list for a long time.... I should get back to that.
      • I renewed my mortgage this year, which means that I've lived in my current house longer than I've lived anywhere else, since I moved out of my childhood home.  Does that mean I'm growing up?
      • I've found some great blogs that I love to read, and whose authors stop by from time to time to say hello.  Thanks all - I've loved getting to 'know' you!
      Happy New Year to you all.  If 2011 can't be a great year, may it at least provide spectacular blogging fodder.



      Monday, December 27, 2010

      The Snowball... it's back.

      The bed project has exploded.

      I mentioned in my previous blog entry that my bed broke.  The frame is made of pressboard, and didn't take well to being taken apart and rebuilt the many, many times that I've moved or rearranged the house.  The pressboard broke apart, so I set about a mission to make myself a new bed.

      Here's the thing:  I need storage.  Although I prefer a farmhouse bed, I thought I should make the storage bed, so I planned a hybrid of the two... storage frame with farmhouse headboard.  I went shopping for the wood, during which time I had an AHA moment - right there in front of God and Home Depot - and I figured out how to fix my original bed.   For $2, no less.

      Wouldn't that have been great if I could solve my whole bed problem for $2?


      I fixed it that night.   Easy, peasy - I unscrewed the swiss cheese pressboard pieces, and replaced them with real wood.  The frame is hidden, so it didn't have to be pretty.  I just used a chop saw, too many screws and a lot of glue.  

      However, if you think I walked away from the idea of the new bed that easily, you don't know me very well.  I'm like a dog with a bone when I get these projects into my head.  So, of course I also bought most of the wood that I needed to make the storage bed base. The next day I went to pick up what I need for the farmhouse headboard, and I ended up at a specialty wood store, where a nice old guy who clearly knew his stuff took me under his wing.

      I ended up coming home with birdseye (really nice grain) pine boards that were clearly cut from the same tree.  Even better that it was on sale, so I came away with the makings for a whole farmhouse bed for under $100.

      Oh, yeah - did I forget to mention that I'm making a farmhouse bed now as well as the storage bed?  Here's the thing: that birdseye wood is too pretty to be painted.  It needs to be stained, but the storage bed has to be painted.  I still need the storage bed, so I'll make that for the spare room (started already... took a break for Christmas) and then I'll make the farmhouse bed for my room.  My bed - which is a red oak sleigh bed and still quite nice - will be retired until I finish the basement and add another bedroom.

      Don't bother being impressed by my mad carpentry skills, though.    I've already wasted a half a sheet of plywood because of my inability to measure properly and cut a straight line.

      Wednesday, December 22, 2010

      Well, that sucks

      My bed, which has a solid wood headboard and footboard but a pressboard frame, just bit the dust.  Literally.  It broke into a bunch of pieces and a whole lot of sawdust, and the whole thing fell apart. 


      I guess fifteen years is all you can expect of cheapo furniture from the Brick; but now I need to make something new.


      Fortunately for me, I've been eyeballing a site I found a while back, Ana-White.com, thinking I'd like to take up wood working and wondering what I'd do first.  I guess the bed'll be it.  I'm going to try to make her storage bed, only with the farmhouse headboard.... and I'm hoping to be able to do it for a couple hundred dollars.   If I go MIA in the next week, I'll be down in the basement, communing with sawdust, wood glue and paint.








      And the cat will be hanging out on top of the propped up mattresses.




      He seems to think I do these things for him.

      Monday, December 20, 2010

      The things I'll do for a little time off...

      I met with the surgeon on Friday, and we determined that it's time for another surgery.  This time, I decided  to get things fixed once and for all; and have opted for a complete removal of the uterus.  I chose this over another less invasive surgery that won't guarantee that the problems won't return again because I don't want to be back in the hospital in another year.

      I'm a little more nervous about this surgery and the recovery than the last one.    I'm told I'll have to take a few months off work, and arrange to have somebody to do pretty much everything else (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, walking the dogs, poop patrol, etc) for me for at least a few weeks.  I'm really not great at letting others take over for me, and am almost as worried about how I'll manage that as I am the pain.

      I still have lots of decisions to make - who knew there were so many ways to go about this one surgery?  I'll spend the next couple of weeks talking to people who have had it done, and then reconvene with the surgeon.  As it stands now, it's looking like we'll be going ahead in March.

      Sunday, December 19, 2010

      He's old.

      After a busy evening of yanking the cat out of the closet, I decided to put up the Christmas tree a few days ago.  Winter got in the way helped.

      I shlepped the big bag containing the tree upstairs,  opened it to see if the base was in there too, and then I went downstairs to get something else.  By the time I'd come back up, Himself had climbed inside the bag and settled in.



      Later on, as I unwrapped the ornaments to put on the tree, I put the paper on the mantle in a (fairly) organized pile.  Since I'd disturbed him by removing the tree parts from the bag, Winter shifted over to the mantle and made himself a nest.  That may have perhaps been a little less helpful... as were the kitty swats and nips when I reached in to get more ornaments.



      I didn't throw any papers on the floor.


      Winter is 11 years old now.  He's only the third cat that I've had to live this long.  I was a teenager when I had the other two, and they were indoor/outdoor cats (which I suspect helped expedite their aging process).  By the time that they turned 10, they were most definitely old.  They'd slowed down a lot and they were kind of cranky.  Most of all, though, they stopped showing any desire to play long before they turned 10.  Both were gone before they turned 13.

      I really hope that his playfulness is a sign that he's going to live a lot longer than that.

      Saturday, December 18, 2010

      The Christmas Tree Debate

      I used to love Christmas decorations.  I had all sorts toy soldiers, wooden apples, nut crackers and a tonne of hand painted (by me) ornaments for my tree.  I'd string popcorn and cranberries, and I've cover the tree in the multicoloured lights that my parents used when I was a kid.  I didn't have a colour scheme - the tree was a hodgepodge of colour  and style that somehow managed to be incredibly Christmasy.  I loved it.

      But then I got Tallulah.  Tallulah, when she was younger, was a bundle of energy and curls.  Her first 4 years were a search and destroy mission; and a tree would have been a disaster waiting to happen.    So, we were treeless for a few years, and eventually I got out of the habit of putting one up.

      I did buy a prelit 2' tree and put it on my mantle.  I decorated it in a red and white candy theme.  It was so small that I didn't even bother to take off the decorations at the end of the season before storing it away for another year.  Very little effort.

      This year, I debated for quite a while.  Should I use the 2' tree again, or should I use the bigger one?  I was confident that Tallulah would be OK around the bigger tree; but is it worth all that trouble for one person?  I was leaning towards no, until I learned that my nephews would be coming to visit for a few days next week.

      The nephews would not be impressed with their auntie's puny tree, so I decided to go all out.

      Then I saw the Zadge's blue tree, and it occurred to me that I wanted something new.  The mulitcoloured hodgepodge tree has been great; but I was ready for a change.  And darn it, Brian Gluckstein ornaments were on sale.   So, I started with a good basis of Gluckstein design ornaments, and then shopped around town, refusing to pay more then 50% of regular price (almost everything was on 60-70% off.)

      I went for purple and grey.  Then I was worried it'd be too dark, so I added white and silver.    I realized after the fact that I'd forgotten to get a tree topper; but this'll have to do.  I am officially done with going into stores until at least a week after the holidays.

      Cripes.  José's in the darned picture again.  I swear, I don't plant Tula's rat in my pictures on purpose.

      I took the picture in the day, because most of the purple ornaments are so dark, they disappear in photos - but they're glass and there are lots of white lights to shine through them.  They actually look pretty great at night.

      Thursday, December 16, 2010

      I found a way...

      ... to keep the cat out of the closet.



      For the record, having this teeny-tiny room being stuffed to the gills is growing on me.  If nothing else, the ability to take pictures from where I sit, and then barely even shifting around to load them on the computer is a lazy girl's dream.   It's a shame I've got such limited number of subjects to shoot from here.

      Bathroom faux pas

      Today was apparently the day for inappropriate behaviour in the washroom at work.

      The first time I went in, nobody else was there.  I had my choice of twelve stalls, and took one in the center.   Moments later, somebody else came in.  For reasons known only to her, she selected a stall right beside mine.  It was like an inappropriate invasion of my personal space.

      Later on, I went into the washroom to find that there was somebody else using the facilites who had opted not to close her stall door.    Although it didn't register until later, I could hear peeing when I walked in.  The peeing stopped, and the door closed.  Then the peeing resumed.  Who doesn't close the stall door in a public washroom?!?

      Finally, I went in again. (Hey - I'm on diuretics.)  There was a lady in a stall, presumably sitting on the pot, and talking on her cell.  Not - "I can't talk now, will call you back" - she was having a conversation  with somebody about the road conditions, and continued talking the entire time I was in there.    I'm not a fan of people talking while inside of the bathroom stall, but I think talking on the phone is even worse.  There really are times when it's inappropriate to talk on the phone, folks!  Does the person on the other end know where they are and what they're doing?  I was feeling a bit ornery by then, so I flushed twice to let them know.

      Come to think of it, I should have gone into the stall beside hers and flushed that one too.












      PS...  The cat?  Still contemplating the closet.

      Tuesday, December 14, 2010

      Randomosity - the pre-Christmas version

      • I was at the post office yesterday.  I stood on one side of the island-style counter, and put the stamps on my cards.  The slot to drop the cards was on the other side of the island, but blocked by a slow-moving line of people waiting for service.  There was a young kid in the lineup across from me, staring at me and making me uncomfortable.  I pushed the stamped cards over to him, and asked him to put them in the slot.  He did.  After that, he picked up each card as I put the stamps on it and put it in the slot.  We worked together like that for a few minutes... long enough that the line moved quite a bit forward, but he stayed with me.  I thanked him when I was done.  His mom thanked me for keeping him busy.  It occurred to me then that I've officially become one of those people who talk to strangers and their kids when I'm out in the stores.  People like that used to drive me nuts.
      • Another group of people who drive me a little bonkers are people who put sparkles or confetti in their Christmas cards.  I guess I understand the idea of being festive; but they make a huge mess.  This year, I bought cards that are winter landscapes, with sparkles in the snowy parts.  I didn't think it through very carefully... really, I thought the sparkles were attached to the cards; I was just happy to find cards that I didn't hate.  I was in the third store that I'd looked in, so I picked them up and ran.  Needless to say, sparkles are everywhere.  For those of you who may receive a card from me, I apologize in advance.
      • After living with it for a few weeks, and fluctuating back and forth a few times, I've decided that the chaise can't stay.  Not only can it not stay, it had to be out of the living room asap, to make room for the Christmas tree.  I hear that my aunt would like the chaise, but I can't pass it on to her right away.  If I talk to her before Christmas, I'll have to come up with an excuse for not wanting to spend the holidays with her humongous, extremely chaotic family...  Other than 'your family is humongous and chaotic'.  Which, for the record, is not always a bad thing.  It's just that I'm very much looking forward to a quiet, non-chaotic Christmas this year.    So the chaise is wedged into my office until the new year.  The room is now packed to the gills, and himself thinks he's got a new launching pad into the closet.  




      • The closet door is still missing because I still can't bring myself to spend $400+ on one that would match the other doors in the house.  Then again, if I have to yank the cat out of there many more times (note the dark coloured coats that contrast beautifully with white cate hair)  I might be shelling out for a new matching closet door fairly soon.

        Sunday, December 12, 2010

        True Colours

        There's a farmer's co op nearby of five farmers that each grow a different selection of fruits and vegetables. They don't sell to stores.  They don't ship their produce long distance.  These folks are embracing the concept of the 100 mile diet.  Once a month, they come to town and set up shop in one of the community centers to sell directly to the public.

        So late in the season, their selection was limited; but their sweet carrots were at their peak.   The line up was out the door and around the corner... people were buying 50 pounds or more of carrots, as well as potatoes, beets, cabbages, parsnips or brussel sprouts.  They sold out in less than two hours.    Lucky for me, I showed up early.


        Isn't all that colour great?  If you think those mechanically shaped mini carrots at the grocery store can compete with these ones, you don't know flavour.

        I don't have room to store huge volumes of vegetables, and one of the crispers in my fridge is already full of (big) carrots from my dad's garden, so I only bought what I could use fairly quickly.   I'm wishing now that I had a cold room.





        And as an aside, I made strawberry jam this morning.  I wasn't organized this year, so I hadn't made enough from local produce to last the year.  I had to buy strawberries that were imported by the grocery store.  

        I was tempted to (but didn't) add food colouring.  Look at that washed out colour.

        Whoever heard of pink jam?  When I make that recipe using strawberries from the garden, it's red.  Sadly, the flavour is pretty washed out this time too.

        Friday, December 10, 2010

        Chipotle chili powder

        FYI, in case you're curious... chipotle chili powder is NOT the same as chili powder.  It's safe to say that they aren't interchangeable.

        The community association potluck is tomorrow.  I thought I'd get a head start by cooking up what I could ahead of time.  I said I'd make my hot tamale pie, which is usually a big hit at potlucks; but it does involve some prep work.

        I meant to buy chili powder but forgot.  Not wanting to lose my momentum, I used a tbsp of chipotle chili powder.  Needless to say, I'll be starting over tomorrow morning.  I like things to have a bit of a kick, but I don't think my cooking should be so spicy that it knocks people on their asses.

        Hot Tamale Pie with Chili Cornmeal Crust

        Base:
        1 tbsp vegetable oil
        1lb lean ground beef
        1lb Spicy sausage, removed from casing (I used Chorizo Sausage)
        2 Onions, finely chopped
        2 Carrots, peeled and diced
        2 stalks celery, diced
        1 jalapeño pepper, Optional (I include this, but remove the seeds)
        1 tbsp chili powder
        1 tbsp cumin seeds
        1 tbsp dried oregano
        ½ tsp cracked black peppercorns
        1 cup ketchup
        1 398mL can refried beans
        1 cup beef stock
        1 ½ cups corn kernels

        Topping:
        1 cup cornmeal
        ½ cup all-purpose flour
        2 tsp baking powder
        ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
        1 cup milk
        ¼ cup melted butter
        1 egg, beaten
        1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
        1 127mL can chopped mild green chilies, including juice

        1. In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook beef or bison and sausage, in batches, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Drain all but 1 tbsp liquid from the pan.
        2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions, carrots and celery to pan and cook, stirring, until softened. Add jalapeño pepper, if using, chili powder, cumin seeds, oregano, and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in ketchup and refried beans, breaking up beans with a spoon until they are well integrated into mixture. Add stock and corn and bring to boil.
        3. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware and stir well
        4. Topping: In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Make a well in the center. Add milk, butter and egg and mix until just blended with dry ingredients. Stir in cheese and chilies. Spread mixture evenly over the filling. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours (It seems to work better for me on high) until top is risen and crusty and meat mixture is bubbling and hot.

        Make Ahead Tip: this dish can be partially prepared in the night before it is cooked. Complete steps 1 and 2. Cover and refrigerate cooked meat separately from vegetable mixture. The next morning, continue cooking as directed in step 3.

        Thursday, December 9, 2010

        Somebody...

        ... looks like she broke into the liquor cabinet.

        Wednesday, December 8, 2010

        Randomosity

        • A few weeks ago, I found a recipe for chocolate babka that looked really good.  I've now attempted to make it four times, and have had four colossal failures.  I'm now determined to master the babka.
        • the doctor yesterday referred to the photos I showed him as both graphic and dramatic.  He agreed that there is something wrong, but doesn't feel that it's an endocrine issue.  He thinks it's an immunity issue, so the next step is for me to see a doctor who specializes in immunity.
        • Remember the Deal I made with my friend?  I haven't reported back much because there hasn't been much to report.  I almost wish I had horror stories to report like the Zadge because I'm finding hers to be very entertaining.  Sadly, or maybe happily (depending on how you look at it) EHarmony seems to do a good job of weeding out the weirdos.   I have been talking with one particular guy for about a month.  He seems like a great guy; but I told him last night that I didn't think we'd work out.  My head's not in the game, so I've decided not to bow out of the whole dating scene.
        • Remember the Potty Putter, from last week?  HUGE Success.  The guys in attendance seemed to think it was a great gift.  Whodda thunk.  (I came home with a rubber chicken and a can of beer in exchange.)
        • I'm being snubbed by a cat




          Saturday, December 4, 2010

          With my deepest apologies...

          I'm going to post something gross.  I don't want to be one of those people who goes on and on about their ailments, so you don't have to worry that this will be a regular feature.

          It's just that my symptoms come and go, often without any explanation.  Even though the last few days have been particularly difficult, there's no guarantee that I won't be symptom free by the time I get in to see the specialist.  Since I've had a few doctors imply that I'm making it up, I figured I better take a picture that I can print off and bring to my appointment, just in case.

          And then, of course, once I have photographic proof, I apparently have the need to share.   I've got to admit that I'm seriously questioning the wisdom of posting this; and yet somehow I can't stop myself.  I don't know how else to explain what I'm dealing with.  

          So, you're forewarned.  The picture is gross.  I'm posting against my better judgement.  Don't scroll down if you don't want to see it.




          This is my foot on a less swollen day.  I took it a few months ago because I wanted proof that I actually do have fairly thin ankles.  It's not the most attractive foot in the world but there's not a lot of bulk to my feet in their natural state.











          Last warning



          This is what my feet look like tonight.






          For this, I've been told that "swelling is normal" when it's hot out.
          I've been told to eat meat.
          I've been told to eat more meat.
          I've been told more than once that it's all in my head.

          Here's hoping the specialist on Tuesday agrees that this is real, and that it isn't right.

          Wednesday, December 1, 2010

          This should be fun

          After waiting more than six months, I found out today that I finally got an appointment to see the endocrinologist... on Tuesday.     In the meantime, I'm to eat "normally" (not the less than 200mg of salt I usually limit myself to each day) and I'm not allowed to take any diuretics until after the appointment.   Day one, and I'm already puffed up like a blow fish.

          Let the fun begin.

          Monday, November 29, 2010

          Say... questions

          • Why, back in the 90's, did somebody not warn me about my love for all things Celine Dion?  Why didn't they tell me that my tastes would change, and that 10-15 years down the road when I had the hair brained idea to upload all songs from all of my cd's onto my computer, that I'd get bloody sick of Celine Dion music? Celine Dion in English.  Celine Dion in French.  Celine Dion Christmas music.  I'm just uploading these things - I'm not listening - but Baby Jesus of Bethlehem, there's a lot of Celine Dion.  
          (Note to self.  Cut back on Sugarland CDs before history repeats itself.)

          • Say you belong to the community association, which meets once a month and discusses activities or events for the community.  Say one of the members - who just finished requesting that there be some events that aren't family (child) oriented because some people choose not to have children - offers to host the next meeting at her house.  Say you suggest that the next meeting be a pot luck, and more of a party than a meeting and the host agrees.  Say you ask if spouses are invited and the host agrees.  Say you ask if your children (toddlers) are invited - knowing that you're the only person in the group with children - and the host very reluctantly agrees... making it known without saying the words that she'd rather not host children.  "The house isn't child proof."  "The stairs to the basement are open and can't be blocked."  "The dog is aggressive towards children."  Say the ONLY limit that the host sets is that she'd rather do this on a weekend than a week night.  Say all that.... how much alcohol would you have to drink before you sent a broadcast email to the whole group reminding them that the Potluck dinner was coming up - that families are welcome - but wouldn't everybody else rather do this on a weeknight instead of a weekend???  
          • Say you're brand spanking new to a team at work.  So new, that technically you haven't switched roles yet, but you're trying to cover both positions while you transition to the new team.  You hardly know anybody on the new team; but you're invited to their pot luck lunch, and requested to bring a "regift" gift... something that you have at home and don't want.  The sillier the better.  Would you say that this particular gift makes too strong of a statement?

          • Say you're the host from two questions up.  Would it be inappropriate to put laxatives in the maggots?  

          Sunday, November 28, 2010

          Last chance...

          ... Are you sure you don't want the chaise?

          If so, speak up soon.
          Before Miss Thing claims it as her own. 





          Oops.  Too late.

          Friday, November 26, 2010

          Just because

          I became convinced this afternoon that I. Must. Have. A. Voodoo. Doll.    Months earlier, I had happened up on this one, only for pens, not knives.  I wish I'd bought it then, because the pen one seems to be discontinued and I somehow doubt I'd be allowed to keep a set of knives at my desk.

          Then, because I'm easily distracted, I hopped links over to this.

          Read the description - it's awesome:

          This straight-talking Bullshit Button allows you to call bullshit whenever you see it! Simply press the red buzzer to make it light up, buzz loudly and announce, That was bullshit! or shout, Bullshit detected, take precautions! over a wailing siren. No friend, relative, teacher, or colleague will dare to bullshit you again after setting off the bullshit alarm.   

          It might not replace a voodoo doll, but it would certainly be entertaining.

          Even if I have to keep it hidden in my drawer to avoid offending the source of the need for the voodoo doll.

          Do you think it'll get me fired?

          Sunday, November 21, 2010

          The chaise that nobody wants

          The parents sold their house last week.  They have to be out before the end of next week, and they've got a LOT of stuff.  I wasn't very keen on the original idea that they'd throw out what they don't want, so we made a deal that I'd take what I could.  I'll keep what I want, donate some to local charities or people I know and sell the rest at a garage sale next spring.

          I didn't know what I signed up for.

          My garage is full.  My side yard is full.  My basement is full.  The new house rule is that anybody who walks past the basement stairs has to carry a minimum of one box downstairs.

          It's amazing what people will keep.


          ... which brings me to this:

          My mom bought this chaise at an antiques auction some 15-20 years ago and reupholstered it.    She gave it to my sister, who moved it about her house for a while and then stored it in her basement because it didn't really go with the rest of her decor.  Eventually, it ended up back at my parents' place, where is was stored and not used for the next 10 years.

          Now I'm trying to find room for it.  





          Apparently, Tallulah votes for this position.

          I think...  I'm not going to keep it.    I feel a little bit bad, because my mom worked hard on it.  But, it doesn't really go with the stuff I've got now; and it won't fit with the look that I've got in mind for down the road.  I might end up storing it until I finish the basement, but I suspect that it'll be going to a new (and hopefully final) home soon.


          Saturday, November 20, 2010

          Things fall together

          Every night this week, I had something going on.  I rushed home after work to let the dogs out, and turned around again to head out.  I didn't make it  home for the night once before 9:30, and most nights I then had to go outside and shovel the walk.  I didn't have time to walk the dogs until Friday, and I ate PB&J for dinner four times.

          Thursday was a particularly crazy day.  I ran home to let the dogs out, and shovelled about half the sidewalk, I gobbled my third PB&J of the week, and then tore across town to a meeting for an environmental group I've been following for a few years.  I had volunteered to help out with an upcoming conference, and was supposed to meet with the leader about it after the meeting.   If I hadn't arranged to meet him there, I probably would have skipped the meeting entirely.   I told myself as I drove there that I was only staying until 8:00.  I told the group facilitator when I arrived that I had to leave early, and arranged to meet him later this week instead of talking to him after the meeting.  When one of the speakers introduced himself to me, I told him that I'm familiar with his work, that I was looking forward to his talk; but unfortunately I'd have to duck out early.  I had to leave by 8:00.

          This presenter is the author of a blog that I followed all summer.  I don't know if you saw it on my blog roll or checked it out; but I was fascinated with it from the very first post.  It's the Steal Pony Tour, and was written by a guy named Mike who rode his bike 1100km (685 miles) around Alberta to tour organic farms.  At the end of his tour, a friend of his family contacted him and offered him the use of some land not far from town here.  He'll be starting his own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm this year.

          Mike started his talk at 7:30.  I didn't even consider getting out of my seat until 9:30 when he finished.  It was a laid back talk about where he'd been, and what he'd seen.  It wasn't preachy or confrontational... he just talked about what he saw and why he thought it was important.  The truth is, I was a little choked up by the time he finished.  Not because of the environmental ramifications of what he's doing; but because he's just a regular guy doing what's important to him and succeeding very well so far.  In the meantime, he's making a huge difference and bringing a tonne of attention to an issue that needs as much help as it can get.

          Today I was at my parents' house.  After languishing on the market for months with only a handful of viewings, my parents' house has finally sold.  They have less than a week to vacate.  Today my job was to take everything that they don't want and to bring it to my house.  I'll keep what I want and store the rest until the spring, and then have a big garage sale.

          I mentioned having heard Mike speak and how much I enjoyed it to my mom as we worked.  She remembered reading about him in the paper a while back, and had the excellent idea to give him the garden tools that they don't need anymore.   Many of those tools come from my great grandfather, who had a farm in Ontario.   Some of them are tools that he made himself.   They're perfectly good, but they look fairly rustic.  Chances of selling them at a garage sale are probably fairly slim.  I could keep them for sentimental value; but frankly, I just don't have the space.

          This afternoon, I sent Mike an email to see if he'd be interested, and heard back right away.  He's going to take the lot of them.  The tools are going back to a farm, and I couldn't be happier.  I think my great granddad would be proud.

          Wednesday, November 17, 2010

          Monday, November 15, 2010

          Lemon Chicken

          My nephews, who I'm sure were toddlers just yesterday, were in town this weekend for a speed skating competition.    I invited them with my sister and my parents for dinner on Friday, and made Lemon Chicken in the slow cooker.

          I should preface this by saying that cooking for the boys has always involved cooking for however many adults would be in attendance, and making an extra spoonful or two for the kids.  They've never been big eaters.  My older nephew hates all things onions, and is convinced that celery is an onion is disguise.   Sweet peppers somehow were tied into the onion family at some point, and are now considered inedible as well.  That, of course, has expanded to all forms of pepper, regardless of colour or heat.

          My expectations for him to eat a dish full of vegetables?  Not so high.

          Luckily, my mom offered to bring a butterscotch pie.  It's a little known fact that children can live on butterscotch alone.



          So, Lemon Chicken... couldn't be much easier.

          4-6 boneless chicken breast halves, chopped into large-ish chunks
          1/2 cup of flour
          1/2 tbsp of kosher salt (optional)
          1/2 tbsp of red pepper flakes (Don't tell my nephew)

          Dredge the chicken in a mix of the flour, salt and pepper and shake off any excess.    Brown (but don't cook) the chicken.  Toss it into a slow cooker.  Peel and chop up 3-4 carrots (2" chunks) and toss them in too.

          Make a mix of:
          1/2 can of defrosted frozen lemonade concentrate (don't add water)
          3 tbsp of ketchup
          1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
          3 tbsp of brown sugar

          Whisk the above together, and pour over the chicken in the slow cooker.  Cook on high for 2-3 hours.

          At this point, I can imagine that you might be asking - 2 hours in a slow cooker??? Why not longer?  Why not on low?  Because.  Chicken cooked in a slow cooker turns out stringy if you're not careful.  Cooking it on high for only two hours leaves it moist but most definitely NOT stringy.


          Also, 2 hours is usually enough.  Sometimes I leave it as long as 2 1/2 hours... on Friday my sister was *AHEM* late, so it cooked for three.  It was OK, but starting to think about turning on me.  I wouldn't want to leave it any longer than that.




          ANYWHO...  back to the recipe.

          I'm a firm believer in vegetables.  Even more so when they can all be cooked in the same pot.  The more the better.  So, about 45 minutes before you're ready to serve dinner, chop up and toss in some more vegetables.  Mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower... whatever you've got.   NOT beets.  Also, not onions, celery or peppers either, if you're inviting my nephews.  The only trick to adding the vegetables is that you shouldn't fill the slow cooker more than 3/4 full.  The manual says no fuller than 2/3, but I walk on the wild side.  I fill the slow cooker up to 3/4... almost 7/8 full.  Any fuller, and those veggies ain't going to cook, no matter how long you leave them in.  

          In the meantime, boil up some rice.    After the veggies are ready to go, mix up the contents of the slow cooker, and serve it over the rice with enough sauce that you should probably be eating out of a bowl instead of off a plate.  If you're me, you'll probably run down the street and buy some bread from the world's greatest bakery to serve with this too.

          Maybe it was the recipe.  Maybe it's because they became teenagers when I wasn't looking.  Whatever the reason, my nephews packed this away until there wasn't a crumb left... except a piece of the butterscotch pie.  I hid the last piece of that for myself.

          Friday, November 12, 2010

          The office re-do

          Once reality hit, and I clued into the size of the room (or lack thereof), this project turned into something much smaller than expected.  There's no sense making or buying things when there isn't any place to put them.

          This is what it looked like, before I started.  (Well... a couple of years ago.  I forgot to take before pictures again.)





          What I did is to take everything out, put the rug down, put the desk back facing a different direction (I've always felt like the president of the neighbourhood watch with the desk facing that window, watching people go by; but don't like having my back to the door) and build a "window bench" of sorts.  It's nothing spectacular, but it fit my budget and will do for now.

          The left of the desk is the cupboard that used to hold the computer tower.  I don't love the look of it, so will be reworking it into front and back book shelves.



          I'll also be making coordinating pillows to go on the bench.



          The "window bench" is a bit of a fake.  I can't build anything permanent or closed in because of the heating register that's there.  So, I took two old shelves that I've had hanging around for years, and put one on either side of the bay window.  I had a board and piece of foam cut to the right size, wrapped batting around of them, folded the fabric over the lot of it and then stapled it all in place.  There are lips on each of the shelves that hold the bench in place, so I didn't have to attach it to the shelves... not that I expect it will take much abuse.  It's strong enough to sit on, but other than a cat perch, I suspect it'll mostly be decoration... with storage below.

          The dogs and I love the rug.  The cat loves the new window bench.  Neither the dogs nor the cat seem to have noticed the fact that the dog beds and kitty condo were removed from the room.  We'll see how long that lasts.

          Also, I'm taking bets on how long it'll take for Himself to hack up a hairball on the rug.  Feel free to post a guess of your own.

          Thursday, November 11, 2010

          Wednesday, November 10, 2010

          The snowball effect

          The new computer arrived a week or so ago.    Since the new computer takes up so much less desk space, I decided to clear out the rest of the clutter, and organize what's left.  Remember that?  I planned a major reorg, but no painting or new furniture.

          I thought I'd use the opportunity to remove the uncomfortable chair in the room, and replace it with the kitchen chair.  This brought to light that the old chair has destroyed the floor and the damage needs to be covered.

          So I bought a new rug (or five).

          Emptying the room for the rug gave me a "brilliant" idea to build my own window bench using mostly material and fabric that I already had.  (I know I said I wasn't going to buy any new furniture; but I think making my own should earn me a pass on that.)  Sunday, I bought the remaining wood and foam that I needed and then came home to discover that I'd donated the fabric I thought I still had during one of my previous de-cluttering efforts.

          Today, I went out to pick a new fabric.  I found one I love.  Then I decided I needed more of it in the room to make it seem like it belongs, so I bought enough to recover the dog bed in the room and make a bolster cushion for the back of the kitchen chair.

          Those after pictures I promised last week?  I don't think they're coming any time soon.

          Tuesday, November 9, 2010

          Maggots to the rescue

          My cooking mojo left me on Sunday.  I woke up early and tried a new recipe - cauliflower soup.  It was made from fresh ingredients, and sounded like it'd be great; but after 3 hours of preparation and simmering, it was declared to be so bad that it was flushed down the toilet.

          Then I made beet salad.  I'd roasted some beets the night before, and had the idea to mix them with an onion salad recipe that I 've got.  The onions are marinated in a vinegar mixture until they're almost pickled, and then drained and mixed into a creamy sauce.  It's yummy; and I figured it'd be even better with roasted beets.  That probably would have worked out a lot more successfully if I'd had about 4 times more beets.  I ate what I could, but had to pick through a lot of onions to get to the beets.

          Then I set about my cooking club assignment.  We did a cookie exchange yesterday.  I know it seems a little early; but I think the idea was that the next meeting would be too late.  So, on Sunday, I set about baking a whole lotta cookies.  I had the perfect recipe picked out.  They're called Fatal Attraction cookies (how can you go wrong with that?), and they are almost more like individual brownies than cookies.

          I made one batch - it came out almost raw.  I put it in for a while longer, and they dried out but didn't have the right texture.  I made another batch, and raised the temperature of the oven by 25 degrees.  This didn't work. The third batch, cooked on a metal cookie pan in case my stoneware had somehow failed me,  was the closest to being right but still didn't seemed cooked properly after I cooked them significantly longer than ever before.  These were for the cooking club girls!  They're supposed to be perfect!

          After panicked calls to both my neighbour Jen and my mom, I had offers to go to either of their houses to use their kitchens.  I thought about it; but frankly I was worn out.    I packed it in for the night, which left me with the dilemma of what to bring to the cookie exchange.  You can't exactly bring bought cookies for a cooking club's cookie exchange, can you?

          And so, I made Maggots.

          Maggots are a Christmas tradition in our family, handed down from my grandmother.   The first time my mom saw the recipe for these bars, she said they'd be sweet enough to gag a maggot.  She made them anyway, and they are sweet; but we liked them.  And we've called them maggots ever since.

          1 package of mint chocolate chips
          1 cup of honey
          1 cup of peanut butter
          1 cup of peanuts.
          3 1/2 cups of rice crispies

          Melt the chocolate chips, honey and peanut butter in a double boiler.  Mix in peanuts and cereal.  Spread out in large bar pan, and let cool in the fridge.
          These are extremely sweet, so you'll want to cut them into small bite-sized portions.

          Monday, November 8, 2010

          Old Pictures

          I've been busy going through old pictures as I transfer them from my old computer to the new one.

          I came upon this one, and immediate thought of the Zadge and Harry.

          Note Himself casually inspecting the damage, as though he had nothing to do with it.

          This happened when Tallulah was about 5 months old.  I'd confined her to the kitchen with a baby gate and the brilliant idea to raise it about 8-10 inches so that Cotton could come and go as he pleased to visit her.  I came home a few hours later to discover a beach in my living room.  Tula had shimmied under the gate, and then ripped open a (clean) bag of kitty litter and shredded the puppy pad that I'd left behind for her.

          This happened the day after she chewed a cabinet door to shreds, and was the precursor to her spending the next 7 years of unsupervised time in a crate or ex-pen.

          Sunday, November 7, 2010

          Cruel but Necessary







          OK, the bath was necessary.  The pictures are cruel but kinda fun.

          Thursday, November 4, 2010

          Five rugs

          The floor in my office/computer room is hardwood, and my rolling office chair has slowly been leaving its mark.  I've gotten rid of the chair  and use a kitchen chair now - which has done wonders for my back - but I need to cover up the damage that's been left behind.

          So, I decided that I'd get a rug.  At first, I wanted contemporary.  I wanted one solid (darker) colour rug, with a single, contrasting flower on it.  I even found exactly what I wanted,  costing a cool $1000.

          Thinking that surely I could find something almost as good at a more reasonable price, I set about on a mission.  Since then, I have bought and returned 5 rugs.

          I started with one that was too flimsy.  It wrinkled and gathered against anything that moved around it.  It went back the next day.  Then I found a really cool rug that was dark brown with a single, red flower across it.  Beautiful, and even better it was made of recycled materials.  Unfortunately, it had the texture of walking across sand paper.  It went back too.  In my third attempt, I got home to discover that the picture on the package and the pattern on the rug were completely different.  The forth was a little too small, and a little too pink.

          And then the angels sang.  I went to Costco to renew my membership - and NOT buy anything - and somebody in front of me was returning a rug.  That one was the wrong colour, but was enough to convince me to investigate further.  I ended up finding the perfect rug in a style I didn't know I was looking for.  It's shag.  It's the exact opposite of what I wanted; but it's the perfect size, the perfect colour and the softest rug I've ever felt.

          It's also currently rolled up in the corner of the room.  If I'm feeling ambitious tomorrow, I'll empty the room so that I can lay it out for pictures.  And hopefully to keep.  Because I don't want to return any more rugs.

          Tuesday, November 2, 2010

          Tuesday Randomosity

          • My dad came over on Halloween to put my Christmas lights up while it's still warm.  He does this every year because I have bad balance and he doesn't want me on the ladder.  Then he comes back in the spring and takes them down.  He's a great dad.  Except, now that he's been here, I've decided that I'd rather have a mix of purple and red lights, instead of just the reds he put up.  I wonder if he'd notice if I had a friend come over to spot me while I put up the purple lights too.
          • My Dell computer finally bought the farm, after languishing painfully for four years.  It was five years old.  I regretted not buying an Apple from the day that I brought it home - not just because it never worked very well, but because I really wanted the Apple - so I bit the bullet.  This blog entry comes to you via my new (refurbished, to save money) iMac.
          • There's a fair bit of adjustment necessary to figuring out the operating system and new key strokes.  I miss right clicking, but figure that any pain is self-imposed.  The whole transition would probably go smoother if I watched the instructional video that came with it.
          • I had a presentation today at work, during which I was supposed to introduce a new process and software that I've been working on for about six months.  Ten minutes before the presentation, somebody else made a change to the software, and blew it all away.   What a gong show.  I spent the remainder of the day contemplating a job at a florist shop.
          • Himself has spent the last three days rotating between the empty Halloween candy boxes.  Halloween only comes in second to Christmas, as far as he's concerned.  It's all about the boxes for him.
          • Now that I have a new-to-me wireless computer that doesn't involve a tower or other desk clutter-er, I've decided to redo my front office.  No paint or new furniture - just a reorg of massive proportions.

          Saturday, October 30, 2010

          Witch's Fingers

          I've had this recipe in my recipe box for ages, but never made it before.  Dawn from Dawn in Austin inspired me to give it a shot with all of her recent Halloween ideas.



          Pardon my pan.  Stoneware stains as it's used, but the uglier it gets, the better it works.

          The cookies themselves were kind of fun.  I might bring them to a party or serve them to kids for their shock value, but the truth is that their taste is nothing special.  I'm not a huge fan of sugar cookies to start off with, but if you have a sugar cookie recipe that you like, you might want to use it instead.

          1 cup of softened butter
          1 cup icing sugar
          1 egg
          1 tsp almost extract
          1 tsp vanilla
          2 3/4 cup of flour
          1 tsp baking soda
          whole blanched almonds
          1 tube red decorator gel


          • Mix butter with sugar, egg, vanilla and almond extract.   Beat in flour and baking powder.
          • Cover and let refrigerate for 30 mins
          • Working with one quarter of the dough at a time, roll about a tbsp (maybe a little more) into finger shapes.  
          • Press almond into 1 end of each cookie for the nail.
          • Squeeze in center to create knuckle shape.   Use a paring knife to create slashes in several places to look like knuckles.
          • Place on lightly greased baking sheets, and back at 325 for 25 min.  (This wasn't hot or long enough for me to get the golden colour.  I ended up raising the temp to 350 for 5 minutes after the 25 mins was done.)
          • Let cool slightly, then lift up each almond and squeeze red decorator gel into the nail beds.  Press almonds back into place so that the gel oozes out from underneath.
          I found this dough hard to work with so I added a splash of milk to help it stick.  That seemed to help.   The recipe says it'll make 5 dozen cookies.  I only made one pan (about 24) of them before I put the rest back into the fridge and left for the afternoon.  I'm not sure if I'll be ambitious enough to make the rest.


          Friday, October 29, 2010

          The Hunt

          The best place to hunt is in the bedroom at night.  The victim presents himself as a lump under the covers.  He's grumpy, and he makes rumbley noises if he knows you are coming.  You have to walk very, very softly.

          First, you jump on the bed.  Stop.  Wait a few minutes.  Pretend to clean your feet.  Then you take one, maybe two steps.  Stop.  Stand very very still and wait some more.


          Take a few more steps towards the victim, and stop.  You have to be very still.  The closer you get to the victim, the slower you have to move, and the more rumbley he gets.  To do this properly, it should take you at least thirty minutes to cross the bed.



          Be careful not to wake up the human in the room.  It's OK sometimes, if you do.  Sometimes she sits up and watches; but then she might give you away by laughing.  Or, she might be cranky when she wakes up, and she might tell you to go away.  


          By now you should be fairly close to the lump.  Step very, very carefully until you're beside de lump. Stand still – do not move – for at least ten minutes. Just when the victim thinks you're gone, 








          BOP HIM ON THE HEAD!




          You've got to run very, very fast after that, because the victim will tear out from under the covers and he'll be mad. He will attack if you let him. Instead, let him bark and think he's chasing you off the bed. Go to another room, and he'll go back under the covers and become a lump again soon. 


          On a good night, you can hunt two or three times before the human locks you out of the room.



          The above entry has been a reposting of a previously published article by our guest columnist, Winter the cat... 
          who will hopefully let me get some sleep tonight.

          Monday, October 25, 2010

          The deal

          A friend of mine talked me into something that's way out of my comfort zone.  She's in a fresh and new and seemingly wonderful relationship with a seemingly great guy, and she feels pretty strongly that I need a man in my life too.  Personally, I don't think it's a very good time for me to be starting something.  I'm in a pretty crappy place right now, and not exactly showing my best foot forward.  This friend, however, is convinced that the right guy could get me out of my current funk.

          She met her new and wonderful guy on EHarmony, and she thinks that I could too.  She nagged me until I looked into it.  Then I gagged and stopped the presses when I saw the cost of an EHarmony membership.  I would have dug in my heels, but she made me a deal: If I try this out for a year and remain single, she's going to pay me back.

          So, it's a win/win situation.  Best case scenario, I meet a great guy.  Worst case scenario, she's out a lot of money and I have a lot of blog stories to tell.

          The current story is about a guy with whom communication has barely begun.  English is almost certainly his second language... which is why I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt when he said in his profile "I've been married X years".  I'm really hoping that he means I was married for X years.  (I can't ask right away because EHarmony does this thing were you ask each other canned questions for a few rounds before you're actually allowed to talk.  It seems kind of weird to me, but hey - she's going to pay and I get blog stories.)

          Sunday, October 24, 2010

          Where my cranky slips out

          I drove up to Edmonton yesterday.  I had a few things planned - oil change, pet food, books and oh hey - a new computer.

          The dealership refused to do the oil change for free (which they agreed to do as long as I own the car when I bought it) unless I paid $56 for in-cabin air filter.  $56!  For a filter that blocks dust in a car that's driven with the windows down 6 months of the year.  There's no question that they'll be the recipient of a pissed off letter on Monday morning.

          Then I traded in some books at what used to be my favorite used book store, and they charged me GST, which is the national sales tax in Canada.  It is not supposed to be applied towards used goods, and there wasn't any GST registration number on the receipt.  (I'm particularly sensitive to this because I used to work collections from companies who charged GST but never submitted it to the gov't.)

          Then I went to the pet store to find that they'd raised their prices on kibble and stopped carrying the freeze dried chicken breasts that Tula loves.  Oh, but they carry a new brand now that's twice the price and has 200mg of  SALT per serving.  Salt.  For a dog.

          Then I went to what I thought was the Apple store.  It turns out that it's just Future Shop that has a section for Apple products.  I'd gone online the night before to check out prices, so I'd noticed that Future Shop has their iMacs on sale.  I wasn't going to buy from them because I don't generally like their service, but I figured I was there and I might as well check it out.  A salesman practically met me at the door, and he seemed helpful to a point.  I pretended like I know nothing about computers at all, and he answered most of my questions with a semblance of intelligence.  But when it came time to name the price, he came in $200 higher than what was listed on their website.  When I turned to leave, he reminded me that he works on commission and that I'd just used up 3 whole minutes of his time.  So sorry about your luck, dude.

          Finally, and against my best judgement, I went to Ikea.  I hate the chaos in this store, but I do like some of their products.  I wanted 2 things, and in an unprecedented move, I somehow found the combination of shortcuts through the store that brought me directly and almost immediately to the sections I was looking for.  I picked up what I needed, checked out and was ready to go in under 10 minutes; which is a record in and of itself.

          But as I walked out to the car, I realized that one of the glasses I'd just bought was chipped.   I thought about taking it home anyway, but knew that my OCD would kick in if I started out with an incomplete set.  So, I went to the returns section and settled in for the projected 15 minute wait (seriously!) to do an exchange.  Of a 99 cent glass.  Luckily for me, the sales girl who had just checked me out recognized me as she walked by.  She agreed to hold my purchases while I ran back and got another glass, and then didn't make me go through the whole exchange process.

          My faith in humanity was restored a notch.

          Thursday, October 21, 2010

          Oops

          There comes a day in every dog's life, when they get left loose all day in the house for the first time while their owner is away.

          Even though it was unintentional, today was that day for Tallulah Belle Poodle.

          The house is still standing.  The white fluffy dudes have survived.  Upon first inspection - because you know I looked - there is no apparent damage.

          Good girl, Tallulah.

          Tuesday, October 19, 2010

          RUN!













          THAT is why I want a video camera.

          Monday, October 18, 2010

          Brownies

          I set about making brownies yesterday.  I just won some new kitchenware through the cooking club that I belong to, and I wanted to try out my new pan.  I've been craving brownies for a while, and when I realized I had all the ingredients at home, I decided to christen the new pan with a forbidden yummy.

          First, I melted the butter.  The recipe called for a half a cup of butter, so I chopped a block of butter in half and tossed it into the hot pan.  Then I measured out the sugar and vanilla put them into a bowl.

          Right about then, I clued in that a half a block of butter is actually a cup of butter.  Since I can't unmelt butter, I decided that I'd have to double the recipe.  I doubled the sugar and vanilla.  I added the butter, and then cracked 4 eggs into the mix.

          Then I was distracted for a few minutes while I figured out what the heck pan I'd use because the new pan was too small for the doubled recipe. I oiled and washed three different pans before I finally settled on the one I used.

          Back to the batter, I added the remaining ingredients.  I mixed it up with the magic 200 beats of a wooden spoon (because somebody once told me that brownies have to be hand mixed, and that you can't beat them more than 200 turns of the spoon or they'll end up like rubber.)  I poured the batter into the bar pan, and placed it in the hot oven.

          As I started to gather up the dirty dishes to clean up while the brownies baked, a thought occurred to me:  I'd doubled the ingredients until I changed pans, and then I'd forgotten to double the remaining ingredients.

          So...  I yanked the brownies out of the oven, and poured the batter back into a (new) mixing bowl.   Except, my spatula - the last clean one because I'd been cooking all day - had gone into the sink.  Once a dish touches the sink, I never let it touch food until it's been thoroughly washed with soap and hot water.      So, I balanced the dirty pan on top of the mixing bowl and a few pots I'd stolen from a nearby drawer.  Batter dripped all over while I washed a spatula and then used it to scrape what was left into the bowl. The batter was only slightly chunky and cooked.   additional ingredients were mixed in.   The mandatory 200 beats of the brownie batter were exceeded.  

          ...Back into the oven it went.  There was some debate about how long a double recipe of brownies should back (vs the 30 minutes needed for a non-doubled batch).  Ultimately, I decided to stick with 30 minutes.

          I made brownie frosting.  Then I made some more when I remembered that I'd doubled the original recipe.  I spread it on the still warm brownies, and called it a day.

          A few hours later, Jen came over to help me make some apple crisp so that I really could try out my new pan.  When she left, I sent her home with half the brownies and instructions not to judge me based on them alone.  This was not my best day in the kitchen.

          Saturday, October 16, 2010

          Beer Stew

          In my continuing quest to find flavourful, salt free meals, I made beer stew tonight.

          3 pounds of stewing beef (I used bison)
          1 1/2 pounds of thinly sliced onions
          2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil
          1 cup of  beef broth (I used homemade veggie broth to avoid the salt, and it worked well.)
          2-3 cups of beer
          4 minced garlic cloves
          2 Tbsp brown sugar
          Fresh herbs to taste (I used what I had left from my parents' garden: thyme, oregano and chives)
          cracked pepper to taste
          1 1/2 tbsp of corn starch
          2 1/2 tbsp of red wine vinegar
          (I also added about 3 cups of fresh bite-sized button mushrooms.)

          Preheat oven to 325F.
          Heat the oil in a dutch oven to a high temp on stove until it's almost smoking.  Add meat, and allow to brown (a few minutes).
          Remove meat, and reduce to medium heat
          Add onion, and let brown for about 10 minutes.  Stir periodically.
          Add broth, scrape the sides and bottom of pan as though you were making gravy.
          Add meat back into pot, and then add just enough beer to barely cover the top of the meat.
          Add garlic, herbs, pepper and brown sugar.  Mix well.
          Bring to a simmer on stove
          (this is where I added the mushrooms)
          Cover, and place the dutch oven in the bottom third of the oven
          Let cook for 2 1/2 hours.  Check periodically to make sure that it is lightly simmering throughout.
          After 2 1/2 hours, take out of the oven.  Dissolve the corn starch in the red wine vinegar.  Mix well into the stew, cover and set aside for about 10 minutes.

          I served this over mashed potatoes with steamed carrots and asparagus on the side.  I don't like beer, but this stuff was delicious.   I'll definitely be making it again.

          I hope that there's no salt in beer.  I forgot to check that.