giving thanks


Happy Thanksgiving, Readers! If you are traveling this long weekend, I hope your journey was safe and stress-free. If you are staying put (like me), I hope you have a relaxing day or two with your family and/or friends. I hope your table is filled with your favorite foods, your football team wins, and you score a lot of deals at the mall tomorrow. I hope that you take some time out from cooking, eating, driving, and shopping to think about some of the things you are thankful for! Now, I’m not as creative as [simply rejoice], but there’s definitely a few things I appreciate this Thanksgiving Day.

1. My family. They’re far away from me this year, zipping down I-39 to celebrate with the Mapel clan in central Illinois. But I got to see my mom and dad for some quality vacation time in Boston last week, and as you all know, Laura had an action-packed visit during Halloween weekend. They’re good people and I’m glad they’re mine.

2. My jobs. Even though I have to work tomorrow at one of my part-time gigs, when I would rather be shopping at Macy’s and the yarn store, I am so grateful to have two paid opportunities. I’m still on the lookout for a full-time museum position, but when so many people have nothing at all to support their families, I realize I am truly blessed.

3. My country. Thanksgiving is such a uniquely American holiday (yes, I know Canada has one too): it’s all about eating too much, spending money, and watching televised sports. Four years ago, when I was in Spain, the lack of turkey and parades was almost painful. I know that not all of us are overjoyed with every aspect of the United States (certain elected officials, the still-shaky economy, foreign policy, and/or overwhelming consumer culture), but the fact that we can freely whine about it in the blogosphere and then drown our sorrows in mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce is pretty special.

So good luck at the sales tomorrow. Travel/cook safely and shop/eat wisely. And hey, if your deep-fried turkey ends up a Monumental Disaster, file it away with other Good Holiday Tales and call for pizza and wings. Happy Thanksgiving, dear Friends.

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raymond


Raymond, the red-and-blue Betta fish I told you about in October, passed away this morning. I’m not sure if he had a short illness or he was just elderly, but the end was sudden. As you can imagine, it’s very sad and my apartment is surprisingly lonely. I guess I just got used to having another living creature around, and doling out pellets twice a day. Raymond will be buried this weekend, and maybe sometime after Christmas, I will venture out to the pet store and adopt a New Friend. Raymond was a very good pet and so much fun to have around, and I’ll miss his little presence.

In other, less depressing, news, I went to Boston on vacation last week, and Thanksgiving is tomorrow (yum). I’ll report on these topics in full in the coming days.

thank you for being a friend, raymond

attention mr. and mrs. uk and all the ships at sea…


I haven’t been over there yet today, so Tenaciously Yours, might have the jump on this announcement, but Prince William and Kate Middleton are officially engaged. Here’s some early details. More news and sparkle later, Friends, I’ve got a busy Tuesday ahead of me.

a visitor from the north


Friends, I was recently reminded by one of my beloved readers that I have failed to mention the Halloween-weekend visit from a very exciting/excited Minnesotan named Laura. It was a jam-packed five days of museums, food, the Sanity/Fear Rally, and the Marine Corps Marathon, and I loved (almost) every single second of it! Ok, maybe I even had a good time on the sardine-can Metro ride downtown on Saturday morning. I won’t subject you with a long-drawn-out description of someone else’s vacation (my aim is not to make you bored or totally jealous of our awesome times), but I want to share some of the neat things Laura and I got to do together. Because I live here and she’s visited several times in the last couple years, we are able to see a few things that the average DC tourist doesn’t…and we have a nice apartment to escape to when we’re tired of sightseeing!

She arrived on Wednesday evening (a little late thanks to weather), and we went straight to one of my favorite restaurants, Founding Farmers on Pennsylvania Ave. Happily, they seated us upstairs away from the bar, so we could hear ourselves talk. Readers, when you go to FF, always order the cornbread. It’s homemade and delicious, and served with honey butter. In order to walk off some of our calories, we took an evening stroll down Pennsylvania and waved hello to the Obamas. It ended up being a nice clear evening, and Laura got some good pictures of the White House.

North Lawn of the White House

During Thursday’s visit to the National Museum of the American Indian (where we reminisced about fieldtrips to Milwaukee’s Indian Summer Festival), Laura got the official cookbook from the Mitsitam Cafe. I’m excited to see how those delicious recipes turn out in the real world! Then we hit up Air & Space, Natural History, and the National Archives (are you overwhelmed yet?!), and finished the afternoon at the Farmers’ Market in Penn Quarter. We picked out some yummy handmade soaps and an enormous Honeycrisp apple that was the perfect breakfast the next day. A Yellow-Line-Rush-Hour adventure deposited us in Pentagon City for dinner at Creperie Brasserie. The waiter knows my name.

Navy Memorial and U.S. Archives

Friday, possibly the best day, was Zoo Day. Laura the Zoo Enthusiast had scoped out the website in advance, and developed a whole game plan for viewing cuddly animals. The highlight? By far the Meet-a-Kiwi! They are only native to New Zealand and are rarely seen even there, so this was a very special experience. The day was rounded out with a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to see the special exhibit From Memory to Action, and Chinese food in Courthouse.

Manaya the Kiwi

To see the First Ladies exhibit at the National Museum of American History on Saturday, we squished ourselves onto the Orange Line with thousands of other excited rally-goers. Readers, I must confess that I had been worried that such large crowds would quickly get out of control, but our fellow passengers were friendly and polite and just out for a good time on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. We walked to the Chinatown area for a trip to Ford’s Theatre (very eerie and very well-done), and then walked about 20 blocks (!!) to Dupont Circle to catch a Circulator home. We rewarded ourselves with Hello Cupcake. On the way, we found numerous Waldos, Gumby driving a hybrid car, and a lot of bananas. I think they were going to meet up later to become a bunch.

President Lincoln's box at Ford's Theatre with the original Washington portrait

Sunday was a sad day, because Laura had to get back to her life in St. Paul, but we were awakened bright and early by the Marine Corps Marathon! My building is very near the USMC Memorial (Iwo Jima), so the Finish Festival took place on my street. Even though we had not run anywhere near 26 miles, we still grabbed our free samples of Ocean Spray Pomegranate Craisins. Then it was off to the airport to send Laura home…and I curled up on my sofa for a nice nap. Altogether, it was a great long weekend, and I really liked the mix of tourist and native activities. Thanks, Laura! (P.S. All the pictures are hers!)

the first tuesday after the first monday


Today is November 2, 2010, and it is Election Day. Unless you live under a TV-free rock (or perhaps outside the country), you’re probably aware of the ugliness of many campaigns, the fears and hopes of both parties, and the multitude of rallies held in my city. Voters that aren’t angry in the manner of Glenn Beck are fed up with divisiveness and inaction; I think it’s safe to say that we’re all fed up with Congressional backbiting in lieu of some kind of progress on Job Creation, Health Care, and the War.

do it

Now, My Words Are Sparkly is not here to tell you how to vote (although I think most of you, Readers, are personal friends and are well aware of which way I lean). Rather, I just want you to do a little serious thinking about the many issues and candidates on your ballot, and exercise your Constitutional Right To Vote. Seriously. If you don’t vote, you don’t count, and it is my honest belief that even an educated voter on the opposite end of the political spectrum is better than uninformed people.¬†For many of our ancestors, it was a hard road to the ballot box, so make sure you honor their efforts and let your voice be heard today! If you haven’t registered in your area yet, many states allow same-day voter registration. Here are the links to Election Information in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Readers, we cannot be a Democracy unless you participate. Vote!

fall fest


Readers! It’s so good to be with you again, after getting completely sidelined by an ugly cold and playing catch-up on chores.

Last Saturday (yes, a whole week ago–I said I was behind on all my daily tasks) I went apple- and pumpkin-picking with three dear friends. We had all gotten Groupons to a farm in Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. So, I requested a day off work, packed up my recipes and pie plate, and ventured into the countryside. Now, this weekend is actually the fall color peak weekend in the Shenandoah Valley, but we were definitely not disappointed. We pulled into the pumpkin-patch-turned-parking-lot at Hollin Farm and selected pumpkins for carving and eating, as well as fall vegetables. I got a little table-top pumpkin, a handful of gourds, and a nice big bag of arugula and bok choy. Yum!

Little apartment = little pumpkin

After a run through a corn maze with beautiful views of the orchards and mountains, it was on to a small apple orchard to pick tasty fruit off the trees and go on a hay-ride. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up and were greeted by a crowd of people with their show-quality basset hounds! They are very friendly (people and puppies), and I wanted to take a furry friend home with me, but my friends kindly reminded me that my apartment is pets-free, so we moved on to the apples. The hay ride, or Hay Odyssey, as it came to be known, was absolutely gorgeous. We spent about half an hour hitched to a tractor and going up and down the hills. After a somewhat awkward moment when we were invited to a Saturday-evening country church service, we filled our peck-bags with apples for cooking and snacking on. A quick trip to a third orchard for cider and a variety of jams and preserves rounded out the countryside part of the day.

Apple orchard as seen from the Hay Odyssey

Back in civilization, it was Baking Time! I had put together a big collection of recipes for pumpkin bread, pumpkin waffles, apple crisp, apple sangria, etc., so we set to work on some bread and pie. Let me tell you, scraping and shredding an eating pumpkin is no easy task! It was by far the longest part of the baking time. We put together two loaves of pumpkin-chocolate-chip bread and an apple pie, complete with Margaret’s mom’s homemade crust recipe. Tomorrow I’ll type up the recipes we used so you, Dear Reader, can join in the Fall Fun. Maybe I’ll throw in the apple sangria one as well. Friends: have you gone, or are you planning on going, fruit- and vegetable-picking this fall? What is your top fall recipe?

Hard at work on the pumpkin. Please take note of my school spirit!

P.S. In keeping with this delicious-themed post, La Petite Pancake is giving away an Ina Garten cookbook and an exciting new rolling pin! Winner picked tomorrow, so enter now!

splendens


Can I just tell you, having no voice for two days in a row is really terrible! I called in to work today so I could rest my throat and hopefully recover…Saturday is Apple-Picking Day and I want to be healthy.

On to the meat of this post. In July, I acquired a male crowntail Betta splendens named Raymond. He lives in a purple tank on my kitchen table and has a mini castle and plastic plant to keep him happy. My building is pet-free (which is very nice to control noise and mess), so almost everyone has a fish tank going on. I’m so glad I joined the crowd! Even though Raymond can’t snuggle during movie nights, it’s still nice to come home in the evening and have another living creature in the apartment. I did a lot of research before getting Raymond, because I wanted to be a Good Pet Owner, so I’d like to share a few tips with those of you who are considering getting a pet.

Raymond's setup: light, tank, castle, fish, plant, gravel

Know what you can handle. I got a single Betta because they don’t require a very large space, they are not expensive, and they’re easy to maintain. If you’re new to fish-keeping, you probably want to start off with an ordinary goldfish, a small platy, or a Betta, rather than something complicated like an angelfish or a piranha (which may or may not be illegal in your area). Do you have little time to spend filtering water, scrubbing tanks, and aquascaping? A 50-gallon outfit may not be for you. Short on cash? Stick to tropical freshwater friends. The outlay is simpler and the more popular fish themselves usually do not cost very much.

Betta pellets, water conditioner, net, and cup. I try not to net Raymond because of his fins.

Remember that your fish is a living thing. Scientists and fish fanciers debate whether or not our finned buddies can feel pain or not, but I think it’s best to assume that they can. If your fish looks sick or hurt, please do something about it, don’t just let him swim around in discomfort. I’ll be honest, I have forgotten to give Raymond his morning pellets sometimes when I’m running late. But as soon as I get home, I take proper care of his needs; I’d hate for him to go belly-up because I was too busy to feed him. Should you need to move, or are unable to care for your pet properly anymore, please do the right thing for him and your community: find an appropriate new home for him. Never abandon a fish by flushing a live one down the toilet. He will most likely die a horrible death, but if he somehow escapes into real water where he does not belong, he will damage the ecosystem.

Stick-on tank thermometer. Raymond's tank is usually a lovely 75 degrees.

Continue to expand your fish-keeping knowledge. You know me, I’m a nerd and an information sponge. When it comes to my beloved Raymond, there’s always new things to learn and new areas of fish-keeping to explore. For example, did you know that there are fish shows? They’re similar to cat- and dog-shows and give owners, fanciers, and breeders a chance to get ideas for their wet friends and encounter new products. If you’ve got the time, money, and inclination, you can also try breeding your fish. This is something I’d like to try down the road, but it’s a pretty intense process that takes more skill than I’ve got.

Reading material: Freshwater Aquariums for Dummies and Animal Planet's Aquarium Care of Bettas

So there’s some basic information for all you potential fish owners. I’ve really enjoyed having Raymond around, and taking care of him is one chore that I don’t mind. Before you adopt a little aquatic buddy, please do some research and discover what’s best for you. Readers: do you have a pet? What advice do you have about a non-human roommate?

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