Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New transparent navigation bar for Blogger

Blogger creates a navigation bar (or navbar) up at the top of your blog by default. Your visitors can use it to search, follow, share, or report your blog, and, as long as you're logged in, you can use it quickly jump to the add new post or change layout settings pages.

The default Blogger navbar is blue with white text and blue links:

Blogger's default navigation bar

For a long time, you've been able to choose Tan, Black, and Silver as well. Now, you can have the navigation bar be transparent, letting your blog's background shine through. The Transparent Light navbar has dark links and the Transparent Dark navbar has light colored links. Choose the one that works best with your blog's background.

Blogger's Light Transparent Navigation Bar

To change the navbar, go to Layout | Page Elements and click the Edit button in the Navbar element. Then choose the desired navbar design in the NavBar Configuration dialog box.

Blogger's Navbar Configuration dialog box

Save changes and view your new layout!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Easy homemade Maple Granola

A friend of mine gave me her recipe for granola a while back: 1 big round box of oats, 1 cup of maple syrup and 1 cup of olive oil, and I've been making it ever since. But since I buy organic oats in bulk, I never quite got the proportions right. Sometimes I don't put enough maple syrup and it comes out rather dull, other times I put too much olive oil and it comes out greasy. I swore I would figure it out systematically, but it took a few years to actually do it AND write it down.

But I finally figured it out: 4 (generous) cups of oats, 1/2 cup of maple syrup and 1/2 cup of olive oil. I often make a triple batch: 12 cups of oats, 1 and 1/2 cups each of maple syrup and olive oil. Then mix it all together, spread it out on two cookie sheets, and bake at 225°F for an hour and a half. I use the Convection Bake option on my oven, which turns on a fan that helps make the granola crispier. I also leave the granola in the oven until the oven and the granola cool down. This also helps with the crispiness.

Store in air-tight jars.


I like mine plain, but it's also good with sunflower seeds, nuts, raisins, cranberries, bits of peach or raspberries. Ooh, and my personal favorite is to eat it with plain yogurt and maple syrup.

I did try to grow my own oats this year, and they did really well right up until the moment when the turkeys came and ate them all. Sigh.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dear Driver who hit my sweet cat, Sky, last Tuesday night,

on the curve right in front of my house. I know it was an accident. It happened to me once. I was driving in Vermont, on one of those straightaways where the speed limit was about 50. All of a sudden a cat came out of nowhere and fairly bolted right under the car. I didn't have time to react, and I will never ever forget how it felt. I stopped and went back and found the poor cat. It was dead. I felt terrible. My very curious two-year-old was in the car and I dreaded the questions that would come. And I felt really sad for the cat and for its family. I didn't know what to do. There was nobody around. So, I drove on. But I didn't stop thinking about it for a long time.

Nightie, Sky, and Sir EdmundI wonder if you thought about Sky. If you wondered if she had a home. She did. We got her when she was a tiny five-week old kitten from the shelter. She had two brothers with her, and the idea was to take care of them until they were old enough to be adopted officially, but of course the official adopters turned out to be us. Sky was the prettiest—a tortoise-shell—and the feistiest. She had a little checkerboard pattern on her mouth that made her look a little bit like a court jester, though you'd never say that to her face.

Sky in the woodsShe was not always the most affectionate. If someone got too close to her face, she might bat at them and even scratch them if they didn't back off. She was so mean to our Newfoundland that the huge burly dog would stay in the corner rather than cross paths with tiny Sky. It was a little tricky when we went on walks in the woods, because both of them liked to join us.

Sweet SkyBut Sky was also loving. She spent many afternoons in my studio, basking in the sun in my big orange chair. She would spread out on my keyboard—like all good cats—and let me rub her belly. She was happy, and purred loudly. If I went up without her, I would see her prowl around the paddock, balancing on the rail to see if she could find any mice or voles down below. She'd meow at me to let her in when she was tired, or climb up onto the window screen. I'd give a short whistle and she'd reappear at the door. I loved her. She was my friend.

At first, since you, too, drove on, we didn't know what happened to Sky. I knew right away that something was wrong, because she always came right away when I whistled, and that night, she didn't come. I spent a long time whistling, walking up and down the street. Worried. We put up signs and talked to the neighbors, we imagined terrible beasts and hard feelings. We worried.

But, a kind neighbor found Sky in the ditch near our house. She wrapped her up and brought her to our house. We weren't home so she left a discrete note on the door. And then when we bumped into each other downtown, she told me what had happened. I can't tell you how much that meant to me. Because not knowing makes it all ten times worse. Wondering if I just put up more signs, or talked to more people, or went whistling on more long walks, if there was just something more I could do to find her, is like slow torture.

SkyWe buried Sky yesterday near her favorite paddock. It really helped to be able to say goodbye, as we told stories about her, and cried.

So next time, dear driver, leave a note. Even if you don't know where the cat came from, leave a note at the closest house you see. We neighbors talk to each other. I won't blame you. I know how it happens. And if you want to take it easy coming around that curve, that wouldn't hurt either. My kids walk on that street, too.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Peaches from our tree!

Absolutely glorious!
Peaches from our tree!

Permission to Learn

A homeschool web site that I often visit posted a link to Yale University's online course offerings. Intrigued, I followed the link and began one of the videos of particular personal interest, "The Civil War and Reconstruction Era".

At first, I was instantly transported back in time to my own days in college. Days when I remember the world feeling like a huge menu, filled with tantalizing dishes, all within reach of my grumbling stomach. And the professor, David Blight, was well spoken and quite interesting. I couldn't stay focused on the content though. All I could think of was that the 280 kids in that class were paying something like $45,000 a year for the privilege of sitting in that class while I was watching for free, in my bed on a Saturday morning.

What were they getting that I wasn't?

It was hard to watch after a while. Not because it wasn't captivating, but because I've gotten so used to tapping several sources of information at a time. Perhaps the students present in the lecture hall were also simultaneously checking their email and Twitter streams, but I found it hard to focus with the rest of the Internet pulling at me. I found I wanted him to speak faster, to skip over the introduction, to get to the meat of the question. I've grown to expect a summary of a topic in a 4 minute YouTube video.

I have trained myself to judge content on the web so quickly, in order to weed out the chaff, that it was difficult to give this Yale professor the benefit of the doubt and listen through the slow parts. I had to consciously keep myself from moving on, using my faith in, really, our educational system, to hold out for the good parts.

Part of the difficulty was that the investment required was not only watching that first 45 minute video. There were 27 class lectures in all, and a syllabus with 13 books and several films. Would I really have the perseverance to see it through? And if not, was it worth watching the first segment?

With children rapidly approaching college age (OK, not that soon), I have been warily watching tuition skyrocket. As a homeschool parent, I can't help but wonder if it's really worth it. And if you can get it all online, why pay $20,000 (or $50,000!) a year?

My daughter had an answer right away: "Because if you pay for it, you have to do it." As I watched Professor Blight's lecture, that was the same conclusion I came to. If I was a student at Yale enrolled in his class, I wouldn't just drop out, in part because I had paid to be there. If I was watching from home, I might well let any other distraction—and believe me, there are many candidates—to keep me from completing the course.

I think I'm thinking about all of this because my life feels very unbalanced. I've been spending all of my time and energy and focus finishing my new book, and at the same time, I had committed to having a booth of my gourds at the Ashfield Fall Festival, which is this coming weekend. And I have pretty much stopped doing any of the homeschooling at all. It doesn't feel right.

Then my son said, "I can't believe you'd rather have money than your gourds." And of course, that's not quite right, but it does make me stop and think why I'm doing it. Why do I spend so much time crafting gourds that I will then sell for a tiny fraction of the worth of the time I spent on them... *if* I'm lucky!?

Do I need to sign up for a university course on crafting gourds, so I can give myself permission to work on them? Or can I just give myself permission?

The crazy thing is that I'm working on them so much right now because I committed to being at this show. Again, it's an external obligation that's keeping me focused. Which brings me back to Dr. Blight's online course. I know that his students are getting more out of their college experience than just the sum of knowledge from the courses they will take, which they could ostensibly get online. But do you really have to spend that much money to let yourself learn?

Maybe American private universities are so expensive exactly because it's the only way that we can give ourselves and our children the permission to take the time necessary to learn about such esoteric topics as the Civil War and Game Theory and Macroeconomics and Spanish History and all the other things I studied and that don't have a practical use in my adult life, but that still make me a happier, more fulfilled person.

More of my books