Anyway, some assorted notes on what little I remember of the past week:
Monday: Lodge. Tonight was the First Degree -- taking a new candidate in hand, and introducing them to the basics of Masonry. Ritually speaking, it's the least effective of the three core degrees, but it tends to impress people simply because they've never been through anything like it before. I was delivering the Random Facts Lecture; I didn't make any serious errors, and it seemed to go well, but I really need to prod the Lodge into getting the appropriate props.
Overall, it wasn't as much of as disaster as I feared. After only five officers showed up for rehearsal (see last week's diary entry), I was fearing the worst. But most of the guys muddled through adequately, if not as well as I might wish. Actually, the person who most needed the rehearsal was Gary (aka Baron Algernon Hartesmond), who was one of the people who got me into Masonry in the first place and is one of the few people I know there who is at least as good at ritual as I. But he's been traveling in Europe for months, and didn't have his head in the game, so I actually had to prompt him several times. Hopefully this will inspire him to show up for next month's rehearsal, where he has most of the work. (And if anyone has job pointers for someone who has spent the past decade or two as an Athena admin, please pass them on to me and I'll send them to him.)
The degree was particularly interesting this time because one of our two new members is Muslim, a first for this particular Lodge. (We're mainly Jewish, with a few Christian members, plus ill-defined me.) Masonry is ecumenical, and particularly compatible with any of the Old Testament-based religions, but it does require some tweaking here and there. In particular, we needed to deal with two separate books of Scripture on the altar (we really need a better copy of the Qu'ran than the paperback edition they scared up -- it would look cheesy next to our 100-year-old hardcover Bible). And the Master decided to amend the text on the fly to be "Holy Scriptures" instead of "Holy Bible" throughout: an entirely reasonable substitution, but I wish I'd known about it before we were halfway through the ritual itself.
That new member is also badly injured in one leg (I didn't get the full story), which changed the floorwork dynamic quite a bit. The Masonic degrees involve a *lot* of walking around, which was very slow, and he was entirely unable to kneel. So we did a lot of faking it, providing a chair for him when necessary and generally adjusting.
Lodge was also Way The Heck Slow. Hammatt Ocean Lodge is usually pretty damned efficient: there are times when our entire meeting takes only half an hour, if there isn't any significant business. But Bill Appel (our new Master) is used to a very different tradition, and the result was rather like a typical SCA RP event, with the schedule slipping later and later. This was the first time I've gotten out of Lodge after 10pm in a number of years.
All that said, part of the lateness was due to dinner, which was lovely: basically a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, and I found that I was not yet Thanksgiving'ed Out. No idea who the cooks were (they seemed to be in uniform, so they might have been actual caterers), but they did a nice job. The meeting was a joint session with Seaview Lodge (I believe that they actually "own" one of the candidates, and we're doing him by courtesy), so it was much more crowded than usual for dinner. Sadly, most of the guys from Seaview then left after dinner, rather than sticking around for the rest of the ritual. Grr. I'm tempted to seriously suggest the hack that someone in the crowd mentioned: quietly refund the dinner cost for anyone who sticks around to the end of the meeting...
Tuesday: For the first time in a *long* time, I was not only home, but energetic enough to cook something real. My first choice fell through, so I improvised a Salmon with Shiitake Mushroom Sauce, which wasn't half-bad. (This was inspired by msmemory coming home from Costco with a pound of dried shiitake -- yes, that's as big a bag as you think it is.)
Wednesday: Dance practice. Very normal, save for the Bergomania (?) at the start. I need to look this up, and figure out how I want to do it. (Mara wasn't really talking much about the steps, since it's just an improvised piva, but I want to decide what I think that piva looks like.)
Thursday: This time, Whole Foods had trout in stock, so I made Tuesday's original plan: Pan-Seared Trout with Bacon Vinaigrette. A fish dish that manages to utterly puncture the notion that fish is inherently healthy, but oh-so-yummy.
Friday: For our weekly date I was feeling adventurous, so we tried out Pho Pasteur, which we've been looking at for at *least* five years, maybe closer to ten. The one in the Atrium Mall seems to always be fairly quiet, so there was no wait.
For our meal, we split the Beef Hot Pot, which was fascinating and complex. They brought out four separate platters. One was a gas burner, with a decent-sized pot of vegetable soup on it; the soup was akin to a Thai Hot and Sour, but a bit sweeter and with less kick. The second was a *lot* of very thin-sliced high-quality steak, calimari bits, and shrimps, all raw. The third was add-ins: lettuce, mint, tomatoes (which we ignored, of course) a huge pile of vermicelli and a very good peanut sauce. And the fourth was the "pancakes", plus a huge bowl of steaming hot water.
We had to knuckle under and ask the waiter what the heck we were supposed to do with all this. The answer is that it's kinda-sorta like Mu Shi, but more complex. You take one of the pancakes, which are the consistency of hard plastic, and soak it thoroughly in the hot water: it quickly turns soft and translucent. To that, you add whichever of the bits you want, either cooked or uncooked, roll and eat. On the side, you have the soup, with whatever you want to cook in it.
In practice, we mostly wound up separating the two halves. I found the pancakes best with the raw beef, some of the vermicelli, a mint leaf or two, and the peanut sauce. The squid and shrimps we dropped into the broth so they would cook, and ate them as soup.
Overall, tasty and *quite* filling -- our appetizer was small, and we really shouldn't have even had that, because we both managed to overfill on the Hot Pot. The Hot Pot itself was $27, which isn't half-bad for a two-person dish, so we'll need to remember that as an interesting option. But next time we'll try something else: we're both completely new to Vietnamese, and it's rare for us to get to dive into an entirely unfamiliar cuisine.
Afterwards, we headed for the Natick Mall, to go to Harry and David's. My boss at work had been giving out their pears a day or two earlier, and they were extraordinary: I'm not normally a big pear fan, but these were luscious. So I decided that I wanted to bring a box to ladysprite's birthday party, as our contribution to the food.
Saturday: Edit: [We started off the afternoon with the annual expedition to select from the Christmas Tree Massacre. Mahoney's, as usual, had scads of trees to choose from, but this year we were there in daylight, and could actually see what we were choosing. (Yes, this is a change from most years.) Bringing home a tree is much, much easier now that we have a station wagon again. (Better yet: a wagon with a hatch that opens, so we could just leave the tip of the tree hanging out the back window.)]
A generally quiet afternoon, mostly spent reading LJ. (Hence my current state of caught-uppedness.) msmemory was over at hawkegirl's, for svava's birthday party, but I needed the rest. She got home from that a bit after 5, and we headed over to ladysprite's, for her birthday party.
We were apparently the beginning of the real influx. ladysprite had specified the party as being "4 till whenever", and as with all such parties it started a bit slowly. There were just a few people there before us, but it seemed like people started flowing in steadily after that. By the peak, there were at least 20 people there. I'd say that the party was about optimal size: any more people, and it would have started to get *seriously* crowded. As it was, it was pretty rollicking.
I noshed my way through dinner; knowing ladysprite, I didn't have any fears of starving. There was lots of stuff to nibble on. I particularly recall the pears, the birthday cake (a delish chocolate-chip Bundt cake with caramel icing), quince paste, and lots of cheese dip in a bread bowl.
The central entertainment for the evening was a really *big* game of Encore, with about 8 people on each side. As usual, I was just slightly better than useless at this (Encore is based entirely on the sort of associative memory I'm worst at), but it was fun to help out as I could. In general, the game went well and didn't take as long as I'd feared, but I think the category of "Fictional Characters" needs to be replaced by something a little more specific -- it's too ambiguous as it stands, and provoked several arguments about exactly what songs qualified.
Sunday: A quiet day of doing chores. Contemplated going out for strategy games, but just didn't have the energy or focus. Main accomplishment of the day was dealing with a lot of back email that I owed various people.
Dinner was basic Chili, but I wound up getting seriously distracted along the way. I was swinging through Staples on the way to the market, and happened to poke around in the laptop aisle, when I finally snapped. For months now, I've had a bad case of, "I want a new laptop!"; this was originally inspired by tpau wandering around Worldcon with hers, and has been fed by general dissatisfaction with our old one, which is old, underpowered (64Meg of RAM, 500MHz PIII), and running on Windows ME ("The Suckiest OS in the Universe!" (tm)).
So I spent a couple of hours trawling around on the Net, checking out specs and reviews and such, leading to...
Today: Bought a new computer. It's a Compaq V2010US, a machine I hadn't even been looking at before, but it looks to be a good compromise in several ways. It's not *quite* as light as the others I've been looking at (5.2 lbs), but isn't a boat anchor like the old one, either. The screen isn't quite as pretty as the Dell 700m or the Sonys, but it looks sharp, and large enough. (Widescreen, 1280 x 768.) The keyboard isn't quite as good as the IBM, but doesn't suck like the Dell. The specs are right. (1.4MHz, 60 Gig drive, half-Gig RAM expandable to 2 Gigs, internal DVD/CD-RW, 802.11g.) And it was seriously cheap: $900, as opposed to ~$1300 for the Dell or ~$1800 for the IBM or Sony.
All of which makes work today a little difficult, because I *really* want to be home, playing with my new toy. But I have that to look forward to tonight. (And Thursday: I just wasn't looking forward to showing up for silicon_theater session with my crappy old laptop, and spending fifteen minutes trying to get the damned Wifi working. As it is, I may still feel like an alien amongst all those Macs, but at least I shouldn't be embarassed.)
Tomorrow: Accademia. This time we're going to have the organizational and review meeting, for real.
Wednesday: Dance practice.
Thursday: Recording session for silicon_theater.
Saturday: Christmas dinner at herooftheage's.
Sunday: Christmas dinner with msmemory's mother, and probably swing past jdulac's for a while afterwards.