Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This one's for you, Mrs. Micawber

Mrs Micawber is Captain of the local Grammar Police.

From Dave Blazek's Loose Parts Comics.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Downton Abbey and more

Well, another wonderful hour of Downton Abbey last night!

After reading some of the interviews with Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame on the PBS website a week or so ago, I decided to watch Gosford Park (written by Fellowes) as well as The Buccaneers (an old Masterpiece series). The Buccaneers, based on the book by Edith Wharton, is about the time period after the Civil War when young American heiresses went to England in search of titles, and impoverished English title-holders sought monied brides to allow them to hold on to their estates. This was Fellowes' inspiration for the character of Cora, who, we learned in the first season, brought her American money to her marriage to Lord Grantham, which was then irrevocably tied into the estate.

Gosford Park was wonderful. I had to repeat the first 30 minutes to get the characters straight - whose valet is whose? Which ones are the sisters, and which men are their husbands? It wasn't obvious from their behavior - quite the contrary.

The Buccaneers, made in 1995, was awful - and as I watched, I remembered just how bad it was when it was first broadcast. The dialog and acting was dismal. And then to contrast it with Downton Abbey made it even worse. So after about an hour and a quarter (why did I even watch that much?), I gave up.

In one of the interviews with Fellowes about creating Downton Abbey, he talks about pulling characters from people or situations he knew of in his own life, including the story of the dead diplomat being carried across the house in the middle of the night. Start at 5:30 to hear that part - really fascinating.

Oh, drat. I've embedded this twice, changed the dimensions, and still it shows too large to view. So never mind the embed: here's the link.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

For your viewing pleasure

A Rube Goldberg-like machine. Less than 2 minutes. Very clever.

My neighbor sent it along with a link on the background on the production, which involves St. Olaf where her youngest is at university.

Friday, January 27, 2012

It may not look like much yet...

...but there are going to be lily of the valley blooms --

this morning I saw flower buds!

What do you mean you can't see anything?

Here - put on your readers.


And there!

*big smiles*

Started here, next was here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

I've got some easy ones this week:

A nearby park in which I have never before seen a pond.
The combination of 6 or more inches of snow on Friday,
a downpour Sunday night, and frozen ground
produced a nice temporary spot for geese.

There was a big rainstorm Sunday night, accompanied by thunder and lightning (not our usual fare for January), which cleared the sidewalks (and lawns) of most of the snow and ice. So walking Oscar this week has been a pleasure.

We had my city cousin and her husband of 15 months over for a Sunday afternoon late lunch, which was their bridal shower gift - it took this long for our calendars to align. My parents came, too, and G enjoyed all the conversation, which really pleased me. And was pretty wiped out by the time they all left.

And last, I received a check from a class action suit that I had heard nothing about for more than three years, so this was a nice little surprise. Not that $40 will make or break us, but a friend of mine told me of waiting several years for a class action settlement and finally getting her check -- for $2. That makes the $40 seem positively lavish.

Hop over to Penny's for more winter cheerfulness.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Coaxing Winter

Keeping the candles burning, too

As my contribution to the January Making Winter Bloghop, dreamed up by Silverpebble and Thrifty Household and hosted this month by Emma at Silverpebble, I'll continue my efforts to make winter days cozy by bringing spring a bit early. This requires more patience than effort.

I talked about forcing - er, coaxing lilies of the valley a few weeks ago by digging pips from the garden during a thaw and bringing them into the house...

January 6

...and this is how the two pots look now:

January 24

January 24

See what I mean about patience? It will probably take another 3 or 4 weeks for them to flower - assuming some of these shoots do produce flowers. They don't all in nature, so I've tried to improve my odds by putting lots of pips in the pots.

I've just cut some forsythia branches from our yard, making sure to choose ones with a lot of buds...
See how much our snow has melted?
Sunday night's rainstorm washed a lot away.

...and have put the branches in an old pitcher. Their feet are in water that's had a tiny bit of sugar, citric acid, and bleach added to it to encourage flowering and reduce bacterial growth in the water over the weeks it will take for the forsythia to bloom. I've not amended the water in the past, but I thought I'd try the same concoction I use for flower arrangements.

Even before they flower, I like the look of the branches - kind of wild. I'll keep you posted on progress.

There are some delectable things going on this month in the making winter category; hop over to Emma's and see what's cooking - and what's knitting, sewing, and appreciating.

Update January 27: tiny lily of the valley flower buds!

Update February 4th: forsythia in full flower!

Update February 9th: lilies of the valley blooming and fragrant...mmm.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Geraldine Brooks

I may be the only person who had not heard of this author. In the fall, my cousin told me about one of her books, Year of Wonders, and then loaned it to me. Then loaned me Caleb's Crossing. The library provided the rest of her works: March (for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction); People of the Book; Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over.

Without intending to, I've been reading her books in almost reverse order, and am now on her first book, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, a non-fiction account based on her work in the Middle East as a reporter. Interesting and disturbing, it's not my favorite of her books but is still fascinating.

Her four most recent works are all fiction, based on some historical fact. She explains at the end of the novels what inspired her and more about the factual event that launched her fiction. She's a remarkable writer and researcher. These are books I could read again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Downton Abbey - which character are you?

Ah, the third episode of season two aired last night. So satisfying!

A friend sent me a "Which DA character are you?" quiz, and I'm Sybil. That made me pretty happy - I like her character. So far, anyway. Who knows what will happen in future episodes.

Then I went to the PBS site and they have a different quiz from the Guardian, and I'm the Dowager Countess. Hmmm. OK, I can live with that. It says I don't suffer fools lightly. This quiz has the more amusing questions, like: If you are upstairs at Downton Abbey and hear the front door bell, what do you do? A. "What's a bell?" Very droll!

What if one of these quizzes had said I was O'Brien? Or worse, Thomas?! I think I won't take any more quizzes, just in case.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Happiness, meet Science"

In June, I wrote about the "Three Good Things" journal, which I had read about in a Chicago Tribune article titled "Happiness, Meet Science." And then I was reminded of it on a webinar on positive emotions by Janet Edmunson. The nightly accounting takes me just a few minutes, and I've found it to be helpful, even on days when I have to think hard about finding three good things to record.

One of the things I like about Ms. Edmunson is her references to positive psychology research to explain why different techniques are effective. In her latest webinar, she mentioned a website called randomactsofkindness.org while she was explaining that giving kindness to others improves our own well-being.

Here's a 3 minute video from that site, about research being done at the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. Even the music makes me feel better!

Another website mentioned during the webinar was 29gifts.org - started by a woman with MS, who has gotten physically and emotionally better when a friend urged her to start focusing on others. An interview on the Today show from a few years ago tells the story, which is a great reminder of how powerfully our positive or negative emotions can affect our physical health.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The chronology of snow


I'm home from work, the caregiver has departed to make her way home, G is taken care of and snoozing on the couch, and the snow is pouring down. About two and a half inches so far.

I bundle up, take Oscar outside, and start clearing snow.

We may be at the halfway point of this storm, or not quite. But I like shoveling snow in increments, so this is a good time to start.

A lone remnant of nodding pink onion, still tied to its support.

Oscar is good company, but doesn't get the logic of shoveling. He tends to follow me, so with every pass, I ask him to move out of the way so I can make the next one. Occasionally he sits in a cleared area to wait for something interesting to happen. Then I can get into a rhythm of push and lift, push and lift. It is a dry and fluffy snow, easy to shovel.


I've finished the patio, the sidewalk in front of our house and the house north of us, the sidewalk and front walk of the house to our south, our front walk, steps, stoop, and driveway. Talked with our neighbors' mother / mother-in-law, who is there for the weekend to take care of her granddaughters while her son and daughter-in-law have a rare weekend away. And another inch has fallen in the hour I've worked, so I clear the patio again.

When I come inside and pull off my stocking hat, I see in the mirror that I don't just have hat hair, I have Ed Grimley hair.


I hear the sound of a snow blower and can see out the front windows that another neighbor is clearing part of our sidewalk. I'm glad I did the first pass of his walk for him, even though it wouldn't make much difference in his work load.

The light outside is the blue of snowy twilight, and still the snow comes.


Snow shovel scrapes on our driveway. I peer out the kitchen window as I prepare dinner, but it's too bright inside for me to see out. I crack open the back door and see one of the neighbor girls shoveling our driveway. I call my thanks, and tell her not to feel like she has to do the whole thing, but she calls back that she can finish it.


G is tucked into bed. I've been checking on the snow's progress through the evening, and now it has finally stopped. Oscar and I head back outside. The patio has another 3 inches since I last shoveled it, the driveway one and a half or so since our neighbor girl finished, but the sidewalks are clear. My snow blower neighbor must have come by again without my noticing.

It is very quiet, the quiet of muffled night. It's cold and still. The snow glitters in the light from the kitchen window.

I can hear another shoveler somewhere in the neighborhood, and the occasional shush of a car going by on the snowy road. Oscar barks when he hears a plane overhead. I hear an unusual number of planes as I shovel, and I think about all the tired and grateful passengers who had been on delayed or cancelled flights, and who are now on their way to where they should have been hours ago.

My shoveling is almost done, and I reach the bottom of the driveway at the road. It is full of packed and heavy snow from the road plows that have been by. Shoveling the mounds of heavy street snow from the driveway disturbs my earlier easy rhythm of push and lift, push and lift. But soon that snow, too, is cleared, and Oscar and I can go back inside.


I drive past a defunct Amoco station (yes, Amoco, not BP - that's how defunct it is) every day on my way to and from work. Last summer, fencing went up around the property and the building was taken down. The deconstruction took a long time.

Recently a new building finally began to go up - it didn't look like another gas station, but I thought, "Oh, please, it can't be another bank."

It seems that every third new construction project, especially if on a corner, is a bank. Really, how many bank branches do we need?

Today I noticed a sign had finally gone up identifying what the partially built structure was going to be.


It's a branch of MY bank.

On my work route.

In fact, on the right side of the street to pull in on my way home from work.


So convenient for me!

Er...please disregard earlier rant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful in mid-January

Saturday my friend C suggested we walk from her place to the next village, to an upscale resale shop that was having a sale, and then have lunch. It was about a 30 minute walk, cold and sunny, a bit challenging on not-always-cleared-of-snow sidewalks, but very satisfying braving the snow. We congratulated ourselves on how hearty we are.

The best part of the walk was seeing the beautiful and well-maintained old homes along our way. I only took a picture of one place that day, but we both had the same reaction when we saw this particular house:

Love the chimney!

The resale shop didn't have anything we felt we had to have, but it was fun to browse.

Lunch was at a certified green restaurant and was delicious. Locally sourced foods in a cozy setting - a fire in the fireplace and a three-piece jazz combo who played throughout our meal.

Our CSA farmer provided a lot of varieties of winter squash in the last couple of months of the season, and from the red kuri squash, I made risotto.

I'd never heard of red kuri before, and when I read up on it, I learned that it has a flavor reminiscent of chestnuts.

Since I've not had chestnuts, I didn't know what to expect, but it was not as sweet as I expected and was a little bit nutty (or perhaps I was swayed by what I'd read).

The risotto was delicious.

And last, with apologies for it being (again) about weather - we were supposed to get a couple of inches of snow and didn't, so it was easier for G to go to the day program yesterday, and the next big storm of four to six inches is expected on Friday when G will be home. So dodging the (snow) bullet makes me happy.

More cheerfulness is on tap at PlanetPenny's.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Around the garden

Japanese windflower

Sunday, two days after the six or so inches of snow, it was still cold and sunny. After Oscar and I took an afternoon walk in the neighborhood, we toured the garden. Not much color, but some lovely forms. Winter interest, my teacher at the Morton Arboretum said.

He waits while I frame a shot.

Red twig dogwood

Blue spirea

Rose hips, species unknown (from my grandmother's garden)

Conifer, species unknown

Northern sea oats

Sedum, Autumn Joy

Wood aster

The berries are real! From Trader Joe's; I'm glad they are still so bright.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What?! Only an hour?!

Last week's first Downton Abbey episode of the new season was 2 hours.

Last night's episode, while wonderful, was only an hour.

I was ready to wallow in 2 hours of Downton Abbey. Now I've looked at the schedule, and we'll have mostly one hour with the occasional 2 hour episodes. I see I'll need to do my homework more carefully to avoid wailing with disappointment when the episode ends before I'm ready.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

The snow begins...

My weekly list!

Went out to lunch on Saturday with my friend and neighbor; we used to walk together every morning, but other things have gotten in the way of our daily walks, so it was good to get caught up. And have lunch out!

The snow started this morning but didn't start building up until I had gotten G into the car and on the way to the day program. And it didn't come quite as fast and furious as I thought, so the trek back into the house this afternoon wasn't too arduous. We've had 3+ inches and up to 3 or 4 more are predicted, but later tonight.

Our choir director cancelled choir rehearsal tonight, which makes me happy. I had already decided not to go and had called the caregiver to tell her not to come (and she was glad!). Better the director cancel than I be the one to say I'm not coming. So we are home, feeling snug and grateful for our warm home and that we don't have to go anywhere tonight (other than perhaps some more shoveling). Bean soup with smoked turkey is on the menu. Mmm, mmm.

The view from my study window, 6:30pm

Check out Planet Penny for more cheerfulness this week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Last walk before winter

Oscar and I walked this afternoon, and it was beautiful - more than 50F, sun with a few clouds, light breeze. Tonight the waning moon was so bright in the sky.

Tomorrow begins our first major snow of the season - we've been lucky so far, and maybe it won't be the 4 to 8 inches they are predicting.

I bought a new snow shovel on my way home from work - I've worn out two over the last couple of winters, so this time I bought one with a metal edge in hopes it will last longer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

More Downton Abbey love

Just came across this 4 minute video about the real Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Downton Abbey

Season 2 premiered here last night, and oh, it was so good!

When I watched the first season, I didn't know it was the first season - I thought all would be resolved by the end of the last episode. So I was horrified when the last scene faded with so many things unresolved - until the next image came up: Season 2 is in production now. Phew!

And I just learned that there will be a third season, so now I'm prepared for there still to be some unresolved issues by the end of this season. I can live with that.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Forcing sounds so, well, aggressive, doesn't it? Let's say coaxing. Yes, that's it. We're coaxing some lilies of the valley to bloom out of season.

Those two little nubs in the lower center of the picture
are lily of the valley pips.

Thursday afternoon, January 5

If you'd like to play along and it's still mild in your neighborhood, find the patch where the lilies of the valley dwell. Then brush back the leaf debris until you see the little pips or growing tips poking out of the soil. This year I had trouble finding them - I think because we had the house painted in August and there was tramping going on where the lilies grow.

That and having Oscar helping me by inserting his furry self near each spot I was trying to scope. Good boy!

I finally figured out that following the withered scraps of lily leaves to their anchor point revealed the pips. Once you find yours, dig them out with a trowel, capturing some of the roots.

Plant them in a pot at the same depth they were in the garden. This is really important - plant them too deep and they spend their energy getting out of the soil and have nothing left for blooms. This is the voice of the sadder but wiser lily coaxer telling you this.

Position them much more closely in the pot than they are in nature, so you can fit more pips in a pot. This is to increase the odds of having at least some pips that produce flowers, as not all of them will. They don't all produce blooms in the garden, and they won't all here, either. Clip off any withered leaves.

Water and place in a warm sunny spot.

Friday morning, January 6

Last time I did this, it took about two weeks for there to be any sign at all of new life, and then another three or four more weeks before they finally flowered. It was a fun process, and I'm enjoying this year's already.

Come on, lilies of the valley!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful after New Year's

Here are just a few of my Reasons to be Cheerful during this first week of 2012:

We are having gorgeous (for January) weather - sunny, 40's (anything above freezing is nice) - for the next few days. Which means that today or tomorrow I should be able to dig up some lily of the valley pips to force indoors. The last time I did this was 4 years ago, and it was fun to do - I think it took about 5 or 6 weeks to produce the blooms.

Here's what they looked like at the beginning, the last time. Telling you about this will help me get myself outside to do some digging.

G was in need of some dental repair, and fortunately the dentist was able to see him yesterday. And again, the weather makes a big difference - no attached garage means a slooowww trek across the patio to the waiting car in the driveway, plus the trek into the dentist's office from street parking - so not having ice or snow to make his progress more difficult is wonderful.

Monday I had time to undecorate the tree, and today it will be taken away to become mulch. The rest of the decorations in the house are packed and stored in the basement, with the exception of a few in the kitchen which get stored in the kitchen out of season. Those will be easy to put away when I'm ready to say good bye until next year. Our outside garland, white lights, and wreath are still up and will be for another couple of weeks, as I think of them as winter, rather than Christmas, decorations.

Those are some of my moments of thankfulness this week; for more, hop over to Penny's.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What's your word for 2012?

"What's your word for 2012?"

Our BodyPump instructor asked us that on the Wednesday night before Christmas and suggested we think about it and come to the Christmas Eve morning class with our answer. She told us her word for 2011 was "Enjoy" and for 2012 is "Create, " and if we ponder, a word will come to us. Several of the people in the class have done this in past years and threw out the words they had chosen: Variety. Change. Survive. Consistency. Lead.

An interesting concept, having a word for the year.

I wasn't sure if I even wanted to have a word.

But after thinking about it, and remembering a book I read this fall, I chose my word:


And committed to it by writing it down on the list our instructor provided that Saturday morning.

The book I had read a few months back is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, recommended by a friend whose husband also has dementia.

I borrowed the book from the library and had to keep renewing it, because it presents some complex concepts, and because I had other, lighter books to read that I would pick up instead of plowing through The Power of Now.

Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual person and quotes from the writings of the great world religions.

Here's what my simple brain could grasp after the first reading and that I could relate to:

Focusing on now brings inner peace.

Continuing to react emotionally to things that happened in the past is futile, as Now is the time that truly matters. I realized that the times I get irritated or frustrated with G, when I'm repeating the same thing to him for the millionth day in a row, is because I've said it so many times in the past. "Move your feet back before you try to stand up. Move your feet back. Your feet - move them back. Back. Move them back." But - if I can focus on right now, then how many times I've said it before doesn't matter. Only what is happening right now matters, and that helps me get a sense of perspective, to speak calmly and gently, which is much better for both of us.

Reacting emotionally to things that haven't happened yet is also futile. I also realized that when G is having trouble with something that previously was not a problem for him, that also makes me irritable or angry. When I thought about why this made me so upset, it's because there is an underlying fear that now he and I have a new challenge, another indicator of decline, another process that is broken and can't be repaired but has to be coped with, adapted to, dealt with. But really, often something that is a new problem is a one time event, and by the next day, G is back to being able to do whatever it was that caused a problem the prior day. So again, if I can focus on now, instead of projecting into and fearing an unknown future, I am able to coach G through whatever it might be with less drama.

Here is a 10 minute video of the author, expressing some of the concept.

He says, "When you are no longer seeking yourself in past and future, then you can honor this moment, and honoring, embrace the now. Because it is life, it is an expression of life. Embrace what is."

Obviously, my initial take on this complex book is pretty superficial.

I read a lot of books, almost all borrowed from the library. Only if I think I'll reread a book on a regular basis will I purchase it, and then it's usually a used copy. Part of my frugality, unfortunately for the authors and publishers trying to make a living. This book is one I'll be buying to read again, trying to understand more of what can help bring about inner peace.

So - do you have a word for 2012?