Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Happiness Advantage

A friend sent me a link to a TED talk which she titled "funny and interesting." The speaker is Shawn Achor, and my friend was right - he is funny and interesting. In a very entertaining way, he explained that while we think success will make us happy, it's just the opposite: happiness will make us successful.

I'm now reading his book - also funny and interesting - and it's reinforcing some of the other concepts on happiness that I've been reading about over the last year. If you need a dose of happiness and have about 12 minutes, take a look.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reasons to be cheerful - under the wire

It took just a few days for the pussy willow branches to open -
now their feet are out of water and they are hanging upside down for a bit.

This is the last week for PlanetPenny's Reasons to be Cheerful, and eek! I have less than 6 hours before the deadline.

The weekly cheerfulness has been a wonderful theme for me, and a great way to visit other people's blogs and get to know new people. Thank you so much, Penny, for hosting such an uplifting party all these weeks.

This past week I met some friends for dinner and a movie - dinner was at an Italian restaurant with a half-price-wine-by-the-glass special. The food was great, and the conversation started off with one friend's description of a cooking class demo she had just attended. So much fun to discuss the vegetables she had never cooked with before, what our experiences have been with them, what vegetables our mothers cooked when we were growing up...I could go on and on. Then we walked down the street to our 1928 movie theatre, built for the advent of talking pictures, to see The Artist (the opening scene is in 1927 as the silent movie industry is shifting gears to talkies). Great film and wonderful to see it in such an apropos setting.

Last night our church sponsored a fundraiser around Late Nite Catechism. Such a wonderful, funny, and poignant interactive theater production.

The actress who played Sister, who is teaching an adult catechism class, was excellent. Very funny, as well as thought provoking. The fundraiser was beautifully put together by a creative team of women and included being able to buy indulgences before the performance and during intermission. Not all of us really knew what indulgences were, but we bought them anyway (they were beautifully handmade cake pops).

We still have some snow from Friday morning, which didn't stop the snowdrops and crocuses.

Today was sunny and 50F. And now even the daffodils are coming up!

Thanks again, Penny!

Edited to add: What?! 30 minutes ago the link said "closing in 6 hours." Now it says Closed. Oh, well! Still cheerful.

Friday, February 24, 2012

An Etheree on Snow

has brought
a changed state.
Overnight, snow
adorned tree and branch
with ethereal charm.
Treasure the beauty of it!
For tomorrow it may be gone,
melted into glittering riv'lets
of liquid, reminding us of what's lost.

For Mrs. Micawber, who introduced me to this form of poetry: Ten lines, each having the same number of syllables as its line number.

And thanks to my dad, who sent a picture of this morning's view from their windows.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Coaxing catkins

There is a tree in the neighbor's yard that stretches over their fence and intertwines with our ancient lilac bushes. I don't know what kind of tree it is, but in early spring, it has pussy willow or catkin buds on it. (I just looked up pussy willows and still am confused about what is in the neighboring yard. It's a big tree and not in a wetland. So - anyway...)

Two years ago the electric company trimmed tree branches away from the power lines along the back property line and left branches from the neighboring tree in our yard. I was very pleased to get several bunches of pussy willows without even trying.

Because this winter all the plants in our area are way ahead of their normal spring awakening schedule, I checked the back yard yesterday to see if the pussy willows have started opening, and yes!

I've put some in a vase with water (and freshly cut forsythia branches to force) and some in a vase without water. I'm curious how quickly the ones with their feet in water will open. Once they have opened just a bit more, I'll take them out of the water to keep them at the catkin stage.

Pussy willows, forsythia branches, spent Japanese anemone

Edited to add: I think I'll enter this in the last-of-the-season Making Winter Bloghop, hosted by Thrifty Household and Silverpebble. It's not a very wintery post, but then our weather is strikingly not wintery this year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

For your viewing pleasure

I've seen this twice over the last couple of months - on bb's blog (I think), and on An Urban Cottage. Two minutes of an incredible natural phenomenon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Downton Dénouement

Ah, Downton Abbey, you did not disappoint!

Don't worry - no spoilers here. It was a wonderful episode, some plot lines resolved, many still unresolved, and I'm looking forward to Season 3. And watching repeats of Season 2 on PBS, which they will surely have.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Despite finding out a few days ago that my part time job is being eliminated, I do still have things to be cheerful about.

Our BodyPump teacher, who had asked us in December to choose a word for 2012, made each of us a tiny (mine is less than 3 inches across) plaque with our word stamped into it, and gave it to us for Valentine's Day. Her word for 2012 is create, so she is on track with her focus. I'm still struggling but have propped the little plaque on my kitchen windowsill where I will see it and be reminded to be in the present moment.

I went to Whole Foods to learn what else I can buy in bulk, and before I got to the bulk section saw a sign for organic whole chicken on sale "Today only" for $1.99/lb. And I had just put chicken on my shopping list. Excellent! I bought the last two chickens they had.

My mission on the bulk buying wasn't as fortuitous; I was hoping to find bulk olive oil and bulk body lotion, but they only sell dry foodstuffs and grind-your-own peanut and almond butters. There is still a lot to choose from, just not the couple of things I was there to inquire about. I also learned that they don't allow (a Food and Drug Administration rule, apparently) previously used containers; you must use the store's new plastic bags or plastic containers. I have recently discovered the Zero Waste Home website and blog, and one of the many things she does to reduce waste is bring her own fabric bags and glass containers to the store to put bulk items in. I will keep looking for other bulk buying locations. In the mean time, my plan is to transfer the dry goods from the store's bag to one of my containers, save the bag, and take it with me to use the next time I go shopping for bulk items. That way at checkout, the product will be in one of their bags.

Our weather is still warmer than average, and we've had some sunny, beautiful days. The days are so much longer now that we're 7 or 8 weeks past the winter solstice - I love that the sky is brightening so early in the morning and the sun is still well above the horizon at 5pm. The lily of the valley pips that I brought in the house in January are still blooming, lovely and fragrant. Out in the garden the snowdrops are opening (earliest EVER!), and Oscar and I went on a long walk this afternoon.

In other news: now and then I play Bananagrams by myself. G isn't interested in just fooling around with the tiles, though I know he would be able to spell some words. I think the chance of failure is too great for him to be willing to attempt it.

My sister-in-law introduced the game to our family and provided a set for the cottage, so during summer weekends there is often a game going on. She, my niece, and my niece-in-law are especially good at Bananagrams. If I practiced, maybe I could keep up - a little. It's actually very relaxing to play alone, without time pressure, and the last time I played (last fall?), I had a quiet hour available and managed to use all the tiles. Yesterday I got out our set to play for a bit, and when I turned the first 21 tiles over saw 2 Xs, a Y, and a Z. Ach.

But, look!

My anxiety, just because of a long hiatus from Bananagrams, was unnecessary. I think I'll strum a few tunes on my zither, and then grab my ox and hit the road.

Penny is hosting more cheerfulness - and she says this is the penultimate week. It's not too late to join in - leave a comment, or create your own post. It's good for the soul.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Oh, bother.

I found out Wednesday morning that my sweet little part time job will be ending at the end of this month. It's been the perfect fit, though I didn't realize how perfect at the time: close to home, ultimately flexible, with the nicest, kindest boss ever. When I started this job 3 years ago, G could be home by himself with no problem. But as he has gotten sicker, my freedom to leave work for emergencies has become more and more important. And when G started at the day program, they required that I be within 15 minutes in case of emergencies. So it isn't just the proximity, it's also the ability to walk (run) out of work to take care of things.

My boss' business has been in a decline the last six months, so I wasn't totally surprised by this, but it does make me sad - for him, as well as for me. It forces me to reevaluate our lives, take a look at my own talents and abilities (something I never like doing), and then work on finding something new that will work for us.

I have several friends who have just sent me some information about possible work from home, so I'll be looking into that. And I know that at some point, something will come up. But when that will be, and what that will be, are yet to be seen. Patience, patience, patience. Here's another opportunity to apply and practice my word for 2012: Present.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My hearts

During our courtship, when G was still living in the Netherlands, we would visit each other every month or so. One of the times he visited me, his flight home was a day I was out of town on business, so he drove himself to the airport in my car, using the spare key. When he mailed the key back, he enclosed it in a package of paper napkins decorated with little red hearts. On the first napkin in the package he wrote a note, with a P.S. "Your car key is inside one of the napkins."

And then, on each of the 20 napkins in the package, he wrote a little love note.

I showed him the package with his notes this morning over breakfast. He read the first one slowly, and then said quietly, "That was when I could write." Argh. I'm never sure when I bring out things from our past whether it will bring back happy memories or remind him of how much we have lost.

I flipped through the napkins to see if I could find something that might cheer him up, and found one that said, "My darling, please don't get too organized." !! That made him laugh. He's always been better than me at picking up after himself and keeping things neat, and even before we were married he saw signs of my sometimes haphazard housekeeping. But he married me anyway.

I'm glad I have my two guys with me on Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Downton Abbey - down to the wire

Here's me as the Dowager Countess, enjoying my tea under the trees.
"Where's the lemon? I asked for lemon!"

The penultimate episode in Season 2 was last night. Two hours of bliss, and thankfully G opted to lie down on the couch before it started and slept through it. His going-to-bed routine usually starts about 8:30, so I was prepared to miss part of the episode if he woke up.

Since I know now that some of you don't watch the latest episode on Sunday nights, I won't say anything to spoil what's happened. (Even though the 2nd season has been available for sale since at least early January. So some people on this side of the pond know the whole story.) But there are some interesting, surprising, and even shocking developments.

And by the way - wouldn't it be nice to be having tea out on the lawn, with that beautiful estate in view? I'm afraid for me, though, I'd be worried about inconveniencing whomever it was that had to haul the table, cloths, silver, china, and food all that way.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful and Thankful

The lilies of the valley are opening, and their fragrance is beautiful.

The forsythia blooms have peaked, and now the branches are producing leaves. A few blossoms have fallen, but the overall effect is still beautiful and springy. I may have to cut some new branches to bring inside and coax when these are done.

And last, I'm reminded again of how lucky we have been with some of our caregivers. Elizabeth, who is with us a couple of evenings a week plus during the day on Saturdays and part of Sundays, has the nicest way about her. She has an easy and infectious laugh, and endless patience. Great sense of humor and caring attitude. When she arrives, she makes of point of greeting G with a handshake and inquiring how he's doing. I get a hug and the same query. When she leaves, she shakes hands with G, tells him when she's coming next, and then gives me a hug. (We've had a few caregivers who act like they can't wait to escape and leave calling goodbye over their shoulders as they run out the front door.) When she's here during mealtimes, she joins us at the table (not all the caregivers do this, but I want each one to do what makes them comfortable), and it's wonderful for me to have her join us. Mealtimes without her are pretty quiet. I feel I can ask her advice on things, and she offers suggestions that are useful. I usually have a meeting or exercise class right after dinner, and she always tells me to go do what I need to do, that she will clean up. And the living room is always neatened, pillows plumped, cover on the couch straightened, lap robes folded, before she leaves. All this is on top of her care for G. We are very blessed to have her.

What's cheering you this week? Share in the comments or write your own post, then visit PlanetPenny's cheer this week to link your post and share with others.

Blatant request

My niece, who is a passionate vegan, as well as a wife and mother of three small boys, has been blogging about healthful eating for about a year now. She is also building a business called Veggie Kids around this topic and is always looking for ways to get the word out about her business and the information she has to share.

She's entered a contest for best vegan/vegetarian mom-blogs, which, if she finishes in the top 25, will up her exposure in the marketplace.

You can vote once a day through February 14th. If you wouldn't mind, click here, scroll down to find her entry "Veggie Kids" and click the Vote button. Right now she's number 19.

Vote early and vote often. :) Thanks!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sense of humor required

As part of G's getting-up-in-the-morning routine, I slip his shoes (which are left loosely tied, always) onto his feet before he sits up on the edge of the bed, so that as soon as his feet hit the floor, he has better purchase. I didn't used to do that, but the day his feet slid out from under him and he nearly went off the edge of the bed, I changed our process.

There is always some wincing from G, because of back pain or because of foot pain, during this time. This morning, as I was putting on his shoes, he was a little more vocal than usual, especially when the second shoe was going on. I considered not putting it on, but thought it better to have both shoes on and have him complain a bit about it than to have him lose his footing when putting his feet on the floor. I asked him if it was his back or his foot that was hurting, and he said his foot. Oh, well. Nothing to be done but be as gentle as I could be.

After he sat on the edge of the bed for a few minutes, I said, as I always do, "OK, now move your feet back before you try to stand up." Then I looked at his feet.


"G," I said, "I've put your shoes on the wrong feet!"

He looked down and burst out laughing.

And then was kind enough to wait while I ran for the camera to record my goof.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Downton Abbey

As hoped, last night's episode was excellent. So many story lines, so well told! More intrigue! A poseur claiming to be Patrick, who had drowned on the Titanic, with an unlikely explanation of why he didn't drown! Twinges of feeling by Matthew! More threats by Mrs. Bates!

A few days ago, I was catching up on old issues of Newsweek and read an article by a writer who was dismissive of the overwhelming popularity of Downton Abbey in the US. He said if the story were told correctly, Sybil would have carved a "V" for the Women's Vote on her breast, Matthew would have been killed not just injured in the war, blah, blah, blah.

Perhaps the writer didn't know this was ENTERTAINMENT and not a documentary. Whatever. I'm enjoying it immensely and can't wait for more. The last two episodes, next week and the following, will each be two hours long. Yes!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful in February

I have flowery reasons to be cheerful this week:

The forsythia branches that I cut 10 days ago are in full bloom,

and the lilies of the valley dug from the garden in early January are thriving. The flower buds haven't turned color yet, though I suspect by tomorrow there will be the first hint of white.

One of our dear caregivers brought me a little African Violet plant that she started from a leaf cutting about 2 months ago. She can't remember what the flower color will be, but whatever it is, I'm happy to have it. And I sent her home with newly dug lily of the valley pips and freshly cut forsythia branches to coax.

Outside, because we continue to have extraordinarily warm weather, the snow drops are up, and so are the crocuses, though the flower buds are only just visible. I've never seen snow drops earlier than March 1st - and mid March is more typical - but I looked for and found them on February 1st. If we get a return to normal (i.e., cold) weather, I don't know if there's anything I should do to protect them.

I spent last week's $40 class action settlement on a Chinese foot and body massage. It was heavenly.

And speaking of Chinese: my nephew just found out that he is a finalist for a Fullbright Scholarship for China, 2012-13. He spent his junior year in China and Taiwan and wants to go back. Not sure when he'll find out if he is selected, but this is wonderful news. He's fluent in several languages, but when I asked him if he had learned anything useful while he was in China, like pressure point foot massages, the answer was no. What kinds of things are they teaching university students these days?!

What's making you cheerful? Be sure to visit Penny for more cheer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What a difference a year makes

My mom, Saturday, February 5, 2011
More shoveling was still needed to allow the cars to pass
on the far side of the turnaround between me and where she is standing.
Behind her is the rest of the driveway down to the road.

A year ago today, about 2 in the afternoon, began a blizzard of "historic proportions" as it was later called. We had fair warning so were prepared. At the time, G and I were living with my parents for a few months while our house was being remodeled to improve accessibility for G. G's older daughter K and her middle child, P, a freshman at university in Utrecht, were visiting us during his school break, and they, being from Holland and not used to this kind of weather, were very excited that they would be experiencing a blizzard. We made sure we were home by 1pm on February 1st, stocked up with some games and movies, and then we waited for the storm to move in. And it did.

It was a wonderful feeling, knowing we were safe and warm inside and with no need to be anywhere else. We hung out in the family room, which has big windows overlooking the long view down my parents' front yard, so it was an impressive sight to see the snow move in, the high winds, impaired visibility, all while still light. It snowed all afternoon and all through the night, and stopped by mid-morning. When the sun came out, more than 20 inches of snow had fallen.

My parents have someone who, unasked, shows up with his Jeep and plows their driveway, which is about 200 feet long and has a turnaround near the house. We were glad to see him appear that morning, but surprised when, about a quarter of the way up the driveway, he stopped, got out, got back in, backed down the driveway, and drove away.

So K, P, and I bundled up, got some shovels, and started in on the driveway where the plow guy left off, thinking he would be back shortly once we cleared some of the mounds he had piled up. We kept shoveling, and shoveling, and shoveling. It was gorgeous outside, cold but not windy, bright snow, brilliant blue sky, and Oscar doing his best to chase squirrels through snow that was almost above his head. We let P, a big strapping 19-year-old, have the biggest shovel, I took the next biggest one, and K the smallest one. K and I would stop periodically to rest and enjoy the view, and so did P, but not as often as we did.

We shoveled all the way up the driveway and the side of the turnaround closest to the house, as well as the area in front of the garage. We thought the plow guy would be back, and my dad told us to leave the far side of the turnaround untouched.

By Saturday, 3 days later, with K and P safely back in Holland and no sign of the plow guy, I decided there was nothing for it but to finish the shoveling. My mom wanted to come out and help, so the two of us (and Oscar), spent an hour and a half or so and finished clearing the snow. It was fun to be doing this with my mom, and I know she felt great to be able to do the work. When we were done, we heard the roar of a snow blower from across the street, so we walked down the driveway with our shovels to offer our services to the neighbor. My mom knew he would say no but wanted to tease him a bit by us showing up with our shovels, ready to help.

I can't say I miss having a repeat performance of last year's storm. All this week we are above normal temperatures, in the 40's and 50's, and it is blissful. But I love remembering last year and how the blizzard played out.