31 January, 2011

Crazy Dog People

A book I read several weeks ago was called A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life, about a man, Steven Kotler, who falls in love with a woman, and finds himself drawn into the world of dog rescue. A couple of years later he finds himself married to that woman (Joy Nicholson), owner of a small ranch in New Mexico, running a dog rescue.

Kottler is a good writer, and his stories of life with a large pack of small dogs (they rescue mostly, but not only, small dogs, like Chihuahuas and Rat Terriers, etc.) are really interesting. At first he's all "Yay, we're doing a good thing by saving all these dogs, Go Us!" Then when they have a hard time when due to age, illness, and accident, they lose 8 dogs within a few months of each other, it hits him hard. He reports spending many months sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, grieving and thinking about what they are trying to do.

When he got out of the rocking chair he started researching the relationship between dogs and people, how dogs think, feel, and communicate. He interviews a lot of people and reports on what scientists are learning about the differences and similarities between humans and their pets. There is also a lot about dog rescue, the kind of people who do rescue, and how it changes the people that get drawn into it.

If you have a dog you love, or if you are involved in any way with dog rescue, check out this book. I think you'll like it.

29 January, 2011

This is so Baltimore

Today I saw something in the library parking lot that made me smile, a long car magnet advertising a bail bondsman. It was huge, taking up much of the side of a long sedan. The name of the company is JESUS CHRIST BAIL BONDS.

There are so many ways one could take that. It could be a faith statement, "Jesus is MY bail bondsman!" It could be a statement of frustration, "Jesus Christ, caught again, guess I'll need to get bonded out." It could be that the owner is a believer who likes to have his Lord and Savior's name right out there front and center. On the other side of the car was a smaller advertisement with two sharply dressed black men smiling proudly into the camera, happy to be bail bondsmen for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. They looked like the kind of fellows who would believe you were innocent until proved guilty, while getting their fee up front.

As I headed into the library I got the giggles. If I should ever need to bail someone out, I know who I'm going to call. Jesus Christ Bail Bonds has my back!

28 January, 2011

We might as well have been cave people

Wednesday night Thomas and I were watching an interesting movie, Secret Society. The snow was coming down like gangbusters outside, but we were warm and cozy right up until the moment that the power went out.
It wasn’t too bad in the house on Wednesday. We were still warm, there was hot water coming from the faucets, and we had plenty of candles and flashlights. It was cold in the morning, but we still had hot water, and since we got up and out to work, it wasn’t so bad. Yesterday from 5:00 onwards, it was very bad. The house was about 41 degrees, the same temperature as outside. I spent most of the evening huddled under the covers, clutching Ginger (the only one of the dogs that you can cuddle) and drowsing, hoping that the power was about to come back on any minute now! The phone was not even working so I couldn’t call anyone and complain about the lack of power.
Thomas came home late, after a trip to the gym to work out and have a long, hot shower. Quickly he joined me under four layers of covers, and adding his 98.6 to my 97.5, (my actual standard temp!) made the bed the only place in the house that was actually comfortable. It was a three-dog night; all three of them joined us on The USS Chilly Sheets. Trips to the bathroom or to let the dogs out were exercises in misery.
I gave up at about 6:30 this morning, so I hauled myself out to the Y for a swim and my own personal long, hot shower. Right now, I am thrilled to be at work where we have lights, heat, and phones. BG&E says we should have power back this afternoon, and I hope they are correct.
Last night I had a lot of time to think about how much I am dependent on electricity at the flip of a switch. If I don’t have it, I am cold and in the dark. I could have lit a fire in the fireplace, but that doesn’t provide any real heat in most of the house. I would have to wrap myself in blankets and lie down right in front of it to get any comfort. I do have flashlights, candles, and an oil lamp, but I found that I couldn’t enjoy any of my usual hobbies. Reading by flashlight was not fun because my hands became freezing and clumsy in just a few minutes. The sewing machine didn’t work, and doing hand-sewing by flashlight would have the same challenges as reading. My thoughts about entertainment went like this:
“Well, if I can’t read or go on the internet, I’ll just listen to the radio. Except I can’t do that either. I could cook something, but I can’t do that inside, and it’s too windy outside to stand over the grill. I think I’ll just go to bed and sleep until the 21st century comes back.”
My thoughts went to the cold winters that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about out there on the Great Plains. Remember how they slept with their clothes under the covers, and they had to roll newspapers to burn in the stove/fireplace?
I guess when it comes down to it I am not prepared to live in a world without the modern conveniences we enjoy thanks to cheap and plentiful electricity. If society ever collapses around our ears, I will be one of the first to go, I don’t have what it takes to go back to pioneer times.
Friday, later: I’m now home, we have heat, power, television, computer, and everything else we were missing yesterday. I am glad.

26 January, 2011

Personal History by Katharine Graham

In a marathon of reading I powered through the last third of the book today. Yay me, I've rarely been so glad to finish a book. It was a hard slog. Not because there was anything wrong with the book I thought it was well written, and there were moments I found it gripping (Watergate!). I just lose patience with reading about someone's life when they never tell the juicy details. Kay Graham was very "fair" and even, but rarely said anything like, "I was furious, I made mistakes, I hated that person."

I've been trying to think of autobiographies I've thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the one that Craig Ferguson wrote last year, American on Purpose. I have The Autobiography of Mark Twain on order from the library. Mostly though, I find that they mostly are full of name dropping and "wasn't I smart when I did that?" attitudes.

Anyway, this book was interesting in spots, frustrating in spots. It was a good view on Washington from the 40s to the 90s.

I can't decide what to read next in my goal to read non-fiction. It's got to be something other than autobiography.

25 January, 2011

Downton Abbey, Part III

Talk about Upstairs, Downstairs, there was drama aplenty both above and below the stairs.

Love is in the air down in the servant’s quarters. This week the housekeeper had dinner in town with an old beau. She was The One Who Got Away from him all those years ago, and he was now a widower who still had friendly feelings towards her. He reproposed. She was tempted, but in the end felt that her place was taking care of the upper crust.

She explained her decision to Carson (no decision may be taken in the house without Carson's approval) by saying something that I think was the theme for this week, that we grow and change, and you can’t really go back. She was no longer the kind of woman who would consider being a farmwife enough to satisfy her.

Sweet William, the Good Footman, expressed an interest in escorting Dumb Daisy, the kitchen maid, down to the Fair in town. Full of Spite and Malice, Gay Thomas asked her to walk out with him. She was dazzled by the invitation, and agreed immediately. Gah, William just stood there like a stump! The Cranky Cook tried to warn Daisy that Thomas “wasn’t a ladies’ man,” but she was so careful in her approach that poor, stupid Daisy didn’t understand a word she was saying. Daisy spent most of the episode making sheep’s eyes at Thomas and mocking William. William is tormented, but too sweet and wholesome to do anything about it. Bates threatened to punch Thomas’ teeth through his skull for general asshattery, which was the point when I fell in love with Bates.

Thomas and O’Brien snuck and schemed, and managed to maneuver Daisy into telling Edith that Mary had hauled  Mr. Pahmuk’s dead carcass back to his room. O’Brien realized that it would only be a matter of time before Edith used this information against her sister, who she hates with the white hot heat of a thousand suns. It’s not that there is anything wrong with Edith, she is pretty, she’s just not as pretty as her sister. She’s also tormented with a terminal case of jealousy.

Anna and Bates continue dancing around each other, doing the “I like you” minuet. When Anna is sick, Bates brings her dinner on a tray, and he helps her make up beds when Gwen fakes a fainting spell. Finally, Anna comes out and asks: “I like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no” Bates is forced  to tell her that he is not free to love her. Aagh, more heavy hinting that he has a terrible secret and is not free to declare himself. Since I am more than halfway in love with Bates myself, I am just gasping to find out what his secret is. A mad wife living in the attic? He’s actually a woman dressed up like a man? He has a social disease? His meat and two veg were shot off in the war? Curious minds want to know.

Red –haired Gwen goes on a job interview but isn’t hired. I think she needs to do something about her broad Northern accent. She's attractive and can apparently type. Heck, she has her own typewriter (!) She keeps wanting to give up, but Sibyl won’t let her quit looking. I think that Sibyl is living vicariously through Gwen, she would love to attend school and have a job, but her job as a lady of means is to look pretty, dress for dinner, marry a boring man, and have some babies. She does exert some sort of independence by purchasing and wearing a daring trouser outfit and reading suffragist pamphlets given to her by Daddy Earl’s Handsome Irish Driver.

Gay Thomas and O’Brien are stealing wine. Bates knows about it, and now the Diabolical Duo are more determined than ever to get rid of him. The cook is going blind, which we find out when she salts a dessert rather than adding sugar. I’m hoping she just needs glasses, because the future for a blind cook does not look rosy.

Last week Mrs. Crawley, Cousin Matthew’s mom, got one over on Dowager Dame Maggie Smith on the matter of the hospital. This week, Her Dameness gets hers right back. Mrs. Crawley is swanning around diagnosing people without benefit of medical school, and she decides her son’s valet has Hand and Mouth Disease, or something like that. When the Dowager is able to show her up in front of the Valet and the Doctor, she is sourly triumphant. The Valet (and I) were thrilled to discover he was just allergic to Rue!

Next  Dame Mags and Mrs. Crawley have an ongoing argument over whether it is fair for her Dameness to always win the Best Bloom contest at the Village Flower Show. It’s tradition that she gets the Best Bloom award for flowers her gardener grows, even though the NOT- Hoof-and-Mouth Valet’s Olde Dad grows bee-you-tee-ful roses. Roses that are so lush and lovely that Titania, Queen of the Fairies, has dresses made out of them. That doesn’t matter though, Dame Maggie Smith ALWAYS wins, because the committee is too afraid of Dame Maggie to NOT award her the prize. This year though, in a moment of kindness, she awards the prize to the Olde Dad and his magic roses. Yay!

Dame Maggie gets in several digs about Americans this week. Just keep talking Dame Mags, in about four years you and the rest of the country will be glad to see us “over there”.

The big question that all viewers are wondering about the Upstairs is whether Mary and Cousin Matthew  are going to get together and when it will come out that Mary bonked Mr. Pahmuk to death and covered it up with help from Lady Cora?

We finally see some signs of humanity from Lady Mary. She asks Daddy Earl why he won’t fight to break the entail so she can have some inheritance. Every time her Daddy Earl talks about Cousin Matthew, a vein in Mary’s temple practically bursts. Lady Cora tries to explain to Mary that rumors have begun to circulate that she is not as pure as the driven snow, unless it’s snow that has been driven over the dead body of Mr. Pahmuk. Mary acts like a complete mutton-head and insists that she won’t marry Cousin Matthew because everyone wants her to. She won’t marry the old man her mother wants her to because, well, he’s old and boring, and she just WON’T. Lady Cora, wondering why she didn’t drown Marsha and Jan at birth, reminds her that her life has been pleasant up to now, but if everyone finds out what a harlot she is, things could get ugly.

Lady Mary is having a BAD WEEK. She’s mad at her mother and father. She is sort of starting to like Cousin Matthew. She is just hateful to poor Jan Edith. When asked to be nice to the older guest who her mother would like her to marry, she acts like a spoiled brat and is very rude to him. Edith comes to the rescue and exerts herself to be pleasant to the gentleman. Just to prove she can, Mary then ignores Matthew and throws herself at Edith’s new friend. Matthew leaves in a huff, and Edith grimly heads upstairs to start a nice, newsy letter to the Turkish Ambassador about dead Mr. Pahmuk.

Fade to black.

24 January, 2011

Just another Mediocre Monday

The thing that I am finding difficult about blogging is that it's difficult to figure out if any of the thoughts I have about my day to day life are interesting at all. Because, sometimes people, I am not that interested in what I'm doing, and figuring out ways to spin it as Not Totally Boring, is haaaaaaard.

And I don't want to be boring!

I have finally made some progress with Katharine Graham, after taking several days off to dabble in a little fiction. It read a couple of great books by two of my favorite fantasy writers, loved both of them, but damn, I felt like I was cheating on old Kate.

The problem with non-fiction that I seem to be having so far, is that there's no plot, and the main character is probably lying to me most of the time. I'm aggravated with her for being such a wuss with her husband, for whining about how hard it was to run a home and take care of her children, with the help of a baby nurse, a maid/cook, and a laundress. A NURSE, A MAID/COOK, AND A DAMN LAUNDRESS. Apparently the baby nurse's two half days off were difficult for Kate.

You know why this is bugging me so much? Because I am a middle class woman, from a middle class family, and I had a middle class upbringing, and listening to the rich and privileged say how haaaaard it is to manage things like cooking, laundry, and child raising just gets on my freaking nerves. I actually do think there probably is a steep learning curve on raising children well, but it seems that most people get on with it just fine, or at least they learn on the job and come out of it okay. The cooking and cleaning? Come on, I learned how to clean a house, wash, iron and fold clothes before I was 12 years old. It's not hard. Tedious, I grant you, but anyone who can stand upright and read can learn how to cook and clean. I know that having a life of the mind is important, and in the crowds that the Meyers and the Grahams ran in, ideas, politics, arts, and "big questions" were important, but is it impossible to be a capable adult while living a life of the mind?

Later I want to post about Downton Abbey, but didn't have time today. I'm also feeling like nothing I write about the gang at Downton Abbey will ever, EVER be as awesome as the Catherine Cookson Experience,  which you must check out if you have ever enjoyed one of Ms. Cookson's books or BBC adaptations.

20 January, 2011

Gambling as a career

Today someone I know casually told me she's going to quit her job in March to be a professional blackjack player. She's been practicing online and thinks it will all work out fine. People who know me well would have been so proud; I didn't ask her if she was having a nervous breakdown. I finally just said that she had to do what she wanted, but gambling wasn't my idea of a career with a huge future.

I know there are those who are professional card players, don't they have tournaments for things like Texas Holdem? Yes, I know they do, back when we had cable Thomas used to watch them sometimes. But I picture professional gamblers as men with steely gazes or hard-looking older women, not women my age with a ten-year old kid.

My idea of gambling is going through an amber light or taking 15 items through the 10 Items or Less line while hoping no one will call me on it.

Just because I cannot imagine being a gambler, it seems to me a crazy decision, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe she's going to be successful and will make a living at blackjack. What do you think?

18 January, 2011

Katharine Graham and Apple Pie

I am in the middle of Chapter 5 of Katharine Graham's autobiography, Personal History. Young Katharine is in college at the University of Chicago, after two uninspiring years at Vassar. Katharine, nee Meyer, grew up in a family that was wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, but her life was a mixture of luxury and sad neglect by her parents. Dad was always busy making money/helping with the gov't and Mother was always doing something more interesting than raising children. Mother also was completely self-involved, and Dad was unable to express any kind of emotion to his children. It all sounds sad and sterile, but it's also driving me crazy that Katharine has reached 20 without having any practical skills. She doesn't know how to shop or "dress herself" to look nice, in a time when this was important for a woman. She doesn't know how to cook, clean, or do her own laundry.  I understand that she never had to do these things for herself, but when she realized she needed the skills, why didn't she get someone to teach her? She even admits that because of her mother's attitudes she is snobbish and ready to look down on people who aren't as smart as she is. Well Kate, I'm sure some people who realized you didn't know how to wash a sweater thought you weren't that bright.

The book is well written and interesting so far. I need to push on through because I have several books stacking up behind it.

I met a friend from the Bibelot days tonight at B&N, the ex-Bibelot. Good conversation! Much laughter! She also bought a copy of my favorite funny book, Handling Sin, to read after she finishes RE-reading Moby Dick. I can't tell you how impressed I am, I've never finished Moby Dick once, much less re-read it. If you need a book that will make you laugh and lift your spirits, you need to read Handling Sin, the story of Raleigh Whittier Hayes, a thoughtful, rational man who lives an orderly life, with a place for everything, and everything in its place, right up until the day he receives a fortune cookie that tells him that his life is fixin' to go to pieces. And oh how it does, in ways that are completely unexpected and completely hilarious.

Sometimes I hesitate to recommend books, because tastes are so individual, but I know of about 11 people I've either recommended it to or given it to, and every one of them enjoyed it. If you don't think Handling Sin is funny, I regret to tell you that you may be dead. Or you lack a sense of the absurd, which may be worse than being dead.

Sarah made Thomas and me an apple pie. We had a slice each, and I can hear that pie all the way from the kitchen. It's singing a sweet cinnamon song, something about I Am Pie, Don't You Want More? I am resisting, but it's difficult.

17 January, 2011

Secret, Secret, I've Got a Secret

The second 90 minutes of Downton Abbey did not disappoint. Blackmail, seduction, Grand Dame power plays, a mysterious death, and WHOA NELLY – a scandalous machine – keep everyone at Downton Abbey in a dither last night.

A Mysterious Stranger from Carson’s past approaches him and blackmails him for a place to stay, food and cash. He provides the place to stay and the food, but won’t hand over any cash, because he realizes he’ll just be saddled with the blackmailing leech forever and his shocking secret may come out. May I just say that Carson is a TERRIBLE criminal? He is seen going into the local pub to meet his blackmailer, he steals food from the kitchen right in front of Anna, and then frets and worries that she’s told on him. When the Mysterious Stranger shows up at the house he winds up spilling the dire secret – back in the day, before he took up buttling, Carson was on the music hall stage as part of the Cheerful Charlies act -  he sang, he did a little soft shoe and what, told jokes?. In his deep shame, he offers his resignation to Daddy Earl, in front of Bates, Anna, and Daughter #3 (that would be the least bitchy one, Sybil. Actually, she’s not bitchy at all, more on that later.) Daddy Earl tells Carson to simmer down, now, and sends the blackmailer away with 20 pounds and a flea in his ear.

Bates, the Most Excellent Valet, buys a Limp Corrector, a primitive device that may help him with his leg. It may also cause him the loss of said leg. He spends most of the show pale, sweaty, grimacing, and noticeably not right. It leads to about a dozen conversations like this:
“Good God Bates, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing Sir/Ma’am/Mrs. Hughes, I am absolutely fine. Please ignore my pallor and the sheen of sweat on my brow. No problem at all.”
“Hmmm. Bates, you are lying like a rug, but I cannot force you to tell me what’s wrong.”

When we finally see what the Limp Corrector has done to his leg, it’s obvious that a limp is preferable to losing your leg from gangrene, so the Limp Corrector is given the old heave-ho. It’s the stern-but-fair housekeeper Mrs. Hughes who finally gets to the bottom of this, and the moment when she closed the door and turned to face Bates, trapping him in a bedroom, I got the nervous giggles, wondering if she was going to de-pants the poor Valet. Luckily he realized that to save his manly modesty he’d have to come clean.

Remember last week I mentioned the Maid with Pretty Red Hair and her secret correspondence? Gwen’s big secret turns out not to be a man at all, it’s a machine! A typewriting machine. She purchased it with her own money and has been secretly teaching herself to type, hoping that one day she can leave service and become a secretary. Anna snoops through her things, finds the shocking machine, but decides she’ll keep the secret. The Horrid Ladies Maid O’Brien doesn’t, she most certainly does not. When she realizes there’s a secret being kept, she rats Gwen out so fast it makes your head spin. Gwen comes into the kitchen to find all the servants standing around looking at the typewriter as if it was a bomb - dangerous and unpredictable. The new that she wants to leave service and become a Typist/Secretary is greeted just as if she had announced that her Life Goal was to become a Dirty French Whore.

The Family Upstairs is told about this and the older members are shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, and there is general discussion of How the Underclasses Don’t Know What’s Good for Them. Grand Dame Grandmother Maggie Smith basically espouses slavery-for-their-own-good. Sybil lets Gwen know of a good typing job and offers to stand as a glowing reference.

Lady Mary and Edith are the eldest and middle daughters of Lady Cora and Daddy Earl. Essentially, they are exactly like Marsha and Jan Brady. Lady Mary/Marsha is the beautiful eldest daughter who needs to marry well (and preferably to marry the heir to her Daddy Earl’s goods and holdings), but she makes Extremely Bad Choices in men. She’s not terribly smart, but she’s purty. Edith/Jan, while not unattractive, is not as purty as her older sister. She’s pathologically jealous of Mary/Marsha and is constantly looking for ways to stick a knife in her back. She’s also not terribly smart.

Sybil, the third daughter, is nothing like Cindy Brady. She’s attractive AND intelligent. She’s more worried about what’s going on in the outside world than her sisters, and seems to be the only one in the family to realize that in the Greater World outside the gates of Downton Abbey – the times, they are a’changing.

MaryMarsha invites a potential beau to come Hunting with the family. She thinks he’s a nice if boring, young man, whose charms include: 1. He has money. 2. He has a title. 3. He is not her cousin Matthew, who she says she finds Revolting. When Boring Beau shows up he brings an Interesting Foreign fellow, Mr. Pahmuk of Turkey, with him. Mr. Pahmuk is hot. Really hot. He’s all tousled hair, pouty lips, and bedroom eyes, and the minute MaryMarsha sees him, the Boring Beau becomes chopped liver. 

MaryMarsha isn’t the only one who thinks Mr. Pahmuk is Hotty McHotterson. Gay Thomas, the Scheming Footman decides he won’t mind “serving” Mr. Pahmuk one little bit. Gay Thomas has the WORST taste in men. Last week it was the duplicitous Bisexual Duke, and this week it was Mr. Pahmuk, the Heterosexual Seducer of Young English Virgins.  Gay Thomas, why don’t you go find a nice virile farmhand who would rather shtup you than a bunch of ewes?

Mr. Pahmuk blackmails Gay Thomas into showing him the way to MaryMarsha’s room and enters therein. Gay Thomas retires for the night. At first, MaryMarsha tries to defend her virtue, but Mr. Pahmuk has a golden tongue and a winning way with the ladies. When he assures her they can have lots of fun that will still leave her virgo intacta, she decides to see what all the fuss is about. Again I had the giggles and speculated what kind of highjinks Mr. Pahmuk had in mind. It's times like this that Thomas pretends he doesn't know me.

Next, and I must tell you I DID NOT SEE THIS ONE COMING, Mr. Pahmuk seems to have had a heart attack, mid-stroke as it were, and is now dead in MaryMarsha’s bed. In panic she ropes in Anna, and Mummy Cora to help her fix this up. The three of them wrestle the corpse of Mr. Pahmuk back into his own bed, dress him, and tuck him up. Cora informs Mary that she is Severely Displeased, and will only not tell Daddy Earl, because he would die of shame knowing that his daughter was such a dirty, dirty slut. Then all three women retire, happily unaware that dumb Daisy the scullery maid saw them hauling Mr. Pahmuk into this room.

In the morning, Gay Thomas is the one that finds Dead Mr. Pahmuk. He tells O’Brien, the evil ladies’ maid that when last seen by him, Mr. Pahmuk was alive and intending to board Lady MaryMarsha. They wonder when and how he died, and what MaryMarsha’s role in it was.

You do NOT want O’Brien on your bad side, and as of now, she and Gay Thomas have a hate on the Family. O’Brien and Gay Thomas didn’t appreciate one bit when Lady Cora chewed them out for talking about the new heir. It was instructive to hear her little sermon when she “put them in their place.” No matter how much it seemed that the family was kind to their servants, they are still servants, and not allowed to forget it. Now O’Brien has something she can use to hurt the family. I have a feeling she’ll be using that knowledge.

The Boring Beau, realizing that MaryMarsha didn’t love him, heads off, feeling sad about his chum Mr. Pahmuk.

The Heir, Cousin Matthew, is slowly, slowly, starting to feel his way into the job. He’s being nicer to his valet, trying to be civil to MaryMarsha (who I think he has a crush on), and being kind to Ethel-Jan, who is trying to get her hooks into him.

His Mama, Mrs. Crawley, helps the local doctor find the courage to use a revolutionary treatment to save a farmer who is dying of dropsy. She knows about nursing from the war (whether that was the Crimean or the Boer war, I’m not real clear) and from helping her husband, and she wants to help in the local hospital. Mrs. Crawley uses the Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove approach, and successfully goes against Grand Dame Lady Maggie Smith in the matter of these revolutionary medical treatments. In the end these two feisty old ladies are going to have to work together to oversee the hospital, and the looks on their faces is priceless. No one can express sour disgust the way Maggie Smith can, she looks like a lemon who was weaned on a pickle. Mrs. Crawley is slyly pleased and confident in her abilities.

Dumb Daisy the scullery maid has a fruitless crush on Gay Thomas and is cheerfully friendly to Good William the friendly Footman, not realizing that he has a crush on her. Oh Daisy, you really are dumb.

A constant theme of the episode is that everyone has secrets. Some of them are deep dark secrets, and other ones seem more laughable when you find them out, but we all guard them carefully, and NO ONE wants their secrets found out. Carson was afraid that his authority as the Butler par excellence would be diminished if everyone knew he’d been a Cheerful Charlie. The look on Gay Thomas face when Mr. Pahmuk threatened to report him was both pathetic and terrifying. Gwen’s secret was harmless, but she rightly feared to expose her dreams to the harsh gaze of her fellow domestics. Bates, the wise Valet, tells Anna that once you know someone’s secrets, even the silly ones, you never look at them the same way again. Anna stoutly vows that nothing could change the way she felt about Bates and you know that by the end of the show, we are going to find out what Bates’ secret is, and that it will be a good deal worse than a typewriter or the Cheerful Charlies.

Daddy Earl also has a new chauffer, who is Irish. He’s interested in history and politics. And probably whiskey, ‘cause that’s what the Irish are always on about, history, politics and whiskey.

10 January, 2011

A nerdtastic weekend

It was a good weekend, but one that made me reflect on my idea of a good time NOW versus what I thought was a good time when I was in my twenties and what I still, apparently, think I think ought to be my idea of a good time.  Confused? Good, because so am I.
Friday night we did that party. It was fine, Thomas won a camcorder (new techmology!) and we were home by 11. Yay!
Saturday we walked the pups early, then I went to an exercise class, and then we went up to Gettysburg for lunch with friends.
We took a walk through a small part of the Battlefield, for which I blame the Germans. Katy’s husband is also German, they lived over there for the first 7-8 years of their marriage, and Katy picked up some German habits. Like walking. When Germans get together for a meal, they think it perfectly reasonable that after the meal everyone gets up, puts on their outdoor gear, and shuffles off into the snow, ice, and freezing wind for a nice walk. It’s supposed to be good for the digestion.
My own personal suggestion of a reasonable activity after the meal would be eating dessert. Or napping. But I am nothing if not a good sport. So we walked in the inch or so of snow for half an hour. Other than the frostbite and chilblains, it was AWESOME. No, really, it gave us a chance to talk and to get a little exercise, and I felt all virtuous and selfy-helpy.
We came home early and did some things, and some other things, and at 8pm I was in bed clutching my laptop and my book, listening to the BBC7 online and reading. This was the point where I started musing about the fact that my pleasures these days are small, middle-aged pleasures.
I don’t miss going out late, dancing to extra-loud techno at the Club Charles, where the hipsters could tell I really didn’t belong. I don’t mind not spending tons of money drinking in bars every weekend. I don’t mind that a walk around a Civil War battlefield in gale force winds is a big outing for us. But sometimes I do miss having the energy and the desire to do those things.
Yesterday we did lunch after church at Basta Pasta. I was not blown away by the food, but the conversation was excellent. I had a massage later, which helped with the pain of my sore muscles. My muscles, which haven’t done anything more strenuous than roll out of bed for years are pretty angry about that exercise class. They’d probably seize up if they knew I intended to do it again next week.
I finished up the weekend with a perfectly nerdy night of watching the new Masterpiece Contemporary show on MPT – Downton Abbey. It was great with an extra helping of awesomesauce!
Titanic goes down with heir/2nd heir on board, leaving the Earl of Whatsis with a houseful of bitchy daughters and a title, house, and fortune entailed away to an unsuitable third cousin of no breeding. Bisexual fortune-hunting Duke comes to court eldest bitchy daughter, but he beats a hasty retreat when he finds out Daddy Earl isn’t going to try to break the entail. Dowager Dame Maggie Smith looks elegant and bitchy all over the place and is scheming with Daddy Earl’s American heiress wife to force D.E. to break that nasty old entail.
Below stairs the Butler, Carson (?), thinks of the Upstairs Family as HIS family. Carson, did you not see Remains of the Day, this isn’t going to end well for you.
There is a nice head housemaid, Anna, who is sympathetic to Bates, the new valet for Daddy Earl. Seems Bates was Daddy Earl’s batman back during the Boer war, doncha know, and he needs this job, work for lame ex-batmen not being thick on the ground, since this is England 1912 and not Gotham 2010.
The stock red-faced cook snarls and shouts at the dizzy kitchen maid all the time, and we all hope the kitchen maid is kept away from the food and doesn’t fatally poison the entire family. That poor kitchen maid has a huge crush on William, the Nice Footman. One of the housemaids, who has very pretty red hair, seems to have some sort of flirtation going on, because she’s receiving letters from someone. Not enough in that plotline to figure out what is going to happen next.
The housekeeper looks sour, but shows a certain amount of kindness to all the housemaids and to the Nice Footman.
The bitchy Executive Lady’s Maid obviously has a thing for Thomas, the scheming footman, not realizing that Thomas and the Bisexual Duke have known each other, (see Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19). Thomas tries to blackmail the Bisexual Duke into getting him a better job, but the Duke gets the better of him. Thomas is deeply unhappy, and takes his frustration out trying to get Bates fired. The Lady’s Maid does what she can to help him get rid of Bates, thinking possibly that Gay Thomas will be so grateful he’ll ask her to the pub for a smoke?
Bates is being sent away for having a limp and not being able to "serve at table" but at the last minute Daddy Earl breaks down and decided that's jolly well NOT ON. Bates will stay by Jove, as firing one's batman isn't the done thing. Bates probably saved Daddy Earl from a bunch of Boers.

Back Upstairs, the Unsuitable Heir, who shocks The Family by having a Profession (lawyer) and wanting to work, has moved into a house on the grounds. He’s charging around like a bull in a china shop, stomping on feelings left and right. His mother, a very pleasant woman, is doing her best to soothe the nerves and feelings of those he thoughtlessly hurts.The Unsuitable Heir has to explain to the Intimidating Dowager Dame Maggie Smith what "a weekend" is.

Can’t wait to see what happens next week!

07 January, 2011

Told you he was lucky

Today we did the holiday party. Right up until we got there I was dreading it, but once we got there, I recognized a few people to chat to. The food was good. As I said before, it was all quite tolerable.

Thomas won a digital camcorder. It was one of the last four or five prizes. At  no time in the evening was I in doubt he'd win something. I think he was kind of hoping for the grand prize of an iPad, but he's pleased with the camcorder.

All three dogs went to the groomer today. They are now clean and they smell so nice. It's made Dru so aggravated he's spent the entire afternoon/evening rubbing himself on the furniture, the walls, the carpet, trying to find some of his old stinky smell.

I do not know exactly what they did to Miss Ginger, but she looks so funny! Thomas called me at work and said, "WHAT did you tell them to do to Ginger?" You know, wash her and clip her nails. "She's fluffy," he says. And he's right, she is fluffy. It's like they blow dried her with her hair pointing in a thousand different directions. Every time we've looked at her we've gotten a smile.

05 January, 2011

The Mid-Appalachian Quilters Symposium (MAQ) just posted their list of teachers on the website. They are being sort of coy, since they listed the teachers, but not the classes. THAT list doesn't come out until March, and then they aren't opening registration until April.

This is quite a difference from past years when they posted the list of classes sometime in February and you could sign up immediately. Based on some gossip I heard at the event last year this may be in response to complaints they had last year from troglodytes Luddites who wanted to do mail-in registration rather than online registration. Come on now ladies (although there has been one guy at MAQ the past two years, it's overwhelmingly women)! Welcome to the Century of the Fruitbat and get online.

Anyway, I'm trying to read all the biographies and see if any of the teachers stand out for me. I know four or five of them already by reputation, and I know three of them in real life. Choosing a quilting class just by the teacher isn't really my style, although I know some people follow teachers from place to place, taking all the classes they offer.

Someone sent in a postcard to PostSecret with a picture of the secret Mormon underwear. It's caused quite a kerfuffle, with some Mormons saying it's a shame that their sacred bloomers are being disrespected. But as other Mormons pointed out, when you can find the same picture on any web browser, those bloomers may be sacred but they aren't so secret. It took me right back to the time I first read somewhere that Mormons wore undergarments of a special specialness, I was both intrigued and puzzled. If they were so sacred, did the faithful wear them in the bath? Did they...you know...DO IT while wearing their Holy Underoos? Anyway, now that I've seen the Sacred Panties, I am disappointed. They are just kinda goofy looking. This kind of silliness is what makes me think organized religion is probably just a bad idea.

03 January, 2011

Is incense poisonous?

When I got back to my desk after lunch today, there were two odd little “things” sitting in front of my keyboard. Picture something like a slightly warped Hershey’s Kiss that has been rolled in cinnamon or cocoa powder.

“Ooh, someone brought me candy!” Before I popped one in my mouth, I took a little sniff, thank goodness. They were homemade incense cones, not chocolates. A few minutes later, I wandered down to thank the person who’d given them to me. I knew who it had to be, we have one person in the office who likes to experiment with interesting crafts and oddball recipes.

Turns out that I’m not the only person who thought they were candy. One guy even started chewing before realizing something was off! My slight hesitation gave me a win on this one, unlike the time I ate one of the dog biscuits Christine gave me. At first, I felt sorry for her, that the cookies she made me were so foul – obviously she didn’t realize how ghastly they were. Then I felt sorry for myself when Christine asked me how the dogs liked the treats she made for them.  I had eaten a dog treat – no wonder the dogs were so excited when I gave them the rest of “those horrible cookies”.

I went online today and ordered the book about Catharine Graham that my friend Amanda recommended. (Actually, I placed a hold on it at the library. I don't buy very many books anymore, unless they are Terry Pratchett or a used book.) I remember when it was published, the author was on Diane Rehm, Terry Gross, etc., and I thought it sounded like a good book. My mother's book club read it and I attended the meeting as a guest and listened to their discussion. I should note that my mother did not read it, she reads some, but rarely finishes the book club book. Sadly, if I was in a book club with my Mom, I'd be mad at her all the time for NOT FINISHING THE BOOK.

This coming Friday is Thomas' work party. Woo hoo, I'm whelmed at the prospect. Each year we show up, eat a tolerable dinner, Thomas wins some kind of drawing or prize*, I get bored, and we go home. It's not awful, but every year, without fail, I feel like I'd rather have a new filling than attend.

Still, it's one of those things you do because it's important to your partner, and I can paste on a smile, and make once-a-year chitchat. I will say that it would be much more fun if there was an open bar. A cash bar at this kind of event is the worst kind of work chintzitude. If you like your co-workers, a little booze makes things more convivial. If you don't like them, it makes them easier to tolerate in a social setting. If you don't know them, tying one on numbs you to the horror of hours spent in the company of strangers you don't want to get to know better.

*I mean it, we've gone to about 6 of these things where they have nice give-aways and drawings, and I think there was ONE year he didn't win something. One year we won the grand prize, a flat screen TV. We won $200 in Amazon gift cards one year and $100 worth of restaurant coupons. He inherits this luck from his Mum - I've played Yahtzee with both of them and they throw MULTIPLE Yahtzees per game. I'm more like that song from Hee-Haw, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all..."

02 January, 2011

Happy New Year

I spend much of the day at work last Friday reading lists with titles like "100 Books Everyone Should Read" and "Great Books of the World".  I keep thinking I would like to come up with a plan for my reading. Not that I'm only going to read to plan, one of my greatest joys is finding a book on the library shelf, by an author I've never heard of, and feeling like I've found a new friend.

What I do want to do is make sure that I don't just read light fiction. Sometimes last year, if my reading was a diet, I was gorging on the equivalent of donuts. Light, sugary, delicious donuts. Nothing wrong with a donut now and then, but you also need to read the equivalent of a hearty meal, something that challenges you, nourishes you, makes you stronger and sharper.

I am going to ask my friends for recommendations for good non-fiction. I am not much of a non-fiction reader, fiction's always been my thing. I think a nice goal, or plan, for 2011 is to read at least one non-fiction book a month.

Other goals for this year:
  • Finish at least 6 quilting projects
  • Take part in at least two ATC trades
  • Attend MAQ in July
  • Do at least one volunteer activity for CSAC each month
That seems ambitious-enough-without-being-too-unrealistic. I COULD vow to lose 100 lbs, eat vegetarian, quit drinking and swearing, and only read improving books. But what would be the point of promising to do things I don't really want to do?

Happy New Year to all of us.