26 February, 2011

Completely taste free too!

Sometimes you heard tales told by friends about their friends, and although you don’t really know the people involved (and in some cases you’ve never met them), the stories become part of your own treasure trove of stories.
Our friend David’s friend John’s mother (who I have never met) was a Seventh Day Adventist and apparently kept to their food rules, including using whole-wheat flour and avoiding the use of sugar. Her cookies were sweetened with honey, rock hard and tasteless. Her son called them Granny’s Death Drops. My friends and I now use that as a name for something that should be delicious which has been altered to make it healthier, and in the process has become something that is no longer a treat.
It’s like when you decide to make chocolate chip cookies, but you worry about your kids eating too much sugar and chocolate, so you use whole wheat flour, carob chips, and honey instead of sugar.  Instead of crisp, delicious cookies with melting chunks of chocolate, you get hard, dry cookies studded with angry nuggets of not-chocolate – Granny’s Death Drops.
Then there was a cinnamon roll I had recently. The baker had gone the whole whole-wheat flour route, so the goodie was super-dense. The glaze had half the amount of sugar it probably needed, and to offset that, double the amount of cinnamon. It was very like a cinnamon covered hockey puck – another excellent example of a Granny’s Death Drop. Somewhere I heard a Cinnabon sticky roll crying in sympathy.
If you want to cut fat and sugar out of your diet, go ahead and do it. Eat fruit for dessert, bake whole-wheat bread and slather honey on it for dessert. Just, for pity’s sake, STOP trying to recreate the desserts you really love without all the fat, white sugar, and white flour that make them so delicious in the first place. That way lies madness…and Granny’s Death Drops. And your friends will smile, thank you kindly, and take your mean little not-dessert and throw it over the railing of the Bay Bridge as they go home, just like John used to do with his Granny’s Death Drops!
It does make me think of how my Granddad used to think that Metrecal Weight Loss shakes weren’t half bad once you’d added some ice cream and chocolate syrup! He went the opposite way and made something kind of delicious out of something inherently tasteless.

21 February, 2011

leisure time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure

There are fifty-two weekends this year, but this past weekend is probably going to be the best one I will have all year. Thomas and I took off Thursday/Friday, added them to the long President's Day weekend, and headed off to a cabin in Allisonia, VA with our friend Samantha.

Our little cabin (2 bedrooms, 1 bath) was nicely appointed with almost everything you could need, except a potato masher. We had 300 cable channels, which we only used a little. What was almost more important than what it had, is what it didn't have. It didn't have internet access except for some spotty coverage on Sam's phone. So, if you don't have internet, what can you do in February of 2011? Here's what you can do:

Make flying geese blocks for a quilt
Watch The Tenth Kingdom
Listen to two Agatha Christie novels on Sam's iPod radio thingy
Walk the dogs
Make smores on the gas stove
Drowse, as an alternative to napping
Apply binding to a quilt
Make a baby quilt top for a charity
Talk some more
Cook and eat delicious meals

Good googly moogly, it was amazing, the most relaxing five days I can remember having in a long time. So often on vacation we feel like we have to run around seeing and doing. This weekend we just focused on being. I need more of this in my life.

14 February, 2011

How many times have you read that book?

Yesterday, I was in the car with Thomas and a friend, Toni, and she mentioned that she was re-reading all the Harry Potter books again. Apparently, that's one of her regular re-reads; I call books like that my comfort reads. When I need a particular something: comfort, encouragement, a certain type of reading pleasure, there are certain books I re-visit again and again.

Sometimes I read the whole book, or the whole series. Other times I dive right in at my favorite parts. There must be something about February, because while Toni was reading Harry Potter 1-7 for the nth time, I was working my way through Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife books, all four of them.

I know that everyone doesn't do this, Thomas said that he has almost never read a book more than once. I've had people tell me, quite forcefully, that there are too many wonderful books to read to re-read anything, no matter how good it was. I accept that, why re-read something if you wouldn't enjoy it? But for me, there's something lovely about revisiting a wonderfully written book, one that I know won't disappoint. It's not just the story, it's the actual words, certain turns of phrases, humor, and drama, and they way the book makes me feel.

Certain books even take me back to certain parts of my life, even if I have read them dozens of times. The first time I read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings cycle I was 11 and in sixth grade. My Mom gave them to me for Christmas after I read (and loved) The Hobbit. Once I opened the package on Christmas morning, reading that series was all I did for the rest of the vacation. It was like I opened the books, fell in, and didn't come up for air until sometime near New Year's. It's hard to tell how I felt about them, it sounds so juvenile, but I desperately wished that I lived in a world where even though I was small and insignificant, I could go on a great adventure, mix with the mighty and powerful, and in the end, save the world. I loved Tom Bombadil and the Ents. Sauron and Saruman scared the pants off of me. I wanted to grow up and marry Faramir and Eowyn, they were so romantic (in a restrained sort of way). I wanted to be Eowyn and ride ou to slay the king of the Black Riders. In the end I wanted to go back to the Shire and live in a neat and tidy hole with a homely round door. I wanted to be every single character in the book. Okay, not an Orc, but all the good characters!

Even though I've probably read the series upwards of a dozen times in the 30+ years since then, and probably understand it more than I did in that first reading, in some way it takes me back to the thrilled, breathless, blown-away 11 year old I was that Christmas season.

Some of my other favorites to read again and again are:

The Witch World books by Andre Norton
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Handling Sin by Michael Malone
The Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Revenants by Sheri S. Tepper
Pretty much anything by Agatha Christie
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I would love to know if you have any comfort books and if so, what they are.

13 February, 2011

Art (for Year of the Rabbit and Otherwise)

Gung Hay Fat Choy and all that! A few weeks ago I did something new. I joined an artist trading card site, made some cards for Chinese New Year, and participated in a trade. So much fun!

The trade was for the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rabbit. My cards, which I stupidly didn't take photos of, were mostly watercolor, with some collage thrown in. Back in December while Thomas was in Deutschland, I purchased some watercolors and have been futzing with them.

I am never going to be Mary Cassatt, but am having a good time with these little cards. ATCs are small cards, 2.5" x 3.5", on which you make any kind of art your heart desires. Most of the ones I am doing I'm making just for fun, but I did participate in this trade. I sent off three of mine, and this morning, I got back three in return. I got cards from Minnesota, Germany, and Canada. Two of them feature cute little rabbits, but my favorite is a dyspeptic little boy dressed in Chinese festival clothing, apparently wrestling a koi. I think he's playing with a kite shaped like a koi, but the idea of Attack of the Killer Koi is more amusing.

If anyone wants an ATC, let me know and I'll make you one of any theme of your choice. These things are fun! I've made a couple of cards for my nieces, and I want to do a few more trades.

Speaking of my art (O the Pretension) - I finally sent off that DogStar quilt for quilting. Woe is me, the timing is going to be tight to get it back in time for the BHQG Quilt Expo. I procrastinated on sending it off, then was too cheap to pay for fast shipping. When I get it back, I'll have to attach the binding. I may be pulling some all-nighters in early March to have this sucker ready to hang in the show. This is all so typical for me. Maybe I don't have enough real drama in my life, and creating these ridiculous pain-points feeds into some need I have for feelings of urgency! and hurriedness!

10 February, 2011

Nothing sure but Death and Taxes

Anyone who has known me in the last 13 years knows that when tax time rolls around, I start getting tense. Every year, just as the 14th of April draws closer, Thomas and I wind up in at least one, and sometimes several arguments about doing the taxes. It is very hard to fight with Thomas because I get red-faced furious, with gritted teeth and hissed invective, and he's like a smooth stone wall, all bland calm, imperturbable and righteous.

If it were up to me, we would take all our stuff to a CPA and pay a professional to do it for us. Having it hanging over my head makes me crazy. I don't honestly mind getting the papers in order, but the waiting makes me crazy. I want to do it, and either file for a return, or know how much we will pay. Apparently, the suggestion causes Thomas actual physical pain. The idea of paying someone to do something we can! do! ourselves! The problem is that he refuses to do it early enough to suit me. And every weekend of every February and every March Thomas has good reasons why we can't get around to it. And every weekend as April 14th gets closer, I want to smack him over the head with a copy of TurboTax.

Last year it was just so ugly. We fought and fought about doing it, then while we were doing it we fought because he wanted to take breaks! and I wanted to get it over with! Several friends said that I needed to back off about this, since, for whatever reason, we just cannot agree on the timing of the taxes. Apparently, someone has to be adult and it ought to be me. So this year, although it is paining me, I haven't said a word about taxes. Not once have I mentioned it, or asked when The Great Tax Preparer thinks he might be able to get around to it. If it kills me, I am not going to say anything. If we have to file an extension and do it in July, I'm not saying a word. Maybe I can learn to relax and love the bomb taxes.

Tonight I have decided that I would get all the charity receipts and W-2s in order. I can at least do my part to move us closer to the moment when the stars align and Thomas feels it is an auspicious time to tackle the task.It is making me feel better.

07 February, 2011

A Hunter's Star Quilt

Last year at the Mid-Appalachian Quilter's Symposium I took a two day class on making a Hunter's Star quilt from Deb Tucker, who designs rulers to streamline making some of the traditional block.

Here is the quilt that I made.
I used mostly dog themed fabrics, and the colors are mostly tan/offwhite, black, orange and red. This isn't my usual color palette, but I like this a lot.
If you know anyone who wants to buy it from me for $400, I'll sell it. I want to raise money for CSAC.

Deb Hunter, the designer/teacher who taught the class was very good. She's very dynamic and energetic. About 1 hour into the class she knew the names of the 20 women in the class. I would take another class from her. I liked the pattern so much I'm thinking about making another with only two or four colors.

03 February, 2011

The Year of the Metal Rabbit

I hear it's the year of the Golden Rabbit (Golden sounds much nicer than the bare "Metal") and here is what a Golden Rabbit year means for a Wood Snake:

If you are a Wood Snake, it means that you are born between 2nd February 1965 to 20th January 1966. [I am now solidly middle aged, in other words.] 

There will be considerable change concerning their work in 2011 and the faster they can adjust to the changes, the less pressure there will be for the Wood Snake. [I hope something is about to change. Lately, work has been so boring that watching paint dry would be exciting by comparison. Roll on change..]

 The 2011 Snake horoscope predictions indicate a very busy rabbit year for the Wood Snake and it would be beneficial for them to set aside some time for an occasional treat or else their health will suffer in the rabbit year. [I am all about the little treats. Later this month Thomas and I will be going away for a long weekend with a friend to a cabin in the woods.]

The Wood Snake should also keep in touch with their friends despite the hectic schedule. [That is always solid advice.]

There will also be additional income for the Wood Snake in 2011 from the advances in their career. [Woot!]

For a good feng shui in 2011, the Wood Snake must keep their lifestyle in balance at all times during the 2011 Year of the Rabbit. Use this 2011 Snake horoscope to give yourself a happy and satisfying rabbit year.

 I'm exhausted, so it's off to bed, to keep my lifestyle in balance.

01 February, 2011

Finally, Bates' secret! And war too!

Socially-Aware-Sybil is very interested in politics. Handsome Irish Driver takes her to political rallies. When Daddy Earl finds out, he forbids her to leave the house until she is 30 or married, whichever comes first. Well, not really, but he says, “No more political rallies.” Of course, she’s dying to find out how the by-elections turn out, so she tricks H.I. Driver into taking her. He thinks he’s taking her to an Upper-Class-DoGooders-Meeting. At the meeting, a group of drunken toughs show up, there’s a fight, and Sybil gets clocked on the head. By some miracle of television writing, Cousin Matthew happens to be there, and he and Handsome Chauffeur get her home. Daddy Earl comes theeeees close to firing his driver, but Sybil threatens to run away if he does. By now it is completely obvious to anyone with eyes that Irish is falling in lurve with Sybil, who is making sheep’s eyes at Cousin Matthew.

O’Brien and that scheming Gay Thomas accuse Bates of stealing the wine that Thomas actually stole. They talk dumb Daisy, who is still making googly eyes at Thomas (“Oh Thomas, I’d do anything for you…simper, simper, simper”) into saying that she had seen Bates with the keys to the wine cupboard. Carson brings Bates in and confronts him with his accusers. He, of course, denies it, and Anna backs him up.

Sweet William’s mother gets very ill, and the family give him time off to go home and say his goodbyes. She dies, and William comes back, grieving. He’s basically giving up on Daisy, since she is exhibiting such terrible taste in footmen.

For reasons I am somewhat unclear on, Daisy decides that lying about Bates was not a good thing to do, and she confesses to Carson. Bates says not only did he not steal the wine, but if anyone thinks back, he’s never touched a drop of booze since he came to the house, BUT (and it’s a pretty big BUT) he confesses to Carson, Anna, and Mrs. Housekeeper that in the past he was a drunk, a thief, and he did a spell in the big house. Shock! Confusion! Carson says he’s going to have to think this over. Anna says she doesn’t give a damn!

Matthew proposes to Mary, but she wants to take a few months to think about it. When the news comes out that after 18 years, Lady Cora has a bun in the oven, everyone goes into a spin. If her baby is a boy, Cousin Matthew will be turfed out as heir. Dame Grandma Maggie Smith tells Mary to marry Matthew anyway, but she listens to her stupid Aunt Rosalind and tells him she has to wait to find out about the baby. She says she loves him but needs time to think. Mary, as I have mentioned before, is a bitch, and stupid to boot.

Remember Mr. Napier, the dull fellow that brought Poor Dead Mr. Pahmuk to Downton Abbey? Well, he comes to call on Mary and tells her that Sister Edith is the one who told the Turkish Ambassador that slutty Mary was seen dragging a corpse out of her room.

Dame Maggie Smith’s maid is selfishly leaving her service to get married. When she tells Cora how selfish her maid is and how horrid it is to have to find a new maid, I got the giggles. Nobody does upper crusty whining like Maggs! Cora is helping her Mama-in-Law find a new maid, but O’Brien gets the wrong end of the stick and thinks that Cora is replacing her. She’s full of spite and doesn’t care who knows it.

Poor Mrs. Padmore’s eyes are so bad that they are going to retire her, she thinks. She’s just beside herself, because it’s not like she is going to get an Old Age Pension. The Earl announces that The Family has decided to send her to see an eye specialist in London, and Anna will accompany her. “I am afraid I am going to have to sit in your presence, milord,” says Mrs. Padmore. “Of course,” says the Earl.

Bates and Anna almost kissed, but were interrupted. I swore aloud. No one believes Bates is a thief. Anna is determined to find out what Bates was accused of/in prison for, because she doesn’t believe he was a thief, even if he confessed. I just love Anna and Bates.

The family decides to have a telephone installed. The Dowager Dame is dismayed about these newfangled things: “First electricity, now a telephone. Sometimes I feel that I am living in an H.G. Wells novel,” she says, hilariously. When the phone is installed, Sybil hears of a job with British Telecom, or whatever they were called, and next thing you know, Gwen has a job as a Secretary. Yay Gwen!

Cousin Matthew’s valet saw Thomas messing about with Carson’s wallet in his coat and he reports it to Mr. Carson. Carson and Daddy Earl decide that Thomas is going to have to go, but they will wait until their annual Garden Party is over before they give it the boot.

Anna went to London with Mrs. Padmore and while she was in London she discovered that Mr. Bates went to prison for a crime his wife committed. She stole something, he confessed to it, and went to prison. Anna meets Mother Bates. Bates is still married to the bad wife, who has not been seen in some years. Dammit. We have to find that wife and get rid of her!

Gay Thomas is weaselly. He is trying to figure out what he could do in the inevitable war to get ahead. He volunteers to join the medical service to keep himself from being drafted into the army.

The phone is put in. Carson, in a hysterical scene that could have been part of the Cheerful Charlies, practices answering the phone. He tries out different wording, different tones of voice. Funny stuff.

While Lady Cora, PREGNANT Lady Cora is bathing, she drops the soap on the floor. O’Brien leaves soap on the floor under the bath ON PURPOSE, and Cora slips on it and miscarries of the long-hoped-for heir.

Dammit. Dammit.

O’Brien finds out that she is NOT being replaced, and realizes that she is really a guilty evil, person.

William attacks Thomas for complete assholish behavior. I think Thomas needs to go NOW! Daisy now realizes that Thomas is not the shining Knight she thought he was, and she tells William that she’s right off Thomas. She also apologizes for how mean she has been.

The Doctor lets Thomas  know he’s been approved for his volunteer position at the garden party. Thomas let’s Carson he know he’s leaving, and Carson is thrilled, since that saves him firing him.

The phone rings and everyone is afraid of it. Much funniness!

Mary will not marry Matthew, so he decides that he will leave Downton Abbey. He is still the heir, but feels like he cannot stay near Mary. He truly loved her, but she wasn’t brave enough to marry him not knowing of his future income.  Mary is sad, and I hate her.

Mary ruins Edith’s chance of getting a proposal of marriage. I really feel for Edith. Mary is such a bitch, and she’s spent her life in Mary’s shadow. If I were Mary, I’d watch my back around Edith.

A letter comes at the Garden party, and the Earl makes the announcement that England is at war with Germany.

May I add that Rhea Fiken of MPT has had so much plastic surgery that she’s starting to look like a space alien. She’s scarey!

This show ended with more loose ends than an unfinished sweater. I sure hope they are already working on Season 2!