Wednesday, December 31, 2008

mein auto ist kaput

My German isn't any too good either! However, my car is now in the shop, having it's transmission removed in order to have a rebuilt one put in early next week. (The shop is closed for the New Year's Holiday). I haven't been driving it much anyway, but you don't realize how dependent you are on a car until you don't have one. There is a bus stop near my house, so I have been trying to see if I can use the buses to get to where I need to go in the next week. It's an exercise in futility. I can get to church on Sunday, but it requires going to the mall in Columbia and catching another bus from there to the church. I could walk if the weather is decent, as it's probably less than a mile. I'm not sure the buses even run on Sundays. Anyway, I'll call the person who gave me the ride Christmas Eve and see if she can take me again. If not, I'll just stay home. Monday, I teach a ceramics class in Beltsville, which is about 10 miles away and in another county, which means different bus systems. It turns out that I cannot get to the Beltsville Rec Center by bus. The software they have to plot your journey informed me that it could not be done! Not too surprising, I suppose. Luckily, I remembered a class member who lives near me, so she will take me. Tuesday I have a ceramics class where I am a student. I actually could get there by bus, but it would take about an hour and cost about $6 round trip. Not worth the effort. I hope by Wednesday I will have my car back. It's an adventure, being without a car, but not one I would care to repeat. I can walk to the post office and the grocery store - both of which I did a few days ago. However, the weather is very cold and windy now, so staying home is the wisest choice. I will miss the regular Friday lunch with my long time friends, unless one of them is willing to drive way out of their way to give me a ride. I want my car back!


Well, enough complaining. So what have I been doing with all this at home time? Well, I have been doing a little discarding. I sorted out some winter clothes - slacks, jackets and sweaters - to donate to charity. There are probably more, but I find it very hard to discard things that I still like, despite not having worn them in a year or more. I didn't used to have pack-rat tendencies, but they seem to have developed over the years! I also went through some of the far-too-many unread paperbacks that I have in the basement. I tried to be ruthless and discard the older ones and ones by authors I don't know or don't much care for. It makes me wonder why I ever bought some of them. I have managed to find 23 that I will donate to charity. I didn't go through all the unread books, just the first shelf of them. (Yes, I know that I have far too many books!) There were another 29 books that I put on the list for trading via BookMooch. This is a wonderful online book exchange place. (www.bookmooch.com) Basically you list the books you are willing to send and get points for listing them as well as points for sending books. In return you can search all the lists of the other members and receive books from them. It's a bit more complicated than that, but it's a wonderful way to acquire cheap books. The only cost is the cost of mailing the books you send to others - averages about $2.50 per book, which is still less than the used book stores charge, and less than the online used bookstores that I have dealt with.

Of course, the books I list on bookmooch are still in my house, but they aren't taking up good shelf space, just piled up in the storage room in the basement. Of course, you can see the problem with using BookMooch - it doesn't reduce the number of books one owns, just changes the titles!


I think I will start taking down the Christmas decorations today. I have had enough of them, having seen them for a month now. I'm ready for a much less-decorated house. The winter pictures will stay on the walls, but the Christmas knicknacks will be gone from the shelves and tables. and lamps and everywhere else. I will replace them with items that are white or black with just a few red accents. (I might leave a few snowflakes hanging around....) Makes for a much less busy house - serene and restful after the bright, shiny Holiday stuff. I won't be taking down the outside decorations, however, as it's way too cold today for that.


I won't be staying up to greet the New Year tonight, so I'll wish everyone here a Happy New Year now!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas baby

Robert (my former step-son) and his wife have a baby boy - born on Christmas day! I haven't talked to them, but Andy, the grandfather, was thrilled and excited when he called me. The baby has Andrew for a middle name - after his grandfather. So, yesterday, I went to the mall to find a baby present. I was a bit nervous about driving there, although it's only a few miles. My car is still running - barely. I think it doesn't even shift out of 2nd gear now! I drive very slowly and stay on the back roads. I really hope it gets fixed this week, but have my doubts that will happen. Anyway, the only department store open in the mall when I got there (10:30 AM) was Lord and Taylors, which is not a store I usually shop in. It's too pricey for my budget. However, I thought I would just browse. Amazingly, I found bargains in the baby section, so bought two cute little outfits for the new baby. Hope to get them into the mail today. I may even walk over to the post office - about 3 miles round trip - if the day warms up. Yesterday the temperatures were in the high 60s, maybe even reaching 70! What's with this December weather, anyway? It's crazy, although truly not that unusual. I remember several years when New Year's Eve was sweater weather. Today is much colder, but the sun is shining, so hopefully the day will improve.

Last evening, I went to a book club meeting at my former church. I was afraid to drive my car that far after dark, but got a ride from someone who comes practically past my house on her way to the meeting. The book we had read is 'The Christmas Box'. I wouldn't recommend it, frankly. It's very sentimental and rather simplistic. Very short, which pleased some members. Not everyone in the book club wants to be challenged by the choices. Once a year, we vote on the books from a list that everyone in the club can nominate books to. (That sentence is very poorly constructed, but I hope you get the meaning.) As a result, we get a variety of selections, mostly with a religious bent, but also books about the environment or other aspects of science, which I enjoy reading. Anyway, this meeting was particularly enjoyable because the hostess brought a huge assortment of Christmas cookies - all beautifully decorated and delicious tasting. Next month we will be reading Hilary Clinton's "It Takes a Village". That should be interesting to discuss. I'm actually in two book clubs, both in churches. The other club is very small and the members read somewhat unusual books. Being in that club forces me to read things I would NEVER pick up otherwise. One that I can remember we read is "On a winter's night a traveler" by Italio Calvino - a book I would not recommend, as it is very hard to follow the plot, if there even is one. However, for February, we will read Mary Renault's "The King Must Die" - a book I have actually read. I read all of her books when I was in college, so it will be fun to re-read this one and see what I think of it. I must admit that except for the two book club books, I just read junk fiction - i.e., romance and mysteries!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

treasure hunting

Yesterday, Patty and her mother and I drove up into Pennsylvania to visit some antique stores located between Ephrata and Adamstown along route 272. There are a LOT of antique stores on that route! We got there when they opened at 10 AM (which meant we left home at 8) and stayed until they closed at 5 PM. A long day, but what fun! Unlike the malls, the antique stores weren't over-run with customers, so we could browse at our leisure. Most dealers had reduced prices, too. Patty has a car with a large open back area, not quite as big as my van, but since my car is not in service for long trips, she was the designated driver. We filled that back area, but could have put a few more things in the back seat next to Irma. However, the stores were closing, so we had to stop buying! We had eaten a quick picnic lunch in the car, but for dinner, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant. Those places are a real experience - half is a store and half the restaurant. The store had all their Christmas stuff reduced by 70 percent! Who could resist? - not us! I guess we weren't quite shopped out, after all. I just got a few Christmas ornaments, which of course I need like a hole in the head! Dinner was really pretty good. Not gourmet, but just good old country cooking. They served green beans made like my mother always cooked them - with bacon and cooked a long time. The berry cobbler that Patty and I shared for dessert was excellent, too.

I have to tell you about my brother Jack's experience in selling his home. He and Kit decided this year to move into a continuing care community. They aren't that old, but their house was huge and they had five acres of partly wooded land to maintain. When I visited them in mid-November, they had signed for the new house, but had not even gotten a realtor to list their house. They were having a yard sale the next weekend, and had moved some boxes into the new house, but that's as far as they had gotten with the selling/moving process. (The new house is lovely and has all new appliances, floors and paint.)

I can hardly believe what happened next. At the yard sale, a neighbor came over and asked what the occasion for the sale was. On hearing that they would be selling their house, he said, "I'll buy it!" So they drew up a contract and voila! - the house is sold. Isn't that the darndest story? In today's housing market, I thought it would take months to sell their place. So, now they are happy living in their new place, where the community takes care of the houses and property. I do wonder, however, just what my brother will find to do, now that he doesn't have to mow grass every day!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I was able to go to the Christmas Eve service at church last night, after all. I had told the music director that I would not be there, as I am unwilling to drive my car after dark. I have visions of the transmission locking up and leaving me sitting in the car, in the dark, waiting for a tow truck. No, thank you. Anyway, one of the other altos from choir called me and said they lived not too far from me and would pick me up. (I go to church in Columbia, which is about 15 minutes from my house. Most of the church members live in Columbia, not close to me.) I'm so glad I was able to attend. The service was beautiful, full of carols and a number of pieces from the choir. I think it's my favorite service of all the year.

Today is my day for being on the phone. I have talked to Kate and each of the grandkids. She is making syllabub - an old English Christmas drink which, according to Kate, is mostly whipped cream and alcohol with some lemon flavoring. Sounds marvelous. Then Andy, my 2nd husband, called me. Although he and I have been divorced for about 7 years, we are still friendly and we talk about once a month. Andy's son, Robert and his wife Susan are expecting a baby boy - momentarily! Andy lives near them, so can see their daughter, Brenda and the new baby often. Later today, I'll call Steve (my son) and Christine. The time difference from here to AZ means I don't call them in the morning here. I may also try to reach both of my brothers today. That should keep me busy most of the day!

Today it is actually warm - probably in the 50s already and even warmer in the sunshine. Seems strange for Christmas. I'll go walking soon with Patty and her mother. It's a lovely day for a walk and I need the exercise. It's been so cold that we haven't walked this week. Very bad of us, but we are wimps when it comes to cold, windy weather.

As I type this, I am sipping spiced cider and listening to a broadcast of "Lessons and Carols" from King's College, Cambridge. It's become part of my Christmas tradition for the years that I am at home for the Holidays. When I'm in England with Kate and family, we are far too busy to just sit and listen to the radio! This evening, my friend Lynne and I will go out to dinner at an Indian restaurant in Columbia. I called all the nice restaurants there and found only two open - Chinese and Indian! I guess we are all supposed to fix dinner at home on Christmas. Kate thinks this is so odd, as in England all the restaurants and pubs offer special Christmas dinners and one has to make reservations weeks in advance. Of course, with three kids, she always fixes dinner at home. They usually have roast beef with all the trimmings. Wish I were there. Next year I will be.

I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful Christmas, whether you are at home or visiting family. Take care now.

Monday, December 22, 2008

an Christmas un-present

My car has been acting strange lately, so today I took it to my mechanic. I sat for almost two hours in his rather chilly waiting room and finally walked down the road to McDonald's for a hot drink. When I got back, he had the bad news waiting for me. My transmission is in serious trouble. He will check on prices and let me know what the cost of replacement will be - quite possibly in the thousands! Meanwhile, I can drive the car, but not to go too far from home, as it could freeze up at any time. Gee thanks, just what I wanted to hear. Luckily, I have 100 mile free towing from AAA, but still at this time of year, I'd rather not have to wait in my car for a tow truck.
I have two Christmas parties to attend tomorrow, both of which require cookies. It's a good thing I did all that baking. Several of my friends have asked me for the recipe to one of the cookies. It's actually Kate's recipe, but I don't think she has published it, at least not this year. She did bake them this year, as they are pictured along with others on her blog of a week or so ago. http://katelnorth.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-baking.html It's a no-bake recipe - really easy. They are rich and delicious!

Kate's Peanut Butter Bars
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter or oleo
1 cup peanut butter (I used creamy, but I think chunky would be fine too.)
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix and add
2&3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
Mix and press into square pan, lined with aluminum foil. Refrigerate briefly. (This size pan makes very thick bars. I think next time, I will use a larger rectangular pan, but Kate thinks the square is better).
Melt 12 oz chocolate chips with 1/4 cup peanut butter.
Spread over top. Refrigerate ONLY until chocolate icing sets. Remove and cut into squares. Store in fridge.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The countdown

I'm getting there - almost ready for Christmas. I have all the cards ready to mail and will get them into the post this AM, if I don't spend too long blogging! Still have some baking to do - including replacing one batch that had a problem. (Note: nuts get rancid if stored too long in the cupboard! And bad nuts make cookies taste ready icky. I never knew that you are supposed to store nuts in the freezer.) So, some baking today, and practicing the Christmas music for choir. I have always sung soprano, but have recently switched to alto, as I'm finding the high notes harder and harder to reach. Also we have temporarily lost several altos, so thesection needs some beefing up. I don't have trouble learning the alto part (usually harmony) on new pieces, but it's hard on numbers where I already know the soprano. I keep trying to sing the upper notes.

As I read yesterday's paper, I noticed more signs of the failing economy. There were more pages of ads than of news and most of the ads were from stores, advertising huge sales! Reductions of 50 percent on many items - the sort of sales one used to find AFTER the Holidays. I guess the stores are really desperate to sell things. One of the Macy stores is going to be open 24 hours a day until Christmas! I can't imagine shopping at 3 AM, but I'm sure there are some people who will be there. Probably a great time to shop - stores almost empty of other customers.

The group of friends that I lunch with every Friday had our Christmas party lunch yesterday. It was fun, as usual. Each person brought something they had at home that they would never use. These items were wrapped, of course. We drew numbers and then in numeric order, each chose a gift. If you wanted to, you could take someone else's gift, instead of trying a wrapped one. This works better with larger groups. I had number 1, so I had to keep what I got. It's something I don't need, so the thrift shop will receive it soon. Interestingly, no one took anyone else's gift. Each of us just chose a wrapped item and then kept it. There were some unusual items, including a book on how to fold paper airplanes out of dollar bills!

I'd better go put those cards into the mail, now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ready for Christmas - NOT!

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed this year by all the stuff that must be finished before Christmas. (It sure is easier when I'm at Kate's for the Holidays. Then she's the one who has to keep track of all the activities). Actually,the problem is stuff that has to be done THIS WEEK! I have written my Christmas letter, but not yet printed or mailed it. Christmas cards are also not yet mailed -or even addressed and stamped, although I have bought the stamps. I have to bake more cookies for a party next week as well as to give to friends and neighbors. I'm running out of time!

However, I have accomplished some things. I have mailed off gifts to my son and daughter-in-law. They live in Scottsdale, AZ, so hopefully the gifts will arrive before Christmas. Presents to Kate and her family in England will not arrive until I do - in February! We've found this works well, as it's like a second Christmas for the kids. Also, as they get older, the kids would rather shop for presents than have me pick out something for them. The MAD Holiday Chorus, in which I am singing, is almost done for the season. We have a final concert tomorrow, having sung at two nursing homes and at a luncheon for the Maryland Space Business Roundtable. The speaker at this was the director of Goddard Space Flight Center. His presentation on various space explorations, both accomplished and for the future, was very interesting, even for a non-scientific person like me.

We've been having the strangest weather recently. One day it'll be in the 60s (actually 67) and then a day or so later, it's freezing. At least we're not getting an ice storm like New England got. We're having a week of rain, which actually is good for the plants. The little stream behind my house turns into a roaring river whenever we get a good rain. It's probably close to 8 feet deep today and noisy enough to hear inside the house, if my windows were open. It's such a little creek most of the time, just peaceful and serene. Then we get a good rain and wow! I tried to take a photo, but the trees still have too many leaves and the stream doesn't show clearly. It's too wet for me to slide down the hill and get close enough for a good shot. I might end up in the water! It would be nice to get some snow before Christmas, but I'm not expecting that. Almost never happens here.

Anyway, Christmas will be here before we know it. I hope all of you are ready for it (unlike me) and can just sit back and enjoy the music and decorations and baking (and eating).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree

Yesterday afternoon, I got my Christmas tree up and decorated. I also added a few surplus decorations (i.e., those that didn't fit on the tree) to other displays, on walls, on tabletops, etc. I think I am done now, although I do have a lot of silver tinsel left.....


The lights are on - white lights - but they don't show much. I have far too many ornaments, but seem to keep adding more and never discarding any. I did give some of the family ornaments to each of my kids a few years ago, but I have certainly acquired more since then. So, ornaments also hang or sit on each of the baker's racks and shelves that also hold plants, some of my glass collection, books, and family pictures. Believe me, I have a lot of stuff crammed into a rather small living room. Professional decorators would have a fit, but I love all my stuff, so there it is.


I have some ceramic stuff to show as well. Some of it has just been finished, some has been around for a while, but not pictured. The stacked up faces are parts of totem poles I am making to disguise some support posts in my front yard. (The posts are supposed to keep my flowering plum tree upright after a wind and rain storm. Or, at least, pull it back up when it falls over!) Anyway, I decided the posts were ugly, but could be turned into totem poles. So I've been making hollow tubes with faces on them. I have only about half as many pieces as I need, but eventually - perhaps by spring - I will have enough to display outside.


This bowl is a recent piece. It's decorated using colored slip (very thin clay). The flowers and other decoration on the inside are slightly raised as a result. (see below on right) The outside of the bowl (see below left) is decorated by covering it with slip and then scratching a design through the slip. And that's your clay lesson for today.

























Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas shopping

Mostly I stay out of the malls on weekends, especially this time of year. However, yesterday I was having lunch at the mall with some ladies from church, so I decided to wander around and see if I was inspired by anything. I needed something for my son and daughter-in-law. Usually, I just send a little ornament and a check, but this year I wanted to send something a bit more personal. Unfortunately, they live in Arizona and I don't visit them very often, which means I have a hard time knowing what they like. Anyway, I wandered around the mall and enjoyed the Christmas decorations and the music (except what was coming out of some of the stores that sell clothes for teenagers!). And, I did find presents - an idea for Steve, which I will go back and buy tomorrow, and something for Christine as well. So mission accomplished. The bad part about being in a mall is that I inevitably find something for myself, especially at Columbia Mall, which has three shoe stores that carry the kind of shoes I wear - i.e., nice comfortable, old-lady shoes! I bought a pair of shoes/boots that were on sale. (Not really old-lady shoes.) They seemed comfortable in the store, but I may not keep them. I wore them around the house all afternoon and am not sure I like the feel of them. I like the look and the price, so maybe I can get used to them.

This morning, I awoke early, so was up in plenty of time to see a lovely sunrise. This is what I saw when I looked out my front door.

Today will be a busy day. I'm playing catch-up on my email and blogging this AM because I won't be home again until evening. At noon I have a rehearsal for the MAD Holiday Chorus. Our first performance is this week. Luckily, it's at a nursing home and they aren't a critical audience. I don't have my solo memorized yet. Yikes! Better get going. This afternoon is the last ceramics class I teach until January. The rec center has a new director now and he's concerned about the size of my class - too small. I agree with him, but don't know what I can do about it. He's very proactive, so maybe he can come up with some ideas to recruit students. I enjoy working with the seniors in the class and would miss them if the class is cancelled.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Christmas in the air

I've had a good Saturday. Bought a few items at the craft show this AM, including something for one of my kids. And, this PM, I actually did bake cookies. (Well, actually these are bar cookies, not individual cookies, but still I think that counts). And these cookies baked long enough and will be fine for sharing with others, unlike the ones I baked yesterday! My house smells of sugar and spice and everything nice. The radio is playing carols and it is actually SNOWING. I realize that is not a thrilling thing for those who live in Canada and other northern places. But here in the almost-south we get a kick out of the first bit of snow. It is beginning to stick and give us a lovely dusting of white on everything. Happiness is being inside a warm house when it's snowing outside.

This photo shows the little tree out front with its red lights. You can't see much snow on the tree, but those round white spots in the photo are bits of snow that hit the camera lens. The other photo (below) is of the decorations on the deck. A bit of snow shows on the deck.
Take care now and enjoy the rest of the weekend.






help

I wish someone could explain to me how to avoid those huge blank spaces that occur on some of my blogs. (See yesterday's blog) Sometimes all my paragraphs are run together and other times, they are miles apart. I suppose it has something to do with formatting and I'd need more computer smarts than I have to prevent it. Still it's very annoying, as it will look fine in the draft and then really mess up when published. I thought it only occurred when I put up photos, but yesterday's blog had no photos and was still bad.

Last night, I went to an art reception and exhibit with my friend Lynne. She is taking art classes at a community college and this was a showing of art from all the classes for the term just ending. Not everyone in the class had a piece chosen, although she did. At the reception, I ran into a woman I knew! She and I took ceramic classes at the same studio years ago. She teaches at the community college now. The world of local ceramics is fairly small, I guess. I enjoyed the art show. It was fascinating to see what students can do. Some of it was very good. The photos which were computer enhanced were particularly interesting.

After the reception, we went to a little restaurant in Greenbelt (where Lynne lives) which has good Middle Eastern food and, on weekend nights, local musical groups performing. Last night was a jazz combo with three guys on guitars, two on drums and one who played piano, keyboard and flute. (I'm partial to flute playing as I used to play that instrument myself.) The truly unusual thing about this group is that the songs were all in Russian. The music was not particularly Russion, however. The singer had a nice voice, nothing spectacular, and I enjoyed all the music, despite having no idea what he was saying. For me that really doesn't matter, because my hearing is so bad these days that I usually can't understand half the words of a song even in English!

Today Lynne and I are going to an art sale, also in Greenbelt. This will be fun and I might even buy something. It's a small sale, but some of the artists are very good. I expect to see some nice pottery.

The rest of today, I will be baking Christmas cookies, as I promised to bring some to church tomorrow. I started yesterday afternoon when I tried a new recipe for bar cookies. Big mistake! I was in a hurry to get them out, as I was running late so I took them out too soon. They looked done - meringue on top was nicely browned. The recipe didn't say how to tell if they were done. I found out, when I cut them, that they were runny underneath. I didn't have time to stay home and bake them any longer, and I was desperate, so I put them into the oven, which was turned off but still hot, and left them! I figured they wouldn't burn and they might turn out to be edible. When I got home (at 10 pm), they looked fine, but they are very crumbly. Taste good, but fall apart in your hands. I think I will save them to put on vanilla ice cream. Will be delicious that way. Unfortunately, I still have to bake cookies for tomorrow. I'm wondering if I should try another new recipe!!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pay It Forward winners

I know I'm a bit late with the drawing, but here are the winners!



Adria



Quiltingnana



JoanieHoffman



If you ladies will send me your mailing addresses, I will send you a hand-made ceramic piece, hopefully in the next few months. If you have strong color likes or dislikes, let me know and I'll try to pick something that would suit you.



You can find my email address through the blog, in the profile section.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tis the season

We've had two lovely days this week. Mostly sunny and not dreadfully cold. Tuesday I went walking around Lake Elkhorn. There was only one other car in the parking lot. However, there were a few other hardy souls on the trail. No wildlife, except for ducks and Canada geese. I think the herons and egrets have flown south for the winter. Smart birds. Turtles must be hibernating in the mud. Frankly, I'd rather fly south.

I've been busy, although I can't see that I got much done. Among other things, I've been going to rehearsals for the MAD holiday chorus. I've decided to sing a solo in the show. This is not really a big deal, as anyone who wants to sing may do it. Mine will be "Silver Bells". Now all I have to do is memorize the words. I know most of it, but I've never sung the verse before. It's the chorus that most of us know. Good thing that I have a few weeks to get it down.

Yesterday, I did a bit more decorating. Put lights on a holly bush out front and inside along the top of my kitchen cupboards. The stores are putting Christmas decorations on sale already. I bought a few unbreakable plastic balls that were really cheap and hung them from the bare branches of my flowering plum tree out front. Thought about lightson that tree, but decided - not this year. I used the rest of the used multi-colored lights to outline the upstairs windows. They look good, but they are held in place by little rubber suction cups that keep falling off. Everytime I think I've solved the problem, I look up and find another drooping strand of lights. Perhaps this time they will stay up. Patty said to wet the cups before I stick them on the windows. I should go check on them now..... They are still up! Maybe I've won that battle.

I worked in the church library today. I'm part of a group of women who come in on Wednesdays to shelve books, change books displays and process new books. I usually work on the computer, as we are slowly computerizing the card catalog. Probably won't be done in my lifetime! Today I had more fun, as we got out many Christmas books to put on display and put up prints of famous Christmas paintings. I even borrowed a long-handled duster from the custodian and dusted the tops of the bookcases. Talk about dirt! I doubt if they've been cleaned in the 7 years I've been working in the library. The library looks pretty good now. Too bad more people don't use it. We have an extensive collection, not limited to books on religion, but very few people come in and take books out. Sunday School teachers use it, anyway.

A few minutes ago, I finished writing my annual Christmas letter. It's too long - three sheets this year. I try to keep it to two, but that's hard for me. I'm not one who has trouble filling a page, as you have probably noticed! :) I'll either cut it back to two pages or fill the back of page three with photos. I think I did that last year, so maybe that's the way to go. I hope by this weekend to get the letter done and cards addressed and ready to mail. But I have to bake Christmas cookies before Sunday, so probably the cards will have to wait. Kate just puts her Christmas letter on her blog, which works fine, as her friends are all comfortable with computers. However many of my friends are not really in the computer age, so that isn't an option for me. I could certainly put my letter up here, but I'd still have to mail out at least 25 copies to all my computer-phobic friends and relatives.

Monday, December 1, 2008

More Christmas decorations

Here, if I'm lucky, are the other photos of my Christmas decorations. We'll see what happens now..... OK! It only took about 15 minutes. I will now see if I can label them the way I want, i.e., labels near each photo.
This shows the hat/coat rack, the bannister and two Santas perched on top of my CD racks. Yes, I know that stockings do not traditionally hang from a coat rack, but I have no fireplace mantel.
At first glance, this photos looks rather odd. The background is a green screen which separates my living room from the computer in the dining room. The chair in the photo is blue, but has a green holiday pillow, which seems to blend in with the screen. If you study the photo, you can see that the pillow really isn't part of the screen! In the right background is a Christmas house that a friend made for me many years ago. It needs a bit of refastening each year, but I still love it. Thanks, Linda.
The photo below shows one wall of the living room. The ceramic Christmas tree is one I made years ago, when I was doing molded ceramics. It has lights on the branches and a star on top. Looks very pretty at night when it's lit. The pictures hanging on the wall look very much like two cats I used to have. I have no pets now, because I want to be free to travel now that I am retired, but sometimes I miss the sound of those tiny little feet and the comfort of a warm purring cat in my lap. I don't miss the cat hair everywhere or dealing with litter boxes, however!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deck the Halls

Actually, the only hall I have is upstairs, and it didn't get decorated. However, the main floor is highly decorated now. I have spent the last two days putting up decorations both outside and in. Everything except the tree. That chore takes an entire day in itself, as I have an artificial tree which has to be recreated, branch by branch every year before decorating. Maybe next weekend for that. Anyway, the house looks very much like Christmas now with candles, snowmen, snowflakes, winter pictures and Santas - all red and green and white. I will take some photos, but don't have time now, before Sunday School, to do that and get them up. OK, here are some photos. These went up quickly - amazing!


Starting on the right: the front door. The painting is by my niece Terry. It's an old one of hers (not one of her favorites), but I really like it. Trees and snow - works for me. Next is outside: my flag and a lighted snowman on the trellis. Red lanterns and bows on the shepards' hooks. Last photo is the little evergreen out by the sidewalk.

I have more photos, but just now when I tried to upload them, the computer gave me one of those error messages that says "internet explorer cannot find web page". I have no idea what that means, but I'm not going to press my luck. No more photos today.
I had a great Thanksgiving - a real feast. We started with hors d'oeuvres at Patty's house. Cheeses and crackers, salami and pepperoni, nuts, cauliflower with cocktail sauce (poor man's shrimp substitute), and many other raw veggies. That was at noon. About 4 PM we somehow found room for dinner. We had two kinds of sweet potato dishes, stuffing both in the bird and in a casserole, turkey (of course), gravy, cranberry relish (recipe to follow), snow peas in a cranberry sauce, salad, biscuits and finally pumpkin and apple pie. As if this weren't enough for the weekend, on Friday, Patty made turkey taquitos and guacamole and cheesecake, so we ate another shared wonderful meal. If one can't have family for Thanksgiving, good friends are the next best thing!
The three of us took two long walks on Thursday. One to work up an appetite for dinner and the other to settle the dinner so that we had room for dessert. Luckily the weather was delightful - sunny and rather warm for this time of year. Maryland is strange that way - the temperatures jump up and down almost daily in the fall. For example, yesterday we had sunshine all day and temps in the 60s. Today is colder and rainy. I'm not complaining. The longer winter holds off, the happier I am. However, Patty and I were both too busy since then to walk, although I did walk by myself yesterday evening. I have gained 2 pounds just from Thanksgiving dinner, so I really need those daily walks! Probably won't walk today, however. I don't care what the songs say, I don't find walking in the rain romantic, even if I were walking with a cute guy!
Since you asked, here's the recipe for my cranberry relish. First a bit of background. My mother always made an uncooked relish with cranberries and apples and maybe an orange. After Dad developed diabetes, she tried sweetening the relish with saccharine (the only sweetener available at that time). This wasn't very successful, because the cranberries are very tart and if you use too much saccharine, it turns bitter. I had this happen to mine - believe me - it was awful! Anyway, after Mom died, I decided to find a better way to make the relish so that Dad could eat it. This is the result:
12 oz. fresh cranberries, washed and sorted, discarding soft ones
1 can of crushed pineapple in juice (no added sugar) 16 oz can or slightly smaller one
2 0r 3 apples, peeled
2 packages of no-sugar orange jello
orange or cranberry juice, as needed
Drain pineapple. Cut apples into chunks. Put some cranberries and some apple into blender. Cover with juice. Process a low speed until chopped finely. Empty into bowl, draining off juice. Repeat until all is chopped. Using 2 cups of boiling water, dissolve both packages of jello. Add a bit less than 2 cups of juice - pineapple and other. Because crushed pineapple is very juicy even after straining, I don't add quite 2 cups of juice - maybe less a tablespoon or two. Stir, then add fruit. Pour into serving bowl. This looks very pretty in a glass bowl. Cover loosely and refrigerate. I usually make this the day before, as it takes a long time to thicken up. Enjoy!




























Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's beginning to look a bit like Christmas

My house is still decked for Thanksgiving (until Friday), but I've started putting up a few Christmas decorations. I love the Holiday Season and can't wait to get all the red and green and silver and gold stuff on the walls, the windows, the floor, and in a few weeks, on the tree. Anyway, I had all these empty pots out on my deck. And they looked so sad and lonely that I decided to stick some evergreen cuttings (from my own tree) and some poinsettias (from Michael's Crafts) in them. We've had some cold weather and the soil in the pots was pretty much frozen. You should have seen me out there with a metal rod, poking holes in the soil so that I could insert the stems of the decorations. Pretty silly, but hey - whatever works!


I have been trying to upload some photos here, but not having much luck. I just got some kind of error message that makes me think I have to try again, but I'll wait a bit and see. After three tries....
HIP, HIP HOORAY! I won! Third try was the charm. The first two photos show the fake poinsettias on my deck. The third photo is of the corner of the dining area. The red scooter I just recently found at an antique store on my way back from a family visit. I had a similar scooter as a child, so I just couldn't resist. It was cheap, too! The poinsettia is real. The bust in the Santa hat is 'June' whom I think I have mentioned before. June was the model in a sculptor class I took last year.

Today I'm trying to get a head start on Thanksgiving dinner. I'll be baking pies - apple and pumpkin - this afternoon (if I ever stop blogging) and making cranberry relish that is always better the second day. I make an uncooked version with a couple of apples,chopped, a can of crushed pineapple (no sugar added), a package of sugar-free orange jello, and a bag of cranberries, chopped. The jello and pineapple provide the sweetening, so no sugar is needed.
This afternoon, my sink is filled with cold water and a frozen turkey, which I hope is thawing. It's been in the fridge for a couple of days, but still felt pretty solid this AM. The only problem is that I can't use my sink because - duh - the turkey is in it!
As you saw, I did finally get those photos up. I was about to give up. Because my Internet access is dial-up, loading photos is VERY SLOOOOW, even when it works properly. The only advantage to having a dial-up connection is that it ties up my phone lines so I get fewer calls from Verizon trying to sell me a combination package of Internet service, telephone, and television. I keep telling them that I don't want it, but they don't listen! Today, I told the caller that I wasn't interested in buying any package deals and she kept right on talking. Are telemarketers trained to ignore what the customer says? Needless-to-say, I hung up on her.
I just found out today that one of my nieces is reading my blog and has set up a blog of her own. What fun! Diane lives in Wisconsin, works in an environmental job and has a few horses to care for and enjoy. I mentioned her sister, Terry, in an earlier blog, I think. I don't visit them very often, but I always return refreshed. It's beautiful up there where they live. Very rural with many lakes, waterfalls, trees and fields. The night sky is magnificent, with no city or airport lights interfering with viewing the stars and planets. I don't think I would be comfortable living out in the country, as they both do, but sometimes when the traffic here is bad, I do wonder about moving. Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, one experiences real winter, not this pale imitation we have here. I guess I'm too spoiled by years in Maryland to enjoy several months of ice and snow.

Time to work on pies. Soon the house will smell wonderful. I doubt I'll be able to wait until tomorrow to sample.












Monday, November 24, 2008

The holidays are coming and so is winter- brrrr.

Recently, I spent a few days in rural Virginia, visiting with my brothers and sisters-in-law. I love driving over there, as the rolling hills and farmland remind me of where I grew up - in western New York State. It's beautiful countryside. This visit was a good one, despite the fact that both my SILs and I are losing our hearing. What makes this worse is that my brothers are both soft-spoken. One mumbles and the other talks with his hand in front of his mouth. (Jack, if you are reading this, you'll know who I mean!) Many of our conversations are rather repetitive, with voices getting louder and louder until all of us heard what was said. Sometimes by that time, we aren't interested any longer! ; ) The weather was cold, but driving over and back was good - no rain, sleet or snow. One couple was on their way to Florida for the winter - lucky them. They should be safetly settled in by now.

I'm getting ready for hosting Thanksgiving dinner this week. It's a small group, just my friend Patty and her mother, and they help with food preparation, so it's not much work. I'm cooking a 21 pound turkey. Yeah, I know that's really big for three people, but we all want leftovers, so we cook the biggest turkey we can find. My house will smell of turkey and stuffing for days afterward - yum.

Today is the first rehearsal for the MAD (Music and Drama) Holiday Chorus. MAD is the amateur theater and singing group to which I belong. We will sing one concert at Goddard Space Flight Center (the rec. council there sponsors the group), a couple of concerts at local nursing homes and one at a business group's luncheon. I like the Holiday Chorus. The music is always enjoyable and we don't have to memorize it. (I really hate memorizing music). I love singing, and especially Christmas music, so this is going to be great fun.

I have to bake Christmas cookies soon as well, since I think I am involved in two 'cookie exchanges'. They are both the kind where we just bring cookies to eat and the recipes to share - not dozens and dozens to trade with others. Still, that is more baking than I usually do. The problem with baking Christmas cookies is that I keep too many and then, of course, eat them! I'm hoping this year to bake many different kinds, but give most of them away. Kate does this very well, fixing plates for friends and the children's teachers. Last year I helped her bake, although she hardly needs help from me, as her girls are old enough to almost do the baking on their own. Grandchildren grow up so fast!

Sarah, my oldest granddaughter, is now 11 (going on 15!) She took a test this month for admittance into a rather posh girls' school. She won't know until March if she got in, but if she doesn't make the cut, the local secondary school is a good one, so she'll be fine wherever she ends up. I do think that eleven year olds are too young for that kind of pressure, but that's the way the school system in England is set up. Mostly, I think the English schools are better than most here in the US. My grandkids seem to be learning things at an earlier age than my own kids did. Of course, I'm out of touch with US schools. The last time I volunteered in schools was back when I was working for USDA which gave us release time to tutor once a week. The school was in a less than desirable neighborhood in Washington, DC. Not somewhere I'd want to be after dark! The teachers were good, but the kids were several grades behind the suburban schools. Hopefully, things are better there now.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

start of a PIF tag

Ok, we are in business. Post a comment on my blog, saying that you want to have your name in the drawing for this PIF (Pay it Forward) tag. I will draw three names on Dec 3 and announce the winners. Hopefully, in January or February (but more likely March), I will send a hand made object to the winners. (see previous blog for what kind of object)

The rules are that if you win, you have to hold your own PIF tag. You actually have a year to send out the prizes, so it isn't a great burden.

Have fun!

Monday, November 17, 2008

I won!

A few weeks ago, I entered a PIF (Pay it Forward) drawing held by Mumzy. ( http://quiltsandall.blogspot.com ) I was one of the winners and yesterday I received a lovely white scarf made by Mumzy. I think it's crocheted, but I'm not sure - maybe it's knitted. Anyway it is very soft and light as a feather and feels wonderful and warm and luxurious draped around my neck as it is at this moment. I will try to take a photo of it, so you can all see how nice it is. There it is. The scarf is wrapped around "June", a sculpture I did in a class that I took last year.

Since I am a winner in this contest, I now have to hold one of my own. Basically, what this means is that I am asking folks to log onto my blog, and leave a comment to say they want to be in the drawing. We will start tomorrow November 19 and close the contest on December 3. My blog is very new and I don't think I have many readers, but Kate has promised to mention this on her blog, so more folks will know about it. I will draw three names on Dec 4. The winners will receive something hand made from me, sometime in the next few months. If you win, you have to run a PIF tag of your own. (FYI: I do not do much sewing, so don't expect something made from fabric. My hobby and passion is playing with clay, so winners will no doubt get something ceramic.)
We had our first snow today! It came in brief bursts of flakes, between periods of sunshine. Very weird weather. Of course, the snow melted as it hit the ground. I was outside raking leaves and spreading a bit of mulch. Nothing like raking leaves while it's snowing. I loved it!

Plays, phone calls, and a exciting book

This was a theater weekend. Friday was "The Rocky Horrow Show". Then yesterday, I served drinks at a performance of "Joseph" put on by the music and drama (MAD) club at Goddard Space Flight Center. (No, I never worked at Goddard, but they let other folks join the club.) The show is fun to watch and I think the group did a good job. We are all amateurs, of course, including the sound and light people and the musicians. I sometimes sing in the fall shows, but this year my fall was too busy - too much traveling - to even consider it. It was fun to see my friends performing.


Our balmy weather left us yesterday. It had been in the low 70s earlier in the week, but it turned windy and cold. Snow was predicted for Saturday, but it never happened. Today is sunny and lovely looking outside, but not exactly warm. Still a nice fall day. Snow tonight - maybe.


This morning I had an unexpected phone call from my niece Terry who lives in Wisconsin. We chatted about the election and the environment (she's an environmentalist and an artist) and where she and her husband are going this winter. They earn their living at many different jobs, such as: selling her paintings, fur trapping (he does this), teaching environmental programs, conducting loon studies, and so on. They often spend a month or two in the winter in some warm place, doing volunteer enviromental type work. They work for room and board and get to see various interesting places around the world. This winter they will be in Costa Rica for a month. It's always great to talk with Terry, partly because she and I think alike on most issues, although she is much more environmentally aware than I am.

That brings me to a book that I am reading. It is "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. It's a wonderful book - very long, but fascinating. After reading the chapter on the beef industry, I am considering giving up beef altogether. Feedlot conditions are really gross. This book is full of information about sustenable farming, organic foods, and the way our food production has become industrialized. Did you know that the food industry in the US uses as much petroleum in a year as all the cars in the country? Who would have thought that? Kate and I discussed some of the issues from the book when we talked yesterday. She buys some of her food at a farmer's market or at 'pick your own' farms. This book hasn't made me decide to grow my own food, but it does make me want to find a good farmers' market where I can buy food produced in a sustainable (old-fashioned ) way. I highly recommend it to anyone concerned about how our food is produced, processed and delivered.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rocky Horror Show

Last night my friend Lynne and I went to see a performance of The Rocky Horror Show. I have wanted to see this show ever since my daughter was in high school. Kate and her friends used to go to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater. The things she told me about the show were so funny! The group was going to set up a "moms' night" when a few of us moms would go along. However, this never happened due to scheduling. After having seen the show, I think it's probably a good thing I didn't see it years ago with Kate. I was a pretty liberal mom, I think, but I would rather not have realized that my daughter was being exposed to quite that much overt sex. I knew, intellectually, that she was knowledgeable, but still I wouldn't have been comfortable to have that knowledge thrown in my face, as it were.

Actually, I enjoyed the show. It was very funny in many places and the audience participated to some extent. There were a dozen or so young people in the audience who knew the lines and kept throwing in the extra lines which are part of the experience. There were even a few which were not traditional, but referred to more recent happenings. Unfortunately, with my hearing problems, I seldom could understand those lines, but that was ok. I got the general picture. The singing was great. The actors had excellent voices, although they were rather wasted on the songs. And several actors were very good at ad-libbing back at the audience. All in all - lots of laughs and at the end, the whole audience, including us senior citizens, stood up and danced with the cast. A great evening!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Danger - complaining follows

I have just a few minutes to write before I have to leave for lunch with long time friends. We do this every Friday. Whoever is available comes to lunch at a restaurant chosen the week before. It's a fun thing to do and a great way to stay in touch with friends who have moved out of the immediate area, but are still withing a reasonable drive.

Anyway in the short time I have, I want to complain about health insurance. I recently received this year's booklet from Blue Cross and Blue Shield (my secondary insurance company - Medicare is now my primary). The booklet, actually is more like a book at 134 pages long. I was trying to check up on dental benefits as well as what has changed. They seem to have eliminated an index in this year's book, so I had to flip through a lot of pages to find anything about dental. When I found it, I couldn't figure out what they were telling me! I would like to compare this year's benefits, which I know have been reduced, to last year's. However, last year they never sent me a book, so I checked online. Now, I'm not sure I can find out what last year's benefits were! If I want to compare plans from other companies, I'll have to go online anyway. It's very hard to tell what is being offered. Frankly, Blue Cross and Blue Shield is getting a real easy ride with me. They used to have to pay all my health care bills. Now, Medicare pays most of the bill and B&B just picks up the difference. But, did they reduce what I pay them for health insurance? Surely you jest! So I pay twice as much for health insurance (Medicare and B&B) and get just about the same benefits. Except, of course, they are reducing the benefits this year and raising the cost. Please, President-elect Obama - do something about health insurance!!

Today I got a quote on how much my new glasses will cost me. Ouch!! I will go to another place and see what their prices are, but probably won't see much difference. This is in addition to whatever the eye exam will cost. Hopefully, the health insurance will pay for part of that.

I'm very glad that I am basicallly healthy and don't have to deal with health care providers and insurers very often. I haven't the patience for it. I guess you could say that I am not a patient patient. Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun. Punning runs in my family. My brothers are even better (or worse) than I.

Next week, I will be complaining about the cost of car repairs, most likely. Car goes in on Wednesday for a scheduled maintenance. It'll probably cost about the same as the glasses.

Time for lunch now. Sorry for the ranting on this blog. Will try to find something nice to say next time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This and that

Yesterday was Veterans' Day. It's a federal holiday, which used to mean I had the day off. Of course, being retired, every day is a holiday of sorts. However, the last few days haven't seemed that way. It's amazing how busy one can be and still not do anything much. Yesterday, I did three loads of wash, ran a couple of errands and went for a long walk with Patty. We found a new trail to walk and walked further than planned. When we had walked 2.2 miles to an old railroad bridge that Patty wanted to see, I realized that it was 2 PM and I had an appointment to get my eyes checked at 3! We walked really fast on the way back and I made it to the office with 5 minutes to spare.

I get new glasses every couple of years (have worn them since I was 10), so I know the procedure pretty well. This was a new doctor, however, and a couple of things were different. He actually took a photo of my eyes. He showed it to me and I could see the blood vessels - not a pretty sight. The other difference was that he dilated my pupils more than usual. When I left, about an hour and a half after the drops had gone in, I was still seeing starbursts around all the lights. Since it was 5 PM by then and getting dark, there were a lot of starbursts on the way home. Weird, but not a real problem. I drove very carefully.

Speaking of lights, one of the things I did yesterday was buy new bulbs for the flourescent light in my kitchen. I tried putting in just one new one. That used to work on some of my lights. This time, no such luck . I had to replace both of them. The bulbs are like none I had ever seen before. Instead of being a straight long bulb, they are u-shaped. As if someone took two straight bulbs and added a connecting curve. Very strange looking and rather expensive, but they seem to last a loooong time. I have lived here for over 7 years and those bulbs never had to be replaced, so I guess they are good ones.

Today I took Patty to an appointment for a MRI. Afterward, she took me out to lunch at TGI Fridays. I told her that anytime she needed a chaufeur, I'm available for just a lunch! Today was sunny and not too cold, so I when we got back, I decided to get a bit of yard work done. I tore the dead morning glory vines off the trellis in the front yard and clipped and pulled dead flowers from the bed. Also took off all the little watering cans and other decorative items hanging on the trellis. Have to make room for the Christmas decorations, which go up the weekend after Thanksgiving. I boxed up most of the birdhouses that have been decorating my deck railings. I think they will last longer if I bring them in for the winter. I only worked an hour or so, but it felt like much longer.

I don't know if Patty and I will go walking today or not. We agreed to decide at 4, when we would have both quit working in the yard for the day. I had quit by three! I doubt if we'll go, as I think we both are tired. If I didn't have her to walk with, I would hardly ever go walking. I'm not highly motivated to do it, but having someone else to walk with helps get me out there.

Monday, November 10, 2008

back home again

Safely returned from the trip to Pittsburgh. We drove through Western Maryland and West Virginia, up and down over the mountains. Very up and down! I had forgotten how hilly that route was. The alternative, however, involves using the PA turnpike which is a nightmare of big trucks going 70 mph and narrow lanes. We senior citizens don't do that kind of driving, if there is an alternative. The alternative is quite pretty in early fall. Unfortunately, this late, most trees in the mountains were bare. Still, it was a great visit. Saw our friends and their daughter and her fiance. Ate good food and had lots of time to chat. However, I am very glad to be back in Maryland, where the sun shines! It was overcast the whole weeknd in Pittsburgh. My friends tell me that this is typical for that area, especially in late fall and winter. I don't think I could be happy there. I need a dose of sunshine every few days.

In my last post I was muttering about the check engine light in my car. I did reach my mechanic and he said that there are about 40 different things that light could mean. A big help that was!! He said I could drive it as long as the light was steady, but if it started blinking, I should stop and call a tow truck. This is not exactly what I wanted to hear. Luckily I am not doing any long distance traveling until later this month. I have an appointment to have him work on the car next week. It's due for a servicing anyway. I will be car-less for a day, but I actually don't mind staying home, now that I have my studio set up and can play with clay all day. (I will include some photos of my clay things one of these days, but will probably wait until they have been glazed and fired. Right now, they are just brown shapes - not very exciting, except to those who work in clay.)

Friday, November 7, 2008

just a quick note

We're off to Pittsburgh in a few hours, so I just have time for a quick note. It looks like a gorgeous day for a drive through western Maryland and Pennsylvania. Trees here are in full fall color. The woods look as if King Midas has touched them - gold everywhere! This has been an outstanding fall for color.

I have a bunch of errands to do before we leave. One is to call my auto mechanic and see what the 'check engine' light on my dashboard means. This light has been on for several days now and the booklet that came with the car isn't very clear on the meaning. Could be one of about 5 different things - some serious, some not. Hopefully, it's not serious, because I've been driving around with it on all week!! I don't know when I'll have a day to take the car in - I have something going on every day next week.

Have to get a couple of things mailed, including a card and some little items for Kate's birthday. Nothing big, as I left a present with her when I was there in September. Amazingly, she chose to wait and open it on her birthday. She's much better at delayed gratification than I am!

Stores aren't open yet, so I have a bit of time to kill. I need to pack, but everything is laid out, so packing will take no time at all. As usual, I am taking far more than I need. I can never decide what to take, so I take everything I might possibly want. I suspect this is a symptom of having far too many clothes. I am trying not to buy any more and also trying to discard things I don't wear or that don't fit. Even so, there will still be several closets full of things that do fit and I do wear - at least once in a while. I keep things forever, I guess. Until a few years ago, I still had some blouses that were my mother's - she died in 1978!!

So, I'm off and running now. Will be back Sunday late afternoon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's finally over - and we won!

At last the election has come and gone! Thank you, Lord. Now perhaps my newspaper (The Washington Post) will have room for some news that isn't connected to any election or politician. I am, as you might guess, delighted with the results. I think this election will help the US with our image in the world - frankly that image badly needs improvement. Electing a Black man to be President doesn't mean we have overcome all our prejudices, but it sure shows a lot of progress. Now, no more politics on this blog, for a while at least. One of my brothers says he hasn't looked at my blog because he is sure I filled it with political stuff. (My brothers are both conservative Republicans.) I must send him an email later this week and tell him it's safe to read it now!

This is my morning to work at the church library, so I haven't time to write much. No photos uploaded today. This is going to be a busy week, with various tasks added to my usual schedule. It amuses me that I think I'm very busy when I have two tasks to do in one day. How spoiled I am in retirement! Anyway, nothing exciting is going on until Friday when a friend and I are driving to Pittsburgh (in her new car) to visit old friends (oh, sorry - not 'old' but long-time friends!). It'll be great to see them and good to get away, although the weather up there will be cooler than here and probably rainy. Who cares about the weather when one is with friends?

Monday, November 3, 2008

fall in Maryland

I'm going to be at home all day today, so I will have time to put some photos up on this blog. Because I take my photos at a high resolution, it takes a looong time to upload them and keeps my phone lines tied up. (Yes, I know I should get DSL or whatever, but I just hate to pay the extra money for it when I can usually manage with dial-up.) Actually, I don't mind having my phone tied up. Most of the daytime calls I get are people wanting me to give them money! Anyway, if this works, there will be below some photos taken around my neighborhood and on the trail by the river where I walked yesterday. Wish me luck!

Yes, success at last!
.---- ----
The view from my deck. -------- Close up of first view. ------Trees in neighborhood.


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My front steps. -----------Looking down my street. ---------- We do get some red in the trees.


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The path we walk. ------------------Trees reflected in the river.
/
/
The river thru the trees
/
/
Well, I guess you could say that I was successful. Still having problems. I can't get the text to wrap around the photos, so there is this big blank space up there. Also, the photos seem to move closer together, when my back is turned! No kidding. This has happened several times. So, for some of them, I used dashes as spacers. The others I'm going to leave as is and see if they move again. Yep, they shifted when the draft was posted. I put the spacers back in. Hope this works
/
/
In my waiting time, while I was uploading these photos, I stripped my bed, did three loads of laundry, including putting the clean laundry away, started some homemade chicken soup, finished reading the paper, clipped coupons from three booklets, and switched the contents of my waist purse from the old bag to a new one. Let's just say, it took quite a while. And that's all for today.















Saturday, November 1, 2008

Boo to you!

Last night was not exactly warm, but some of us braved the cold and sat outside anyway, admiring the kids in costume and having a bit of a party of our own. We had a lot of trick or treaters. I had purchased two bags of candy from BJ's (discount store) which gave me about 400 pieces of candy. I had about 100 left when I closed up shop at 8:30. Now I just need to hide that candy so that I don't eat too much of it at a time! Here are some photos of my decorations and the kids next door in their costumes.


------------.

A family down the street always does something very scary. They set up a tent in the yard and had a mad scientist/doctor inside. The daughter is the victim, tied up and begging not to be used for body parts and discarded. In one corner there was a pile of 'discarded body parts'. A son was dressed up as a zombie, just standing along the wall. The room was full of fog - very spooky. As the 'doctor' tells us to leave by the other door, the zombie leaps forward and grabs someone. I entered with three teen age girls. You should have heard their screams when one of them was grabbed. Of course, the kids in our neighborhood all knew the 'actors' so they weren't really scared. Still, it was pretty cool.
Today it was sunny and warm - truly Indian Summer. It was a gorgeous day and I tried to find reasons to be outside. I took down the Halloween decorations and puttered around in the yard. Patty and I went walking down by the river this afternoon. Took some photos of the trees and the water. I would put some of them here, but I'm having a terrible time getting photos onto this blog and positioned where I want them. Kate seems to do it with no trouble, but everything goes wrong for me. It takes a long time to upload them and then as I was moving them around, I lost two of them and had to reload. So no more photos tonight. I have run out of patience. Time to get off the computer and read a bit before bedtime.


















Wednesday, October 29, 2008

sightseeing

My friend Bonnie arrived yesterday in time for dinner. I roasted a chicken, with stuffing even, and baked an apple pie. Both were yummy, if I do say so myself. I so seldom cook these days. Hardly seems worth it just for me. It's nice to have a reason to cook and nice to have leftovers!

Today we went into DC via the Metro (subway). I used to ride Metro all the time, but haven't been into the city much since I retired. Things have changed some with the parking lots, but we managed to buy our fare cards and arrived at our destination - a store called The Peruvian Connection. It has lovely sweaters and other clothes mostly made in Peru. Also some dishes and pillow cases. It's a bit pricey for me, but the things were gorgeous. Bonnie bought a wonderful outfit. The building has very distinctive architecture outside and is interesting inside, with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. They use antique Peruvian pottery as wall decorations. I loved the place, but I didn't buy anything. I was tempted, though.

Bonnie took me out to lunch - at a seafood house. I had a wonderful seafood stir fry with shrimp, scallops, fish and vegetables in a ginger sauce. Delicious! After lunch we went into the American Art Museum, which was right across from the restaurant. I had never even heard of the place, although I worked downtown for years. They had a special exhibit contrasting paintings by Georgia O'Keefe with photographs by Ansel Adams. Although they both worked in the West, mostly they are very different artists. Her work is all broad strokes of color with most detail smoothed over. His photos are black and white and very detailed. But some of their pieces (of adobe churches, for instance) were rather similiar. A fascinating exhibit. The museum is fairly small - just the right size for a couple of hours of relaxing touring. And it's part of the Smithsonian, so it's free!

Bonnie brought her cocker spaniel with her. It was a bit odd having an animal in the house again, but her dog is a cutie and very friendly. I'll miss him when she leaves in the morning. (well, of course, I'll miss her too, but we do correspond, so we stay in touch.) I don't want a pet again, but it's been fun having one for a couple of days. We took the dog for a long walk this evening along a nearby river. The leaves have turned lovely fall colors along that path. It was pretty cold today, but the predicted snow never did arrive. I thought I saw flakes once in the city, but probably it was just dirt in the air!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

house cleaning

I have a friend coming to visit next week, so I am using her visit as impetus to clean my house. I enjoy having a clean and dust free house, but I truly hate wasting time doing the cleaning. Basically, I do a lot of picking up, straightening up and spot cleaning on a regular basis. I only do major cleaning a few times a year - when I am changing my seasonal decorations or when company is coming. So this morning, I started dusting in the living room. I then moved through the dining room (not much to do there) and to the kitchen. I started just wiping one countertop, but somehow it escalated and I ended up moving all the stuff off and really cleaning. I don't know what got into me! I removed the burner pans and cleaned the stove. Even took a swipe at the fridge, although I didn't touch the freezer. (It has so much stuff piled in it that one cannot see if it's clean or not!) At this point the kitchen looks really good, except for the floor. Floors are next on my next list and I hope to get them done today. However, I will have to clean the upstairs tomorrow. I'm winding down fast now. Bathrooms are on the list, too, although the guest bath is pretty clean, as no one has used in quite a while. I really miss Andy (my 2nd husband, now living in Virginia) when it comes to house cleaning. He did the vacuuming, which I hate, and also the bathrooms. On the other hand, since he's not here tracking in oil and dirt from his job, I don't have to clean as often, so I guess it's an even trade.

We are getting a bit of rain today and a lot of wind. Interestingly, the temperatures are much warmer than the last few days. It's shirt-sleeve weather today, although it's a bit wet to be outside. A last gasp of summer, perhaps.

My studio is coming along. With the help of two neighborhood boys, I got my desk out of my car, finally, and into the house. I slid it down the stairs and it's in place in the studio. Fits perfectly. Today I tacked up an old plastic tablecloth on the wall, so that if clay, glaze or water splatters, it won't soak into the unfinished wallboard. If I ever get the clay recycled, I can actually work there.

Friday, October 24, 2008

in the newspaper

I wasn't going to write this morning, but there were some gems in the paper that I found interesting, amusing or outrageous and I just couldn't resist sharing them. Kate will tell you that Iused to send these to her regularly. Now she has to read my blog. :) I'm sure you will have already seen or heard some of these. Let's start off with the only political one - Sarah Palin's wardrobe. How in the world can anyone spend $150,000 on a wardrobe and makeover? As a woman who only buys designer clothes when they are in the thrift shops, this simply boggles my mind! If she were the Vice-President or the wife of a President (remember Jackie Kennedy?) and were spending her own money on clothes and whatever, it would be nothing too unusual. We all know that VERY RICH PEOPLE do exist and some of them are probably nice folks. I've never known any personally, so cannot speak from experience. I am sure that their values are somewhat different from mine, especially when it comes to clothes. Furthermore, this makeover had to be a mistake. Sarah Palin was supposed to represent the working class, soccer mom. Ha! I don't know very many of them who wear designer clothes, do you?


Next is about early voting. This is an experiment that some states are trying. Maryland is not one of them, as far as I know. Anyway, in Florida, lots of folks decided, for whatever reason, to try voting early. Perhaps they hoped to avoid long lines on Election Day. Boy did they make a mistake! Lines in some Florida cities were VERY long and people waited hour and hours in order to vote. The good thing about this is the enthusiasm these people have for voting. They didn't get mad and go home without voting. They waited and voted. So often, here in the US, our registered voters are indifferent and so a rather small percentage of eligible voters actually vote. Seems as if this year that may be different. I sure hope so. It's about time we Americans realized how important our right to vote is. Too many places in the world don't have that right. Power to the voters! My feeling is this - if you didn't vote, then you can't complain about what Congress or the President (or your mayor) does.


And here's something we haven't heard ever before. Alan Greenspan is admitting that perhaps he was wrong in opposing any forms of control on the derivitives market. (At least I think that's what he is saying. I'm not real sure when it comes to economics.) A week or two ago, I blogged about the one person who tried to get the 'experts' to let her agency supervise derivitives. (Brooksley Born of the CTFC). Greenspan hasn't exactly said that she was right, but he is admitting that perhaps he wasn't quite the expert that everyone thought he was. We used to think he was God in the world of economics. Now, he's just another failable human being.


On a local level - an experiment is being tried in southern Maryland with teenage drivers. Video cameras are put into the cars that the teens drive. The cameras focus both on the road and on the inside of the car. If a sudden maneuver - like braking sharply or turning very fast - is made, the device records what has happened and posts the information on a website that the parents can access. Otherwise, nothing is saved from the video. As you might imagine, some teens whose parents have put these cameras in the cars are very upset. Actually, the article only quotes two girls - one is furious with her parents, but I noticed that she still drives the car. The other says she didn't like it at first, but that she has become a better driver as a result. She has not been 'caught' by the camera doing anything wrong, but she says it makes her more conscious of how she drives. The issue that didn't come up at all in the article is this: Why do these teens think they deserve a car anyway? Have they lost the ability to walk? My daughter had a car her last two years of high school, but only because her father gave her on old one that had been her step-mother's. Kate was a good driver and at that time insurance coverage for girls was pretty cheap, so I didn't object. My son did not even have a driver's license until he graduated, because he spent several years at a military school where they were not allowed cars. I refused to pay the extra cost of insurance just so he could drive during vacations. Going further back, (I know I am being a 'dinosaur' about this) when I was a teenager (in the dark ages, otherwise known as the 1950s) almost none of my friends had cars that were actually theirs. Many of us were allowed to drive the families second car to evening activities, but never during the day to school. In fact, students had to have special permission to park a car in the school parking lots. Very few kids did so. This was even more true at the college I attended. Students just didn't have cars. Somehow we all managed to survive without them. How times have changed!


And one more item that shows just how different today's world is. Two Dutch teenage boys were convicted of theft because they forced another teenager at knifepoint to transfer virtual treasures to them - in a video game. Evidently virtual theft is real! Who knew? They got probation, not a virtual or real jail sentence.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

shopping big-time

Yesterday afternoon, I went with Patty and her mother to BJ's - one of those membership discount stores. I used to have a membership there, but found that I bought far too many large amounts of food products, which eventually went bad before I could use them. How can one person use up 8 jars of olives before the sale date? Anyway, about once a year, I go with Patty and stock up on mostly items that will keep. If you've never been to BJ's or Cosco you might have trouble imagining the store. It's huge - like a warehouse - and has primarily food products and medicines. They even have baked goods and very nice produce. Also some non-food items like TVs, electronics, clothes, books, etc. The catch with the food and drug items, is that they are all in very large packages. I bought toilet paper - 32 rolls, I think. Eight boxes of tissues. These things will keep, of course, but they did take up a bit of room to store. Since I don't have a freezer (except in the top of my fridge), I don't buy much frozen stuff or meat products. This time I rather overdid it on the frozen low-cal dinners, the Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, and frozen blueberries. Blueberries, as you know, are supposed to be especially good for us, but fresh ones this time of year are outrageously expensive. The frozen ones will do fine on my breakfast cereal. However, when I got home and started putting things away, I wasn't sure I would get all my frozen items into my little freezer. They made it - just barely. Guess I'd better start eating those blueberries right away!

Even before I got home, I knew I had bought too much stuff. (Actually, that idea came to me at the cash register!) My mini-van was already somewhat full of: three bags of books are going to the hospital gift shop where we sell used books; a HUGE bag of plastic bags that I can't seem to remember to return to be recycled at the grocery store; a folding chair that just stays in the car, various car related items, and at the moment, a desk! I got this very cheaply at a local thrift store where it was loaded into the back of my van. This will be my work table in my ceramics studio, if I ever get the thing out of the car and down into my basement. Hopefully, my young strong neighbor will come over one of these evenings and take it down for me. I don't mind driving around with a desk in my car, but I really would like to get in into the studio. With my car loaded up already, perhaps you can see why putting all my purchases in there too was an interesting exercise in creative stuffing. It reminded me of years ago when college students would compete to see how many people could get into a VW beetle or into a phone booth. (For younger readers: phone booths were wooden boxes that sat on street corners and contained phones that anyone could use by putting coins into a slot in the phone. I think they are found only in antique stores now.)

I walked twice yesterday - not counting the hour of wandering around BJ's. Walked through the woods and around the ponds at Patuxent Wildlife Center with my friend Bill. We don't walk very fast, as the trails through the woods are tricky - tree roots and fallen leaves. I, who am likely to trip just walking around my house, am fairly cautious walking along unpaved paths. It's a lovely walk. The trees are beginning to turn and we saw a Great Blue Heron as well as many Canada Geese. One gaggle of geese had a leader who was white - obviously a domestic goose, gone over to the wild side!

Then after our shopping expedition, Patty, her mother and I walked around my favorite lake in Columbia. It's on our way home, so it was a good choice for our evening walk. There were still a few people on the trails, but the sun was setting as we finished. That was beautiful, as we watched the sunset on the water. The yellow and brown tree leaves look golden in the setting sun. Next time I must take my camera. Not much wild life on that walk. We did see another Great Blue Heron. The white egrets seem to have gone south for the winter. I haven't seen one this week at all. I'll see them again - hundreds of them - if I get to Florida this winter.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

switching papers

When I moved to Laurel, 7 years ago, I switched from subscribing to the Washington Post to the Baltimore Sun. Laurel is just about equidistant from Washington and Baltimore, but I found that the Sun had more news articles about Maryland than the Post. The Post, being the paper for the capital of the US devotes a lot of space to politics. Anyway, I was very happy with the Sun until recently when, due I'm sure to fiscal constraints, they made radical changes in the paper. I won't go into detail, but will just say that the number of pages decreased radically (probably by one third to one half), the format went from 6 columns per page to 4, and they introduced a number of changes, which in my eyes, ended up 'dumbing down' the paper. So, I called them and cancelled and then took advantage of an offer from the Post to get really a cheap subscription for a couple of months. I've now been reading the Post for about a week and, although I do find there is too much political news, considering we are only a few weeks away from our Presidential election, all the papers are full of politics. So, I am adjusting to the Post and like it much better than the "new, improved" Sun. Yesterday I received a large envelope that turned out to be from the Sun. It included a booklet of coupons to various local activities - theater, sports events, etc. - , a book of cartoons by Kal, the Sun's political cartoonist, and an offer of a really cheap rate if I would come back to them. Do the people at the paper really think that this package will bring me back as a subscriber? I am insulted and amused that they think so little of my intelligence. I really should write them a letter and explain in detail why I think they have ruined a good newspaper. I probably won't do that - but it's tempting. Not that it would make any difference in the long run. I 'm sure that newspapers, like any other business, look at the bottom line, which is what their advertisers will pay, based on the number of subscribers. However, I doubt they will attract many new subscribers with their new format and they may lose others like me who want more real news and less fluff in their paper.

Patty and I have started doing something different on our neighborhood walks. We had noticed a lot of trash along the curbs and in the common areas, as well as in people's front lawns. So, we are carrying plastic bags and wearing gardening gloves now and picking up trash. One of us collects recyclables and the other, trash. The bending down is good exercise and we can still keep up a pretty good pace of walking. We do not go down to the creek, however, although there is plenty of trash down there. The creek runs through our development, crossing and recrossing the roads. The banks from the sidewalks to the stream are steep and we aren't going to risk a turned ankle by climbing (sliding?) down and struggling back up, just to get a piece of trash. However, one day, we plan to make a trip specifically to climb (carefully) down those banks and clear the stream. Last night we gathered a full bag (grocery bag) of trash, but only a few bottles and cans. Even if we don't find much, it is something that will make our neighborhoods look better and help the environment - and it's easy for us to do.