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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Do What You Love

For the last three months I was determined to get some things done that had been put off for too long. Unfortunately I didn't accomplish all I'd hoped. In the meantime I racked my poor brain for some topics to write about. I'm always looking for something different, something entertaining, amusing or maybe subtly instructional. With politics being the hot topic for months, it can be hard to come up with something that would interest others and avoid verbal war.

I like to watch the nightly news. They usually end their broadcast with a "feel good" story that lets you forget about the bad things going on in the world, even if it is just a few minutes. Earlier this week, something did catch my attention. It had to do with football and a running back for the Baltimore Ravens. Alex Collins has found for himself an interesting and challenging "hobby" if you will.

Everybody has a hobby in mind, or two or three, they would love to indulge in. Sometimes circumstances won't allow you to follow it because of time constraints, or maybe a budget that can't handle another dent. Other times you can just dive right in. Somewhere along the line, it's very likely that hobby might very well be tied to a career, sometimes in the oddest ways.

Getting back to Alex... He took an interest in Irish dancing and it's paid off for him on the football field. He can run faster and is more agile at avoiding members of the other team. This type of dancing takes up a lot of energy and you need good balance and posture since most of the dancing is done on the front part of your feet. When he was first learning, Alex says the kids teased him but now they dance with him and have fun.

It reminds me of a series that was on TV some years ago, called Fame. It focused on a group of high school kids attending a school similar to Julliard. One particular episode dealt with a football team from another school, touring the Fame high school. After watching a dance class, a couple athletes sneered and said anyone could do what the dancers did. With support from the teacher and the team's coach, a time and date was set and the challenge was on. By the end of the series of competitions, the football players were exhausted, and amazed that the dancers could keep up and in some cases surpass them. Lesson learned.

 Dancing isn't as easy as it looks. But there's something to be said about the rigid moves of Irish dance and the sound of taps (not to be confused with tap dancing) keeping the rhythm even when there's no musical accompaniment. I've always found it mesmerizing

If I were a few years younger and not such a klutz... (Klutz is the wrong word here. Some people lack a certain grace when they move about and I'm definitely one of them.) I might have given it a try. The point is, life is fleeting and we should make the most of whatever time we have. Find what makes you happy, whether it burns a lot of energy or provides quiet distractions. Then run with it. Or if you're like me, you have a bunch of things you love to do and not enough time to do them all. Now, I'll just sit back with needle and thread and finish my embroidery project.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Battle of the Buttons

I get a lot of emails every day, while some days generate more than others. Some companies send out a bunch on a daily basis. They have instructive newsletters and send out several different ones, new products, frequent sales. If something doesn't catch my interest, it either gets sent to the circular file or I might leave it for further perusal when I have more time. Sometimes the spam gets through (although once in a great while a spam email proves to be useful.) Sometimes something I've been expecting gets sent to the spam folder. Apparently, the system can't always tell the difference. No problem -- most of the time.

Then there are the emails that, for whatever reason, no longer interest you. Maybe the information they were offering turned out to not be what you were looking for. Or maybe they're an affiliate of someone from whom you get regular email. That's the equivalent of snail-mail companies selling their mailing lists.

Owners of email lists have certain rules they're required to follow. And as far as I know they follow them diligently. About the most important, as far as I'm concerned, is the ability to unsubscribe. They may have the button present, but it seems there's nothing in the rules that says the button has to work. Guess what? Eight out of ten don't work. I haven't the foggiest idea what the reasoning behind that action could be. I've tried sending email to them. Sometimes that works, other times, not so much. So the battle begins.

I might often go back and try again, but when the cursor passes over a link and nothing changes, it's a good bet the link is dead. If it worked, it should change from blue to purple. If anything, it's more likely to fade a bit. That's not going to stop me since I have my own weapon.

 It's called a delete button.

Every day I go through my email list a couple times to keep it from getting out of hand. A list of a hundred emails, for various reasons, may end up being whittled down to ten. It's worse when my laptop decides to take a mini-vacation. I've had as many as four hundred emails waiting for three days, and I'll end up keeping, maybe twenty-five to read. The delete button gets quite a workout. There's a line in one of the Marvel Comic movies where Captain America says, "I can do this all day."  Same goes for using delete button.

Sooner or later the emails I can't unsubscribe from will have to disappear. The owners will have to purge their lists of non-active clients/customers/followers or the list will get too big to handle. Until that happens, it's just a matter of which is more determined: a non-functioning unsubscribe button or a working delete with a happy 'trigger finger.' .

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Up A Tree

A tree stands sentinel outside my living room windows. It's a type of oak and has a lot of gall(s). I thought they might be some kind of seed pods but according to my Word Finder, a gall is described as "a growth produced by insects or fungus on plants and trees, esp. on oak." What made me think they might be seed pods was seeing birds peck on them. Maybe they aren't seeds. Maybe they're little insect condos and the birds attack on a fairly regular basis.

 There's a sidewalk's width between the tree and this building. Apparently, some years ago the residents living closest to the tree complained about branches hitting the building. So the city had the offending growth chopped off. From my view, it sort of reminds me of a doll house, where one outside wall is non-existent and allows you to watch the goings on. Believe me, every once in a while there is something going on that elicits a chuckle. Birds can be just as crazy as humans when it comes to behavior. I sometimes wonder who learned it from whom. There have been sparrows, chickadees, blue jays, robins and a couple cardinals. There was even a downy woodpecker earlier in the spring. I haven't seen any mourning doves this year but when they do come around, they seem to prefer the courtyard on the other side of the building.

Near the base of the trunk, the oak can't be much more than twelve inches in diameter, although I admit it's hard to judge when you're looking down at it from a third floor apartment. The distance can skew your perspective. Because it's so slender it sways a lot. (think of those balloon-like thingies that you sometimes see at gas stations, or in from of businesses that might have something special going on. they get shots of air that make them bend, wiggle and sway as if they were alive.) While this tree can't wiggle, it certainly is more 'limber' than I am in the way it can move. The higher the wind, the more it bends. This past winter we had wind gusts that got pretty high and I thought for sure the trunk was either going to snap or the whole tree was going to go over. Fortunately, neither scenario occurred. One afternoon in early spring, a couple blue jays were sitting on one of the branches. They  were hanging on to that branch as the wind picked up. Their feathers were getting slightly ruffled but their balance became a bit precarious. Needless to say, they didn't stay on that branch very long.

When there are no birds around (which is rare since there are nests beneath the edge of the roof of this building. Even when the nests are empty the birds appreciate the shelter from bad weather, no matter the season) I like to just watch the tree, watch the thin branches and the leaves ripple in the slightest breeze and the sunlight.  I can let my mind wander, consider new writing plots or figure out how to fix a scene to make it better. There are no dull moments where the tree is concerned. Who knows, it could end up in one of those scenes. As long as I'm living here, I'll watch it grow and dance with the winds.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

So Knot Easy Choices

Hi...  My name is Marissa and I'm a craft-aholic.  I was about ten years old when I used to watch a friend's mother making doilies. She had no visible pattern and her crochet hook was always moving a mile a minute, or so it seemed. Her attention was more on the conversations she carried on with friends while she didn't seem to be paying any attention to what her hands were doing. I told myself then that some day I'd learn how to crochet.

I attended a vocational high school where some of the teachers taught two entirely different subjects. Mrs. Rodericks taught quantity cooking to junior girls. We got to make lunch every day (two of four alternating semesters) for the rest of the students. When she wasn't teaching cooking, she taught embroidery. That was my introduction to needle arts. We made samplers of all the stitches we learned, as we learned them, in the same way mothers taught their daughters for hundreds of years.

After I married, I taught myself how to crochet. Checking out diagrams to see how more complicated stitches were done wasn't easy. It was like following one long strand of spaghetti with several twists. After tracing the diagram with a crochet I finally figured out how the stitch was done and got to work. Eventually I was brave enough to make a crocheted tablecloth. All those pineapples weren't so hard to make.

The next thing was learning to knit and eventually I made a cable sweater with pockets for my husband. Some years after we went our separate ways, he told me he still had the sweater.

Every once in a while I get the urge to expand my horizons, challenge myself to learn a new craft, which has led me to one great truth that all crafters share... We are "hoarders".

Hoarding isn't quite the right word. That insinuates we purchase things and just sock them away, never to be seen again. Crafters aren't quite like that, although it may be considered pretty close. We love to lay in large supplies we refer to as "stashes." I don't deny it can get out of hand. If you're not careful, it can become something of an obsession to have whatever we might need available at any time we get a bright idea. Of those bright ideas, I'd say most, if not all the projects, are made for family, friends, or charities. Personally, I make small blankets that go to an animal shelter.  When the cats or dogs are adopted, a blanket they've been using goes home with them. Having something familiar offers a sense of security and makes it easier for them to adjust to their new home.

What used to be bookshelves are now set up in closets and filled with craft supplies. Stashes of fabric in not so organized piles for quilting, tote bags filled with yarn and neatly stacked, embroidery floss and beads in sectioned storage containers, and lots of craft books and patterns. One of the things I want to learn is tatting, with all those lovely little, delicate knots. That should be fun.

Like all good crafters, if I'm not reorganizing, I'm trying to whittle down my stash a bit. Get control of it? No so likely. It just means making room again for something else that'll catch my eye. Ask any crafter what it's like to enter a fabric store or yarn shop and try to ignore those subtle whispers. (My sisters and I refer to those places as Danger Zones. Lead us not into temptation.) When fabric, yarn and beads stop begging me to bring them home, then I know I'm in real trouble. It might knot always be sew fine but as long as it doesn't leave me in a bind, it can be a ton of fun.

If you're a crafter, won't you briefly share your current project?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dump the Cook(ing)

For most of my adult life, my philosophy regarding cooking has been: If it takes more than ten minutes to prepare, it takes too long.  Where the attitude came from, I'm not sure, but I could probably blame it on a young family. Like the day I made shepherd's pie and took the time to put it neatly in layers then stick it in the oven for a few minutes to brown the top. I carefully served it up for my boys only to have them stir everything together until it looked like three bowls of gray slop. That was the first time they'd ever done that. Needless to say, I never went through all that trouble again. Just cooked everything, mixed it all together then put it in smaller bowls for them. It seemed the messier the meal looked, the better they liked it.  Go figure.

As time marched on, I graduated to casserole dishes with their nice heavy glass covers. They were still kind of messy, what with the water evaporating and clinging to the inside of the cover until you removed it and the moisture condensed. I don't recall making an actual casserole but whatever I did make in those dishes (had, and still have two of them) it usually came out decent but it was still too easy to end up with it slightly burned.

Along came the slow cookers. I love a slow cooker. Plug it into an outlet on the kitchen counter, put it on simmer and leave it for a few hours. What I don't like about it is trying to clean the earthenware pot that goes inside. Those things are heavy. Add to that the fact I'm short and the kitchen counter is thirty-six inches high. Makes it hard to remove the pot from the cooker but I did find a solution. There are cook-in bags you can stick into that pot but the best part is when I store the left-overs. I let everything cool a bit, then twist the top of the bag, fold it over and put the whole thing into a large storage bowl and into the fridge. No fuss, no muss.

All this has gone one step further and I'd say it's my all-time favorite.  The pros have taken dumping to include side dishes, soup for one, and desserts. You can even collect ingredients, place them in a coffee mug with instructions and give them as gifts. I like the idea of making desserts in a coffee mug. The single serving eliminates the temptation of wanting more without doing the work, as opposed to just cutting another slice of cake, for example.

Cooking shortcuts have come a long way. Chefs have gone so far as to endorse sets of pans that do just about everything and have minimal clean-up. (I've got a couple and they're everything they claim.) There's hope for us yet, whether we lack the knack for food prep or just don't have the patience for it. This "part-time" cook may not get dumped after all, but she's going to be doing a lot more dumping in the future.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Green Or Black?

Two choices in thumb color present a challenge every year and this year's challenge is just getting started. No matter how the season turns out, I look to the next season to try again. The last few months have been a learning time and it isn't over yet. My apartment faces north which means no direct sunlight, (but it can be bright on sunny days) and downright cold winters. The windows might have double-pane glass but they're set in met frames which means there are some terrific drafts.

By early winter I moved the small plants to a table in the living room where they wouldn't catch cold, (especially when their little roots were watered). The ceiling light isn't the best idea but it's better than nothing on those cloudy days where little light came from the windows. I'd say 90% of the winter days were overcast. The spider plant and devil's ivy were too big to put on the table with the others. That didn't leave me much choice but to keep them in the windows and hope they made it through the winter.  They not only survived, but thrived.

The spider plant produced three runners but keeping it on the window sill isn't exactly idea because those runners can't dangle naturally. Hopefully they can hang in there until I can get them settled into a bigger pot and set it on a barstool near the window. Have you ever seen pictures of large pots with spider plants in them, in a Victorian setting? The leaves seem to go every which way and the 'babies' like to 'hang around.' That's one of my goals this year, to see that plant get huge and have all her little ones clustered around her. Like the old woman who lived in a shoe with all those kids around.

Mom was something of a frustrated gardener. She spent years studying houseplants, reading up on everything she could find about specific ones, their care and feeding. Plant food was organic, fish emulsion, which was supposed to be good for plants. I don't know about that. I only knew when she fed them. The house smelled like fish on those days. (Even cooked fish smelled better.) She got plants that were supposed to be easy to care for. Iron plants were dubbed as being almost impossible to kill, but Mom found a way. Three of them.

She told me several times, "My thumbs are black. I read all I can about plant care and my plants die. You don't do anything besides water your plants and they thrive." I never told her I liked Miracle Grow plant food. She hated that stuff. I felt kind of bad for her and often thought she tried too hard to be successful. After she passed away I was able to keep her last two plants. One, a Z-Z plant, began growing like crazy when I switched it's menu to Miracle Grow, and so did her geranium. Unfortunately, the geranium died recently, as did my two geraniums. I think the apartment had a lot to do with it since it's quite different from the one we had for ten years.

Having gained some plant experience over the last few months, I'm ready to start again for this summer. I have to wait a month longer before doing anything but that's okay. The wait is worth it. To me, a house (or apartment) isn't a home without at least one plant around.

Monday, February 27, 2017

We Interrupt The Commercials...

We were introduced to a new form of entertainment when television came into our homes. There was the Wonderful World of Disney, Tom & Jerry cartoons; adventure shows like Robin Hood, William Tell, Sky King, The Lone Ranger and live comedy shows. Along with the shows, there were sponsors. Of course.

When you had all this transmitted into your home somebody had to pay the bills, so commercials were invented. It was big companies like Texaco, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson that stepped up to help pay those bills. At the same time they got to boost their sales pitches, promote their tried and true products as well as introduce new ones. As television took hold and gained in popularity, so did the number of companies willing to sponsor new shows. It was a money-making idea that couldn't fail.

In the last seventy years or so, commercials (as well as regular programing) have become more sophisticated along with advancing technology. That's all well and good but there comes a point where the whole concept can be overdone. Don't get me wrong. In the last few years there have been some really great/cute commercials. They hold your attention without hammering at you to buy their products. There's the boy dressed as Darth Vader who tries unsuccessfully to use the Force then is startled when the family car starts up. Then there's the Clydesdales. Who doesn't love those magnificent horses? (Have you ever stood near one of those animals? I have and it made me feel small, like a child. They are so huge!)  But when does it get to be a bit much?

A few years ago, viewers complained about the volume of the commercials being louder than the programs they were paying for. I know they want to be seen and heard but when it's startling it kind of defeats the purpose. We don't like being yelled at by some barker intent on making sales. And when a commercial pops up in a bad spot, like in the middle of dialogue, it takes a few seconds to realize the programing has taken a break. Some commercials are good at cutting in seamlessly so you don't realize the switcheroo. After a ton of complaints hit the FCC, something was finally done about the problem. Programs were required to lower the volume on commercials. It sort of worked but it seems to me the advertisers found a way around the problem. The programs were taped/filmed with their own volume turned up a bit so the commercials, in contrast seemed quieter. I don't know about anybody else but that's how it seems to me.

There's another way the advertisers get to you. Have you ever stopped to count how many ads are  run in a single break? I have. In the last month, two of my favorite films have been running on a movie channel. Now, one of those films, I know for a fact, is three hours long. When it was shown, the time slot was four hours, and this wasn't even the Director's Cut.  What I learned was, for every ten minutes of movie and you get five minutes of commercials. Since those commercials are only thirty seconds long, you end up with five commercials at every break. So five minutes of every fifteen means twenty minutes of every hour is devoted to selling some products. At the end of the broadcast, you've seen one hour of advertising. That's sixty commercial messages.

 I know these programs have to be paid for and there are people who love commercials so where do we draw the line? Some years ago, the British had a solution. Commercials didn't run until the end of the broadcasting day. I don't know if they still do it that way, but it might be something to consider.

In the meantime, I suppose all we can do is "interrupt the commercials to return to the regularly scheduled programming."


Dodie stopped and gave her a questioning look. "Tessa, has no one told you? Your groom arrives with the prince."

"My...groom?" Tessa paled.

                                                                    - from Diamond In the Rough