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Monday, January 1, 2018

Chilling Out...Literally

With the stroke of a minute hand, one year has ended and  a new one has begun. Do I feel any different? Not really. It's mainly remembering to change the year on any checks I write. It's also knowing winter is only a couple weeks old and the worst is yet to come.

After a gorgeous extended autumn, winter cold has struck early. For the last few days, the temperature has been in the teens or lower. The night wind chills have been in the single digits and it's supposed to continue for at least the next week or two. As much as I hate the extreme cold, I feel bad for Erie, PA. They ended up with fifty inches of snow in thirty-six hours. It's a good reason to hibernate, and an easy goal to keep while Old Man Winter and Jack Frost have their fun.

Mom used to watch the Patriot games with me. She didn't understand anything about the game but she loved to watch them play in the mud and snow. To her, literally getting down and dirty was more fun to watch. She would have loved the game played earlier last month. I don't recall what teams were playing but it snowed during the game and they ended up playing in a snowstorm. The snow was piling up fast and every time someone made a tackle or a player went to ground, the light, fluffy stuff was tossed around. It was like watching a bunch of kids diving into the accumulation.

I have to say, those players were mighty brave yesterday during their final game of the regular season. The temperature was fifteen degrees early on. By the time the game was over, it was a "cool" twelve degrees. Why were they brave? At least a third of the players didn't have long sleeves. They made me cold just watching them.

Since I have no intention of going anywhere for the next couple months, you'd think it would be a good time to set up a few goals for the rest of the year. The last couple years, my goals have pretty much fallen by the wayside.  Only one goal is being met now and even that one is four years overdue. What is it they say? Better later late than never? This queen-size quilt was supposed to be a wedding gift but I ran into problems before I could get it going. Since I started on it a month ago, (I'm stitching blocks by hand) I've been making good progress with half the blocks made. When I get the rest stitched, I can lay them out to decide on the order they'll be put together. If I keep it up, the intended couple just might get their wedding present before their fifth anniversary.

I've decided not to set any other goals since I've done such a poor job of late to keep previous ones. I figure by not setting more, then I won't be disappointed when I don't complete them. The possibilities are simmering on the mental back burner. If I do get any of them done then I'll be pleasantly surprised. So I guess THE goal would be to try to get some things done that have been waiting forever for attention.

In the meantime, I'll do my best not to become a popsicle while rooting for the Patriots as they go for an unprecedented #6.  

Here's hoping you achieve whatever goals you set for yourself in 2018.

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.