Saturday, January 31, 2009


Ever since the big ice storm back in December, our local landscape has changed. There are great numbers of trees down, some of them cascaded one onto another, having fallen like dominoes. Each time we’ve headed out into the woods this winter to do some snowshoeing, it’s been a bit challenging. We’ve had to find new routes; overcome new obstacles, because subsequent snowstorms and ice storms and everything-in-between-storms have brought more branches and trees down.

This afternoon was sunny, a little breezy and very cold (16 F, -9 C). We had flurries and snow squalls last night which left us two inches of fresh powder. That fluffy snow rests over a good inch and a half or more of crusty, icy snow, which in turn is covering better than a foot of snow from earlier storms. Unfortunately, the icy layer completely trashed the baskets on my ski poles. Needless to say, today’s trek was sometimes quite a slog! We were only out for about an hour and a half and well bundled up, but it took ages for us to thaw out once we were back home. A little grilled eggplant, with baked pasta helped warm us up. Although the tossed salad and the pinot noir were chillier counterpoints!

The icy layer

Baskets? What baskets?

Big, beautiful birch down

At eye level

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Compare, Contrast, Then Smile

I really enjoyed this article in the New York Times by Sheryl Gay Stolberg. It starts out feeling like a light piece about the relaxing of the dress code in The White House. But by the end, it speaks volumes about the cultural and attitudinal differences between the Obama-Biden administration and the recently departed Bush-Cheney-Rove cabal.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Show Us The Money!

In the midst of all the discussions and politicking about the Economic Stimulus Package, it would be prudent not to be blinded by all the bright cable news lights and keep in mind that our money sits in many different pots. And some of those pots are leaking like sieves. In the current issue of Mother Jones magazine, David Cay Johnston has written a jaw dropping article entitled Fiscal Therapy. In it, Mr. Johnston spells out several ways existing regulations and tax laws could be rewritten to make things far more fair for tax paying citizens and allow money to flow into our state and federal coffers. If your more of an aural learner, here’s a link to an interview Mr. Johnston did on NPR’s Here and Now with Robin Young.

After reading the article or listening to the interview, you’re as ticked off as I am, please do as I did and contact your senators, congressional representative and the White House. If you do it by e-mail you can embed the link to the article.

Here’s what I e-mailed to our senators, congressman and the White House, via their contact pages:

Dear __________,

I urge you and your staff to read the article by David Cay Johnston in the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine. ( )

In the article, entitled "Fiscal Therapy", Mr. Johnston spells out several ways existing regulations and tax laws could be rewritten to make things far more fair for tax paying citizens and allow money to flow into our state and federal coffers.

Thank you for your service to our nation and for your attention to this very important matter.


Feel free to copy, paste and tweak the text to make it your own.
: : Here’s the link to the White House. Click on “Contact Us” in the upper right of the opening page. (You’ll have to shorten the message slightly.)
: : Do you need to find the contact information for your senators? Follow this link to the U.S. Senate and use the “Find Your Senators” search box in the upper right corner of the page.
: : Looking for your congressperson’s contact information? Click on this link to the U.S. House and enter your zip code in the upper left hand corner of the page.

Another IKEA Fan Is Born

I mentioned last week that my Mom wanted us to pick up a bookcase for her the next time we went to IKEA and how appreciative we were for the excuse to go to there. Yesterday, we went and visited with Mom and delivered her new Billy bookcase. Chuck had it assembled in no time and soon it was in place and holding an assortment of Mom’s favorite books. She loved it! Chuck was the recipient of many hugs and Mom even did a brief happy dance. Mom then placed a small lamp on top of it and stepped back to admire the effect. That’s when she said she might like a small chair to put next to it, to create a little reading nook. We quickly thought of the Tullsta chair from, who else, IKEA. We have one in the corner of our bedroom (with the Idemo Beige slip cover) and love it. Mom hasn’t given us the green light for the Tullsta, but we stand ready to head off to IKEA at a moment’s notice!

Who’s Brenda?

Here in Massachusetts, there’s a local chain of restaurants called the Piccadilly Pub. It’s not a restaurant that ever causes me to rave and wax rhapsodic about its menu items. But it’s a reliable restaurant with reasonable prices for generally good fare. However, recently we stopped in at the Pic up near UMASS Medical Center (near the intersection of Shrewsbury Street and Route 9) for a quick meal. After we finished our main meal, the waitress asked if we’d like dessert. Chuck ordered “Brenda’s Bread Pudding”. I have nothing against bread pudding, but rarely order dessert out in a restaurant unless chocolate is a key ingredient, so I passed. The waitress, obviously much more intelligent than I am, brought Chuck’s generous serving of “Brenda’s Bread Pudding” with two spoons! Chuck took a bite and got a look on his face that said “YUM”. He kindly slid the plate over toward me. The warm, creamy, custardy bread pudding was swirled with cinnamon, dotted with plump raisins and drizzled over all with a caramel sauce. I dipped the tip of my spoon into the sauce and immediately was transported back to my grandparents’ living room. Gagee and Gramps always had a dish of cellophane wrapped Kraft Caramels on an end table. This sauce tasted exactly like them. The bread pudding was excellent. And, surprisingly, the addition of the caramel sauce did not make the whole dessert cloyingly sweet. It just all went together very well. There was nary a drop of chocolate in sight, but it was an extremely satisfying dessert. By the way, I think Brenda’s version may be a seasonal special, so you’d do well to swing by sooner rather than later.

Now, who’s this Brenda and how do I get her recipe?

Update: DancingMorganMouse kindly left a recipe for her killer caramel sauce in the comments section. Thanks Morgan!

Monday, January 26, 2009


While I had enjoyed comforting and restorative miso soup in restaurants, it was Chuck who first introduced me to the basic ingredient, miso paste, more than two decades ago. It was dark, dense, with a strong flavor which always reminded me of soy sauce and kept forever in the refrigerator. Then, a couple of years ago, we were in the Whole Foods store out in Hadley, when we discovered a Massachusetts company called South River Miso. It was like going from ho-hum instant coffee to espresso. It was a revelation.

South River makes a wide variety of miso. At the risk of being the kiss of death, I have to say our favorite is their “Sweet-Tasting Brown Rice Miso”. It manages to be both delicate and complex. But we also keep jars of their darker “Three Year Barley” and “Hearty Brown Rice” in the refrigerator. (The miso really can be kept refrigerated for an indefinite period of time.) The South River website has lots of recipes and interesting information on how they make their miso - something they’ve been doing for about three decades, most of that time on their farm out in Conway.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It’s A Small World

And thanks to technology and the internet it’s getting smaller all the time.

During President Obama’s Inauguration, a stunningly talented quartet performed a composition by John Williams called “Air and Simple Gifts”. Actually, to be precise, an audio recording of the piece was made before the inauguration by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gabriella Montero. With the below freezing temperatures, there was no way their instruments would be able to stay in tune. So the musicians played, but were not amplified and the audio recording was broadcast. Well, the piece was lovely. Chuck was able to find a good recording of the piece in video format over on YouTube. But we couldn’t find a strictly audio version - CD to purchase or otherwise. Chuck and I even briefly tried to figure out how to download the YouTube video to his computer, but no dice.

Enter serendipity and the ever shrinking world. Over on Twitter, a 15 year old blogger from Singapore named Xavier Lur, whose Twitter name is KidTechGuru, began following my Twitter posts. I went to see who he was and also checked out his blog. He keeps up with everything new and nifty in the tech world and writes very clear, concise posts about them, including why something might be a good thing to check out. The posts are about technology gadgets and gizmos, but are not so heavy with geek speak that a 50 year old like me feels lost. One of his posts was about how to easily download a YouTube video to your computer. So we followed KidTechGuru’s links and his instructions and Poof! the “Air and Simple Gifts” video was on Chuck’s computer. We dragged it into the movies folder in iTunes and we were all set.

Well, almost. We have a non-video playing iPod and Chuck wanted to be able to just listen to the music. So I opened Garage Band ‘08. I chose Create a New Podcast Episode from the opening menu. Then, from the Media Browser, I chose the recently downloaded video of the inauguration day performance. I dragged it over to the Tracks area. It loaded as a Movie Track and a Movie Sound Track. After playing around for awhile, I decided to delete the Movie Track. That left the Movie Sound Track. I then chose Share > Send Song To iTunes. The song arrived in iTunes and we easily renamed it and added all the relevant information.

And that’s how a 15 year old kid in Singapore, helped my 65 year old husband in Massachusetts, listen to an exquisitely beautiful piece of music, from the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama in Washington D.C.!

Please Note: Despite all the fun we had making this work, as soon as a real physical CD or downloadable MP3 becomes available for purchase, purchase it we shall!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Remember To Look Up

So, we were driving slowly (the automobile equivalent of ambling) along the road at the Quabbin Reservoir on Monday, when we saw a man standing at the side of the road. He had an enormous zoom lensed camera aimed up toward the treetops and sky. My first thought was eagle. I peered up and instead of an eagle, I thought I saw a nest. But my eyes couldn’t resolve anything useful. Chuck pulled the car over and I walked back down the road. The well equipped photographer had already driven off. As Chuck caught up with me, this is what we saw:

Much clearer, right? Yeah, not so much. It was former Boy Scout Chuck who first sorted out what was so interesting. It was a porcupine. He was dining on tree bark. If it hadn’t been for the first photographer, we would have driven by, completely unaware of Mr. or Ms. Porcupine’s lunch spot du jour.

They say if you walk around a big city, looking up at the skyscrapers, mouth and eyes open in wonder and awe, you will immediately be pegged as a tourist. No doubt. But in the forest, who cares? You never know what you might find.

Friday, January 23, 2009


On Monday, after we dropped off Cassie at the veterinary hospital, we stopped in at the Quabbin Reservoir. The Swift River Valley towns of Prescott, Enfield, Greenwich and Dana no longer exist. The towns were taken by the state in the 1930s. The citizens were uprooted; graves relocated. Aqueducts were constructed and the valley was “drowned” in order to supply Boston and it’s greater metropolitan area with clean drinking water.

The Quabbin Reservoir still provides drinking water to citizens of the Commonwealth living 60 plus miles away to the east. To drive along the roads or hike the trails, it’s visually difficult to reconcile Quabbin’s tumultuous, wrenching past with the peaceful wildlife refuge it is today. But in the stillness, especially on a snow muffled day, you can begin to sense the folks who once went to school, farmed and made lives there; who were born and died there.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Still Wish...

Last year and the year before, I wrote and posted this piece. My feelings have not changed. I believe it bears repeating. Even though we have just crossed over into a new presidential administration, we still have the same membership on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is key to this issue.

Today is the 36th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court Decision known as Roe v. Wade.

In light of this anniversary I have a few wishes to state:

- I wish, that from this moment on, no woman would ever have to make the decision to have an abortion.
- I wish contraceptives, including the morning after pill, would always be readily available to all women.
- I wish that all young people would be taught age appropriate sex and health education.
- I wish that all young people would be taught that abstinence is a legitimate choice, at the same time they get clear information about all forms of contraception.
- And I wish that abortion would always be safe and legal and available to all women.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cassie’s Back

Our cat Cassie is home from her veterinary adventure. She is not quite settled in nor is she fully her usual self. The good news is she doesn’t glow in the dark - well, not appreciably! She did have to wear a special I.D. collar during her ride home in case (heaven forfend) we were in a car accident, knocked unconscious (or worse), so that the rescue folks would know Cassie was radioactive had just had Iodine-131 treatment!

They sent us home with a special clumping kitty litter. Why? Because even though it is clumping, it is flushable. So for the next two weeks we need to scoop her litter box twice a day (while wearing gloves) and send it down the toilet. Because most of the residual Iodine-131 is excreted through Cassie’s urine, we cannot put that into the waste stream. But it has a relatively swift decay rate and is water soluble. So it’s pretty safe, just requires us to take extra precautions for a little while.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song For The Day

Praise song for the day.
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other,
catching each others' eyes or not,
about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise.
All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din,
each one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem,
darning a hole in a uniform,
patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky;
A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."
We encounter each other in words,
words spiny or smooth,
whispered or declaimed;
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone
and then others who said,
"I need to see what's on the other side;
I know there's something better down the road."
We need to find a place where we are safe;
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain,
that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks,
raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce,
built brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle;
praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign;
The figuring it out at kitchen tables.
Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."
Others by first do no harm,
or take no more than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love,
love beyond marital, filial, national.
Love that casts a widening pool of light.
Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today's sharp sparkle,
this winter air,
anything can be made,
any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp --
praise song for walking forward in that light.

- Elizabeth Alexander, Poet

The poem written for the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama and read on January 20, 2009. (Transcription from the New York Times via Congressional Quarterly.)

For Mary...

Please hold Mary, part of Sue’s extended family, in your thoughts. Mary has recently been diagnosed with cancer. She needs all our good energy, good wishes and prayers right now...

Inauguration Day!

Yes, I do have the capacity to be hyperbolic. But today is the second happiest day of my life, trumped only by my wedding day to Chuck!

I have always been an unabashed patriot. From the time I was a little kid, the Founding Fathers have inspired and shaped my values. Growing up during the violent, tumultuous and painful 1960s and 1970s, this day has been a long time coming.

We debated going to Washington D.C. for the Inauguration. Part of me still wishes we had decided to go. But being able to watch it all from the warmth and comfort of our home definitely has it’s advantages!

I’ll be updating this post throughout the day. I’ll time stamp them in the same order blog posts run: most recent at the top.

To keep up with what other folks are saying, go to the Twitter search page and click on the tag: #inaug09. (Thanks to Dan Kennedy over at Media Nation for the heads up on that.)

: : Updates:

11:07 p.m.: Forgive me, but seeing the footage from this morning, of then Vice President Dick Cheney being wheeled out of The White House, all I could think of was mean old Mr. Potter from "It’s A Wonderful Life". Does that make President Obama, George Bailey? Yup. That works!

10:01 p.m.: President Obama hit all the right notes at the Commander In Chief Ball. He spoke to the military service personnel in the hall and as well as via satellite with some Illinois service people stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. A very moving (and surprisingly humorous!) point in the evening.

8:33 p.m.: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are looking fabulous at The Neighborhood Ball! I believe they are dancing to “At Last”, a la Etta James, sung by Beyonce!

4:54 p.m.: I can’t help but feel relief that the Obamas and the Bidens are now ensconced in the reviewing stand and watching the parade in safety.

4:34 p.m.: After a brief return to the limousine, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, once again walked the parade route - as did Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden. Such youth, vigor, excitement and promise overflows today!

4:04 p.m.: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are out of the limousine and walking down the parade route, waving to the cheering crowds!

3:42 p.m.: Big shout out and an acknowledgement of enduring gratitude to the members of The United States Secret Service.

3:33 p.m.: It happened earlier today, but it’s still very cool to click on the link to The White House and see the new Obama-Biden administration firmly in place.

3:25 p.m.: President and Mrs. Obama are in the new limousine (nicknamed: “The Beast”). The parade is about to begin.

3:10 p.m.: Our thoughts are with Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Robert Byrd, both of whom needed medical attention at the Congressional Luncheon in honor of President Obama and Vice President Biden. Holding them in our hearts...

12:45 p.m.: We have a new administration: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden! It was a wonderful ceremony. From the prayers to the poem, from the swearing ins to the inaugural speech, all the right notes were struck. More later...

11:45 a.m.: I am loving the pomp and circumstance! Barack Obama is being introduced. This is real. It’s really going to happen. I am overwhelmed with happiness...

11:41 a.m.: Joe Biden was introduced and the crowd went wild. Barack Obama is about to emerge. How can he look so calm, cool and collected? Well, that’s part of why we elected him!

11:34 a.m.: Unfortunately, the crowd just booed and sang the “Hey, Hey Goodbye” song when current President Bush's image came on the screens. Not a good moment.

11:26 a.m.: Malia and Sasha Obama just arrived with the First Grandmother, Mrs. Marian Robinson. There seems to be a continuity of theme with Malia, Sasha and their Mom each having a ribbon as belt on their outfits.

11:22 a.m.: The crowd is roaring it’s approval as the Clintons are introduced. Meanwhile, the moving vans are at The White House...

11:17 a.m.: O.K., I’m not too keen on the color of Michelle Obama’s outfit, but I love the overall look of it. Style points to the first President Bush and his wife Barbara for their matching purple scarves. Yes there is a touch of “we’re headed to the big game - Boo Yah” about it, but I still like it.

11:08 a.m.: I wish I had a bank of televisions up on the wall to take it all in. I keep alternating between CSPAN and MSNBC.

11:01 a.m.: The current and future Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies and Second Ladies are arriving at the Capitol for the Inauguration. The sun is shining. The people in the crowds are waving small American flags and smiling, smiling, smiling!

10:45 a.m.: I remain impressed by how cordial and smooth the whole transition of power is here in the United States. Seeing Michelle Obama with Laura Bush and Barack Obama with George Bush, after coffee at The White House, it is slightly surreal and quite wonderful!

Happy Birthday Sis!

Today is my sister Gail's birthday!
And the whole country, heck the whole world, is throwing quite a party!
O.K., technically, the Inauguration and all the celebrations aren't in Gail's honor, but it's just one more reason to celebrate this fabulous day!
Happy Birthday Gail!
...and many more!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Early Start

This was the view out our kitchen window this morning. I had been rushing around, getting ready to take our cat Cassie to a veterinary specialist for thyroid treatment. I had started the day in the dark. But I looked up to see this sky, over this winter landscape and I stopped to let it settle in on me.

Cassie will be receiving Radioactive Iodine Therapy (Iodine-131) to treat her hyperthyroidism. When we first adopted Cassie six years ago, along with her “sibling” Abby, they were both, well, a little on the heavy side. (Truth be told, they were both a couple of chunky monkeys!) And they were both very, very ill. Once we nursed them back to health, we got them on diets. In about a year, they were both slim and trim. But over the last year or so, Cassie began to look skinny, feel appreciably lighter and began vocalizing in a way she never had before. Their regular veterinarian has the girls on annual blood work and urinalysis. Cassie’s last test results confirmed the changes were due to an overactive thyroid.

We had three choices: medicine administered twice daily or surgery or the Radioactive Iodine Therapy. Because giving Cassie a pill twice a day, every day, for the rest of her life, would significantly shorten our lives due to blood loss from scratches, that one was out! The surgery didn’t have a high enough success rate and she might still need medication. That left treatment with Iodine-131, which has a success rate of 96% after only one treatment. It costs a small fortune, but we knew she was never going to go off to Harvard or Yale, so we raided her college fund!

Barring any complications, Cassie will be home Wednesday. Maybe we’ll frame the receipt from her therapy and get her a teeny, tiny mortarboard...

: : Update: 3:45 p.m. Tuesday
We just got a phone call from Cassie’s veterinary specialist. Cassie came through the procedure with flying colors! Yay!

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968)

Layout and paper by LMR/Pink Granite. Software: Apple iPhoto ‘08 & Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Mac. Transparency: Street Grunge Scratch by Brandy Hackman. Texture: Grunge Textures 1 - Scratches/Grids by Lori Cook (both available from Scrap Girls). Fonts: Hypatia Sans Pro.

As always, feel free to click on the image to get a better look.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration Info

It’s difficult to believe that on Tuesday, President-Elect Barack Obama will, at long last, become the 44th President of the United States of America. The last eight years have been such a blight on this country and the damage has by no means been confined within our borders. As I watched Barack Obama and Joe Biden travel by train from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder if their shoulders are broad enough to handle the tremendous burdens facing us. But it won’t be just their shoulders alone, it will be all of us. From members of the President’s Cabinet to the Congress to every citizen, as well as world leaders and folks all around the world. So many of us want to rise up and out of the complex financial and geopolitical morass we are mired in. The challenge is enormous; we are all charged with working on the solutions.

The best source of information during this transition of power from the current Bush-Cheney administration to the Obama-Biden administration has been the website. If you are looking for all the details on the upcoming inauguration, the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s website is the place to go.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Shepard Fairey, Meet George

South Carolina native and Rhode Island School of Design graduate Shepard Fairey, created an iconic poster of (then candidate) Barack Obama during the 2008 United States presidential campaign. Recently, Paste Magazine launched a webpage where you can create your own version of Shepard Fairey’s Obama “HOPE” poster. When you go to you can upload your own image to the site and then, using a very simple interface, adjust the red, blue and cream color sliders until you achieve the desired result. You can also customize the word at the bottom of the poster. advises you upload a photo in a ping “.png” format. The most successful replication of the Fairey image occurs when you lift the bust of the person you want to transform out of a photograph and lay it on a transparent background. The transparent format allows Fairey’s blue and red split background to be revealed. I used the Magnetic Lasso tool in Photoshop to select my Dad from a copy of the photograph I posted yesterday. Then I used the Move tool to drag and drop Dad over onto a new transparent document. Finally, I saved that new document as a .png file.

Many thanks to Morgan for pointing me in the direction. She posted about it last Wednesday. But the website has been so popular, it took me this long to get to it when it was up and running properly. I think Paste Magazine has amped it up now so that it is much easier and quicker to use.

Friday, January 16, 2009


You’ll have to imagine his deep, blue eyes.

That’s my Dad, George, around age 18. He wasn’t just a good looking fellow. He was a real gentleman and a genuinely nice guy, with a great sense of humor. Had the Alzheimer’s not taken him, Dad would have been 89 years old today. But he passed 21 years ago next month, at the age of 68. The acute grief of the early years has long since eased. But there are so many times when I wish I could tell Dad something; share something with him; make him laugh; tell him I love you and thank you once again.

For instance, when we bought an HD-TV and tuned in to a sports network, I thought: “Man, Dad would have loved watching Bruins’ hockey or the Patriots play football on a television like this!” Back when we first had access to UHF in the mid 1970s, the Boston Bruins’ matches were broadcast on channel 38 out of Boston. Dad would get the tiny black and white TV set up "just so" in the northernmost bedroom on the second story of our home in Rhode Island. Then he would painstakingly adjust the rabbit ear antennas until a snowy, static-y picture emerged. I don’t think he could even see the puck for the snow, so HD-TV would have been a revelation!

Other times when I miss my Dad are food related. When we first discovered the beer from the microbrewery in Bar Harbor, I wanted Dad to try it. It was the same thing with Ethiopian and Eritrean food. Dad enjoyed spicy, exotic meals and I think he would have gotten a kick out of eating the Injera soaked with lamb and chicken dishes, heavy with berbere sauce.

But I miss Dad most when I’m happy. Family was everything to Dad. His career was secondary; primarily a means to provide for all of us. I’m lucky to still be able to talk with my Mom every day. And Mom has been able to be at her grandchildren’s weddings and other festive occasions. Yet those are the moments when I think how much Dad would have treasured, celebrated and loved being there in the middle of his joyous, laughing, dancing loved ones. Then again, those are the moments when he really is with us most intensely in spirit.

Happy Birthday Dad. Thank you for everything. I love you.

Whoa Nelly!

Northern New England

Southern New England

The lowest temperature we saw on the thermometer last night was -8 F (-22 C). But it must have dropped even further overnight. These two screenshots are from the New England Cable News, NECN, website. To have Cape Cod (the little hook shaped peninsula in the lower right of the bottom image) at -6 F (-21 C) is incredibly unusual. But the folks up in the northernmost parts of Maine were at -52 F (-46 C)!!!

If nothing else, I hope this helps my regular readers from the Southern Hemisphere feel a little more comfortable with their summer temperatures!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

We Went To Our Happy Place

We made a pilgrimage to IKEA today. We had promised my Mom we would pick her up a Billy bookcase for her bedroom. (Thanks for the excuse Mom!) But we also wanted to check out their winter sale. As always, from the Showroom to the Cafe to the Marketplace, we had a great time. (Sorry Roo!) It had been quite awhile since we were at the Stoughton store and some areas had been rearranged. But we managed to find everything we were looking for. At one point we couldn’t find the cabinets and sinks for bathrooms display area and were briefly alarmed that we had missed our opportunity to purchase the Hollviken sink we always pine for. But a quick consultation with one of the staff members reassured us that the sink is still in the pipeline (as it were!). And because they said a couple of new collections of cabinets (currently available only in the U.K.) would soon be arriving, we once again resisted the sink. We just wish the Hollviken could fit on Akurum kitchen cabinet bases. That would give us many more style options. I think Chuck and I need to scour the internet for some relevant hacks and put our thinking caps on about the problem. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Work & Play

You know I love all of the Apple products I use. That said, I was convinced that I did not need to upgrade our existing iLife and iWork software packages. All that changed when I watched Philip Schiller do the 2009 MacWorld Keynote Address where Apple rolled out all the gee whiz, holy cow, bells and whistles of the the iLife ’09 and iWork ’09 editions. It didn’t take long before I wanted them. By the end of the presentation I felt I really, truly needed them both!

iWork is where Pages, Numbers and Keynote all live (documents, spreadsheets and presentations). iLife is where iPhoto, iMovie, Garage Band, iWeb and iDVD all live. I’ll note just one amazing new feature: facial recognition within iPhoto. Yup. With just a few clicks, iPhoto will seek and find all the photos of whomever you choose. Suddenly you have a folder of all the photos of little Susie or Tommy, making sorting through photos for digital scrapbooking much easier.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spinach and Chicken with Gnocchi

This is one of those quick and easy “meals mostly from the pantry” dinners. It’s my own recipe, so I have very few specific amounts. If you’re comfortable winging it in the kitchen, this is a very straight forward and tasty meal. In fact, Chuck asked me to write it down!

Onions - diced
Garlic - crushed
Olive Oil
Red Wine
Stewed Tomatoes - 15 oz can chopped - do use the juice
Marinated Artichoke Hearts - small jar drained
Box of frozen Chopped Spinach - thawed and drained
Hot Sauce or Pepper Flakes
Sugar - just a pinch
Ricotta Cheese - Part Skim
Chicken Breasts - thin
Potato Gnocchi (or pasta)
Asiago or Parmesan Cheese - grated

In a large pot, start salted water to boil.

Salt and pepper the chicken breasts. In a large, preheated sauce pan, drizzle some olive oil. Lightly pan sear the thin chicken breasts on both sides. Remove chicken from pan and set aside to hold.
Deglaze the pan with a little sherry and red wine. Add the onion and garlic (and a little more olive oil if needed). Cook until onions have softened.
Add stewed tomatoes with their juice, the artichoke hearts and the spinach. Add some pesto. Add salt, pepper and hot sauce or pepper flakes to taste. Add a pinch of sugar, if needed, to balance out the flavors. Simmer. Add a couple of heaping spoons of ricotta cheese to the sauce and stir to combine.

Nestle the chicken breasts into the sauce. Reduce heat to low and cover.

Add the gnocchi to the pot of boiling, salted water and cook according to directions. The kind we buy cooks very quickly.

Drain the cooked gnocchi.

Plate the chicken and gnocchi and then spoon the sauce over both. Add some grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese. Serve with a red wine such as a pinot noir or chianti. Enjoy!

Rightful Place

Both Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were named to the Baseball Hall of Fame today! Rickey made it in on his first round of eligibility; Jim got in on his very last chance. These guys, both left fielders, were terrific players and deserve this honor. Sweet!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

If Einstein Wrote It...

...then it must be true!

Miss Morgan Mouse, the one who’s always dancing, frequently finds interesting and quirky places on the web. This time, I have found one. And you can find it here. Have fun!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More Frozen Moments

I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs. But the freedom afforded me by my digital Canon PowerShot S2 IS, brings me great joy. I love being able to snap away, trying different angles and settings. The Wednesday into Thursday storm this past week provided me with ample opportunities to play - and play I did!

A lilac twig, encased in ice, topped with a snow toque. I like the bokeh effect.

This is the field I wrote about in my poem “Two Days In August”.

Trees against trees, playing with light, foreground and background.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Sue in South Africa, asked me about the eggnog Chuck and I enjoy during the holidays. It’s hard to know the exact origin of eggnog, but it likely was first concocted in England, hundreds of years ago. Here in New England (maybe all over the U.S.?) eggnog is available in the dairy department of any grocery store from before Thanksgiving in November, through at least the turn of the New Year. We usually buy Hood brand eggnog (although the idea of some of their new “flavors” makes me shudder!). Commercially prepared eggnog is pasteurized and therefore prompts less concern about the possibility of salmonella.

Eggnog can be served with or without alcohol such as brandy, rum or bourbon. Because we think of it as a celebratory holiday drink, we usually add the liquor. We like Gosling’s Dark rum from Bermuda. And just to put all the misconceptions to rest about Chuck and I being heavy drinkers, we are still using the same two bottles of Gosling’s light rum and dark rum which we bought in Bermuda, on our honeymoon, seventeen years ago!

Here’s a traditional recipe for eggnog (using an uncooked egg) from The Country Hen in Hubbardston, Massachusetts. The Country Hen is an organic farm with free walker hens, who lay eggs rich in Omega 3s. The farm is tested regularly and continues to be salmonella free, so, personally, I trust their eggs. The Country Hen also has a recipe for a Hot Egg Flip. Flip is a British term which usually refers to a hot beverage containing alcohol. This recipe is basically a hot eggnog.

Alton Brown, of “Good Eats”, his long running Food Network show, has a recipe for eggnog which provides the option of cooking it. If you’d like to listen to Alton talk about the entire topic of eggnog, (including his deep loathing of commercial eggnog!) check out this segment on National Public Radio.

And if you want a more tropical take on eggnog, you can try Bobby Flay’s recipe for Puerto Rican Eggnog with coconut milk. A video of Bobby making this version can be found here. This one might be just perfect for those who celebrate Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January Here

Yesterday began with snow, followed by sleet which eventually turned to freezing rain. That freezing rain slowly but steadily accreted on every twig and branch. Well past nightfall, the snow began again, leaving a heavy confectioner’s sugar dusting over all.

When today brought bright winter sun in blue skies, I headed out to take a few photographs. This is my favorite. It was taken just down the road, across the street, where the stream flows into the pond.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Ties That Bind

My maternal great great great grandmother Margaret was born in the Connemara region of western Ireland around 1830. She and her daughter Winifred (named after Margaret’s mother) emigrated to the United States and settled in Rhode Island. Winifred eventually had a daughter whom she named Mary Winifred. Mary Winifred gave birth to my Gramps, whom she named John Mervyn. Gramps married Marion, my Gagee, and they had my Mom, Dorothy.

Winifred to Margaret to Winifred to Mary Winifred to John Mervyn to Dorothy to me - that’s all it takes to think about seven generations over 160 years or so. When you pare it down to seven people, the decades fall away; the miles shrink; the ocean no longer matters; we are simply family. Winifred, my fourth great grandmother, couldn’t imagine me or my life today, but everything she did was in some way for me. Letting go of her widowed daughter Margaret and her granddaughter and namesake Winifred, as they sailed off to America, never to return, had to have been wrenching. But that journey, that leap of faith, was made in search of a better life. That journey was for me and all the other too-distant-to-imagine generations to come.

It was many years ago that we learned one branch of my family tree had sprung from the soil of Connemara. Soon after, Chuck gave me a single decade rosary made from the green Connemara marble. Over the years, I’ve said many a rosary with the green beads clicking through my fingers. I don’t say the rosary the way I once did, but that small rosary is always with me. I carry it in my purse. It connects me to a tradition, to a religion, to a comforting reflex many generations of men and most especially women in my family have turned to in times of stress and thanksgiving. Most importantly, it connects me to my family. Not just Winifred, Margaret and little Winifred who I know were born in Connemara, but to all my kith and kin, their names unknown to me, who came before Winifred. And it even ties me to my distant relatives, unknown to me, who stayed behind in Ireland and made their lives there, down through the same generations.

We are all family, all bound together; all owing debts of gratitude to the generations that came before us; all owing gifts of knowledge and love to the generations traveling with us and coming after us.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thank You Mr. Parker

It is a relief to throw oneself into a good book. It need not be a heavy, ponderous, thought provoking book, but it must be absorbing and well written. When I’m looking for something which will instantly draw me in I choose Robert B. Parker. Yes, he’s the same Parker of “Spenser” fame. I’ve enjoyed his Spenser detective novels and his one-offs, especially “Double Play”. But my current favorites are the books in his Sunny Randall series. Two features of note in any Parker novel: great dialogue and attention to small, illuminating details. Considering the brevity of many of his books, those are significant achievements and emblematic of his talent.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Of Lasting Value

Occasionally, in a fit of frugality, I consider ditching or seriously reducing our cable television. After all, we were limited to radio during the 157 hours of the recent ice storm power outage and we did just fine! But then Turner Classic Movies runs a terrific old film and I’m completely hooked again. This time TCM ran “Libeled Lady” (1936) and William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow kept us smiling for the entire movie. “Libeled Lady” is the sort of picture that causes the overused compliment “they don’t make movies like that anymore” to spring unbidden to ones lips. It’s a smart and funny film with just enough twists, turns, silliness and sincerity to hold up 73 years after it was produced. If you haven’t seen this highly rated film, do keep an eye out for it. And yes, it is available on DVD.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Look What I Made

There are lots of beautiful digital papers out in the virtual world. I have many stored on my external hard drive. Some were free downloads and others I purchased. In the beginning of my digital scrapbooking, I relied exclusively on pre-made papers. But as my experience grew, so did my experimenting and desire to play with and tweak papers. Then I realized that I could create my own papers from scratch using Photoshop Elements or later with Photoshop CS3. Now I rarely purchase or even download a free paper, unless I really love the pattern and feel it will prove versatile.

Recently I discovered a very versatile online tool which allows me to create tartans, turn them into a downloadable pattern and then use it to create papers or any other digital element. This tartan pattern generator is called Tartan Maker. It starts you off with just three bands of which you can vary the thickness. But you can make the tartan more complex by adding more bands, as well as varying the thread thickness. You can also change the orientation from a straight x/y axis to a diagonal. Once you like what you have created and previewed, you can download the “pattern”. That’s one complete square of the tartan pattern which, when repeated, will give you a complete digital tartan “fabric”.

Screenshot of Tartan Maker as I worked on it

The downloaded pattern can be opened and used in either Adobe Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS3. Here’s one way to use it in either program:

Open the downloaded tartan Ping “.png” file.
Edit > Define Pattern
Once you see your tartan in the dialogue box click OK.

Now open a new blank document. (I chose 11 x 8.5)
Go to the Layers drop down menu:
Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern
Choose OK in the dialogue box
Then adjust the scale in the next dialogue box. (I chose 250%)
Then choose OK
And Ta Da!

If you like what you see, you can flatten the image and save it as a JPEG “.jpg” file, which effectively becomes a tartan digital piece of paper. But the tartan pattern now lives with your other pattern choices, so it can be used anytime you like.

The folks behind Tartan Maker have several other online tools you’ll likely enjoy. (Stripes anyone?) Just follow the links at the bottom of their home page and have fun!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Nifty Gizmo

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. I’m not a glammy, blingy kind of gal. I do wear some favorite jewelry around the clock. But sometimes I like to wear an interesting pin. The problem is that I don’t like pushing the pins through the fabric, risking damage. Several years ago, I discovered a nifty gizmo called MagnaPin. It’s a two piece magnet. You slide one side onto your bar style pin back and the other magnet goes on the inside of your garment. The magnets snap together and your pin is held in place beautifully, with no harm to even delicate fabrics. But the MagnaPin is sufficiently strong to work on pretty heavy fabrics. The only problem I’ve encountered is that the magnet part which you slide onto the pin, requires you to be patient and apply steady, gentle pressure. You can purchase one online directly from MagnaPin or from QVC and other retailers.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Day One

So much potential in that phrase: “Day One”. It speaks of fresh starts, new beginnings, do-overs, mulligans and clean slates. Perhaps there’s even a hint of “when life gives you lemons. make lemonade” lying just beneath the surface.

Some folks like to slam the door on a bad year preceding the new. But 2008 was pretty darn terrific. I know there were dizzying economic downfalls, vicious partisan politics, wars, natural disasters - a whole panoply of miseries. But there was so much good news as well: Carrie and Al were married; Sarah was born to Veronica and Steven; Andrew and Peter tied the knot; all our “ERs” are still with us, two of whom are thriving; my poem was published; Barack Obama became President-Elect of the United States of America...

You no doubt have your own list of sweet victories and small miracles. That’s where I want to focus today and into tomorrow and beyond. Mind you, I am so not a Pollyanna. Folks like me with black belts in worrying are antithetical to Pollyannas! But even worriers can have an attitude of gratitude. And gratitude feels so very good.