Saturday, October 15, 2016

The mind's scenery

So I was sitting at my kitchen table, minding my own business, reading on my Kindle, when I heard a buzzing noise. I hoped it was someone running a weed whacker in the neighborhood, but I soon saw what I most feared: a wasp. It was buzzing around a light fixture in my living room, sometimes bumping on the glass cover.

I fear stinging insects a great deal.

It seemed attracted by the light, so I closed the blinds on all the windows, opened my door, leaving the screen door closed, then turned off the lights. I stood near the light fixture to monitor the wasp's whereabouts because if it disappeared in the house and I didn't know where, I would live in fear.

After a little while it dropped to the floor, then flew to the screen door. I slammed the big door behind it, so it was trapped between the solid door and the screen door. I cautiously re-opened the big door a little bit to see if I dared stick my arm into the space to open the screen door. The wasp had dropped again, this time to the threshold. I opened the screen door, and it flew off.

Hooray. Insect problem solved without my suffering a sting or getting grossed out by having to squish it.

Earlier, I had brought some little decorative items inside from my deck. We're expecting a big windstorm this afternoon and evening, so I cleared up stuff that might blow around this morning. I suspect the wasp was hiding in something I brought it. It probably had gone dormant in the cool fall weather then woke up inside my warm house.

I felt glad to get my deck cleared up for the winter. This spring and summer I never really got it looking even presentable. I tried a couple times--I cleaned out the pond, I bought a few plants--but I never followed through. I never refilled the pond with water (the rain is starting to fill it now) and never re-potted the plants (they've died in the plastic pots they came in). Even plants that survived last winter died of neglect this summer.

The mess and disarray somehow symbolized my emotions this year, as my parents' health has declined. My mom moved from assisted living to a skilled nursing facility, and my dad moved from independent living to assisted living. They are both frail, and it hurts to see them lose their strength. My sadness and anxiety about them, and the time spent responding to their needs, took up my energy and I had none left for nurturing plants. All summer the disorder and ugliness of my deck was a visual reminder of how I felt.

Now, the deck is plain, but it is orderly. It's just like it is any other winter, hibernating until spring. I hope that next spring I will be able to return to my old ways of growing flowers and making a beautiful space out there. And clearing it up, putting away tools I had left out, marking it "finished for this year," is a relief. All I have left is probably a couple more times mowing, when the weather is dry, just to mulch the leaves that are falling and neaten it up before leaving the outdoors to its own devices.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Brush up your Shakespeare

The amount I've been blogging this year has been rather dismal. I have some family matters occupying my time and energy, so I tend to be just too pooped to post.

However, I'll just mention that I went to Ashland, Oregon, last week, to their Shakespeare Festival. I saw, in the following order:

Richard II
Twelfth Night
Timon of Athens
The Winter's Tale.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Not just a city in Rhode Island

I was driving home from work this evening, and I thought of a young man I knew when I was a young woman, and I wondered, What if we had married? Perhaps God brought him into my life to be my husband, but I passed him up. If I had not, I would probably not be living here in Lynden, close to my folks as they deal with their aging issues. ("These golden years suck," was a remark in a recent e-mail from my dad.) I might have children who would be adults by now. When I tried to think of them, I thought, I don't know these strangers. Whoever they might have been, they are not my family right now. Meanwhile, the dear boy who first crossed my mind married someone else long ago and had one or more children. Those children exist, and it is part of God's plan for them to exist, so presumably it could not have been his plan for me to marry their father.

But I remembered Solomon. The only reason he was born was because his parents committed adultery. It was not God's will for David to cheat with Uriah's wife and have Uriah killed. Yet because David sinned, the greatest king in Israel's history was born and became a forebear of our Lord. Every time we screw up, God starts again from that point to work out his purpose.

The grandma who taught me how to cast on and knit.
She also passed along her faith in God.
I think I once heard this idea illustrated as similar to the way a skilled knitter, if she drops a stitch, can pick it up on the next row and weave it into the pattern. I don't know how to do that with knitting. But here are two other knitting examples that I did do.

First, last year I knitted a scarf for my niece for Christmas. At a certain point, I messed up the pattern but didn't realize it until I was further along to a point where I didn't want to unravel so much work. So I completed the scarf with that messed-up section, and, meanwhile, I bought a little loom on which I made some yarn daisies. I sewed the daisies to the scarf to cover the messed-up section and they looked mighty cute. My niece said when she opened her present she thought the scarf came from a store specifically because of the daisies.

More recently I went to a yarn store with a remnant of red yarn from a previous project. I wanted to knit another accessory to match it. But, wouldn't you know it, the red yarn I wanted had been discontinued. So, instead, I bought some charcoal yarn that I thought would look good with the red and planned to use the red remnant for a border and charcoal for the main section. I said to the lady who was ringing up my purchase, "Maybe it will turn out even better because of the new color."

So, no matter whether the choices I've made in the past have been good, bad, or indifferent, wise, foolish, or unthinking, yet from that point on God makes the whole of my life into something better because of it. "He has made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Or better yet: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.... all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:13, 16).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shepherd's Pie

My niece is ill and receiving treatment. She is likely to recover. Meanwhile, during the weeks she receives treatment, friends bring dinners for her and her family. Tonight I got to bring something. I was excited to do this, so a couple days ago I googled for a recipe I thought her family would enjoy: Shepherd's Pie. They all like potatoes.

I put it together last night. I made it from scratch. Peeled and cut up five pounds of potatoes, mashed them by hand with a masher, added butter, sour cream, milk—but forgot to season with salt and pepper. And I cooked the meat; I cut up the onions and carrots very tiny in the hopes that my niece's children would not even notice them. (Only one great-niece noticed and picked out one little piece of carrot.) I did remember to season the meat.

I made two pans full. In one, I put peas on top of the meat before adding the potatoes, and in the other I put corn. I divided the mashed potatoes between the two pans and smoothly spread them out. I sprinkled some kernels of corn on top of the pan that had corn under the potatoes, so I would know which was which. Then I covered them with foil and put them in the fridge.

Tonight I brought them over, along with some salad and rolls. I added grated cheese to the top and heated them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes. I stayed for supper because I wanted to find out if my recipe had been good. I liked it.

It was een beetje flauw because I had forgotten to season the potatoes, but with a little salt and pepper I enjoyed it. I had intentionally made it mild—not adding garlic powder or onion powder or rosemary—because I did not want my niece's children to reject it for having strange flavors. If I were to make it for adults, I would add more things such as garlic and rosemary. But even so, it was pretty good.

This is a picture of the one with peas:

The recipe I worked from said to use the whole 5-pound batch of potatoes on one pie, but I divided it between two. It turned out to be quite enough, in my opinion.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A couple of good ones

I've been trying lately to limit my book selection to the Kindle Unlimited library. That's the e-book version of Netflix. You pay $9-something a month, and you can download any book in the library for no other fee, but you can keep just 9 of them at a time. So at this point whenever I choose a new one, I have to give back another.

The Kindle Unlimited algorithm, contrary to the name of the service, is limited in its skill. Once I read some mystery novels, that's almost all it shows me when I select "Recommended for You." Murder in the This, Murder in the That. I can browse categories, or popular titles, or new titles, or series titles, or just the whole thing at random. So I browse through a lot that I'm not interested in. Or I search the library for a particular author or title and find it is not part of the Kindle Unlimited library--not so unlimited after all. On the other hand, I've happened across some authors there that I've been glad to find. In some cases, after reading their books in the Unlimited area, I am willing to pay for their other titles. I'm pretty sure that's how I first discovered Elizabeth Goudge. The other two authors I've found there that I like are Angela Thirkell and Edmund Crispin.

For Angela Thirkell, the KU book I read was a non-fiction memoir called Three Houses, which, as the title suggests, was about three houses where she lived and/or visited when she was a girl. It's a well-written, good read. An interesting tidbit is a part where she interacts with a relative called "Cousin Ruddy," or maybe it was "Uncle Ruddy." Anyway, he was Rudyard Kipling.

I've only read a couple of her novels, as they are not in the KU selection and I've had to buy them. A great many of them are labeled "Barsetshire Series." Now, of course, Barsetshire was the setting of the Victorian author Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles: The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset. Angela Thirkell has made that imaginary area the setting for her modern novels, taking place in the same era that she wrote them, the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. I have read only two. The first one, High Rising, and a later one, Summer Half. They are quite entertaining, and the allusions to Trollope's novels are minor. For instance, there is mention of a Dean Crawley, whose grandfather was a clergyman in Hogglestock. That grandfather is of course Josiah Crawley, who is an influential minor character in Framley Parsonage and the central character of The Last Chronicle of Barset. Another time, a couple attends an event at Courcy Castle, and the de Courcys of that castle are not very likable characters in several of Trollope's novels, figuring especially largely in Doctor Thorne and The Small House at Allington. But Thirkell's novels are not "fan fiction," where they take the characters of a novel and continue the story (like the many attempts floating around to portray Elizabeth's married life with Mr. Darcy). They're just novels that occasionally have fun with the place names and characters in a small way. So far, no major characters or settings have been immediately derived from Trollope's work, just fringe elements.

High Rising is a story about a woman who after being widowed has established a good living for herself and been able to raise and educate her sons by writing middling novels--good but not great literature. One of the funniest threads of the stories is her youngest son, the only one still in school. She loves him dearly yet when he comes home from school he drives her nuts by constantly babbling about trains, his model trains, his friend's model trains, and the like. That boy reappears in Summer Half, some years older, now in his last years at school, where his interest has developed into a serious study of engineering and mechanics. That novel is about a young man who teaches a term at the school.

Edmund Crispin is the pseudonym of the author of a series of mystery novels featuring the character Gervase Fen, who is a professor of English at Oxford. The plots are kind of crazy and almost irrelevant to enjoying the story. I read in an online article that the TV series "Dr. Who" (which I've never seen) is influenced by the Crispin novel The Moving Toy Shop. In one book, there's a funny scene where Fen and a policeman talk to a man whose life seems to embody the Edgar Allan Poe poem "The Raven." He has a pet raven and a bust of Pallas in his study, tree branches tap at the windows, and his wife's name is Lenore, but he's completely ignorant of Poe's work. Fen and his companion are trying to conceal their laughter while they talk to him and each new similarity appears, and they also will make remarks that allude to the poems, sending themselves into more fits of compressed laughter. The characters will sometimes acknowledge that they are characters in a novel. In a chase scene in The Moving Toy Shop, Fen says words to the effect of, "Let's go down this street, after all Gollancz is publishing this novel." Another time, Fen is coming up with phrases like "Fen Comes Through" or "Fen to the Rescue," and then says that he's trying to help Crispin come up with a title. In Glimpses of the Moon, someone asks Fen if he knows who the murderer is and, when he says no, says, "But it's almost the end of the book." I've read all of the Gervase Fen novels already, both the KU and the ones I had to buy. There are only 9 of them. The author, whose real name was Robert Montgomery, published 8 of them in the 1940s and 50s, then there was a 15-year gap when he didn't produce a novel because of alcoholism, and then shortly before he died he finally published the last one, Glimpses of the Moon. In an early scene, Fen looks in a mirror and the narrative voice says that after 15 years Fen still looked the same--giving the standard description of Fen from the earlier novels--and then Fen wonders if novelists will ever come up with a better way of describing a character than by having him look in a mirror.

Good stuff.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


On Facebook, I joined a local page called Lynden's Thrift Store Buy & Sell. It's for selling stuff, and when you join you agree that what you sell can be picked up in Lynden, which, of course, is where I live. So after looking at the stuff other people sell, I thought, I have stuff at least that good around my  house. I pulled some rarely and never-worn clothes out of my closet, took pictures of them and posted them for sale at $5 each. A week later I lowered them to $3 and $2. Well, someone wanted to buy a blouse for $3! Am I a thrifty penny-pincher or what? So I set up to meet her at Village Books in Lynden.

Perhaps you can guess where this story is headed.

Yes, before meeting my buyer, I browsed the bookstore and bought Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke for about $14 before selling my blouse for $3. That's kind of like getting the book for $11, right? 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Rash action

Yesterday the back of my knee felt itchy. Then it got red and bumpy. My calves, ankles, and the tops of my feet got bumpy and itchy. The back of my hands became first itchy then bumpy.

Why? What's it all about? I don't know.

I googled "oatmeal" to see how to use oatmeal to soothe rashes. You can put it in a bath, put a sock full of it in a bath, and follow more or less complicated recipes to make it into a poultice. I went for the simplest and mixed some oats and water in a bowl and bathed my hands in it. It helped short term.

While I was browsing the oatmeal world wide web, I came across some no-bake cookie recipes, so this evening I made some. Perhaps taken internally with a lot of sugar and butter, peanut butter and cocoa, the oats will be good medicine. I made them more like bars than cookies. Instead of dropping spoonfuls onto the wax paper-covered cookie sheet, I just glopped the whole thing onto it and spread it around. After refrigerating it for half an hour I cut some edges off, and ate the pieces. It may or may not help with my rash, but it did gratify my sweet tooth.