Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The TV Diet

We are about to do the unthinkable - live without a TV.

We currently don't have cable, and only get one channel (two on a clear day). It still comes in to us through the airwaves, through rabbit ears which we adjust carefully each night based on the weather. One day one of my daughter's friends was over and she asked, "Why does the picture on your TV look like that?" My daughter and I both glanced over at the TV, not realizing that anything was out of the ordinary, and noticed that to the uninitiated, the picture looked a bit wobbly. "Oh" I said, "it's raining out." "Seriously?" the friend asked. "You should see what it looks like when our neighbor revs his truck!" I told her. She just stared in disbelief. I guess we're just used to it.

The pending national switch to digital TV has forced us to make a decision between signing up for cable or skipping TV altogether. After watching reality shows for the past few nights, no TV has won out.

I spent most of my youth without a TV, but was mesmerized by it during the few years we had it and watched it any chance I got at friend's houses. As an adult, TV has always been on in the background at home, although we've never had cable. I'm afraid that if we had cable, I'd never be able to walk away from the TV and would get nothing productive done and the household would gradually disintegrate around us! It's just so hypnotic...even when I know the show I'm watching isn't really that great, I still watch.

So, since we have to make a decision, we're deciding NO MORE TV! We'll keep it to use with our DVD player to watch Netflix (which, of course, we could never go without!). I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, March 30, 2009

4,000 Questions - #10: Home Again

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts.

Question #10: What do you think about young adults living with parents?

I have to admit, I've never really thought that adult kids moving back in with their parents was such a bad thing!?

This communal lifestyle is how families made things work during the Great Depression, and I have a sense that we may be getting back to this extended family living arrangement in our current economic times.

Maybe it's because I grew up in such a large family, so there's a certain comfort in having lots of people around and many hands to lighten the work. Or, maybe it's because we lived with my grandmother for several years, and had the same number of generations and people living in the house as The Waltons. Grandma, Grandpa, Ma, Pa, Mary Ellen, John Boy, and the rest of the Waltons were just the best and the houseful of kids made life so interesting - there was always something new happening.

Or, maybe it's because, as a parent, I know I'll do anything to make my child's life work out to her liking, no matter what that means. If it means her moving back in with me, that's A-OK. (Of course, she'll get to help pay the bills and do the house and yard work, but we'll cross that bridge if we come to it.)

What do YOU think about young adults living with parents?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

African Drumming Class

Our fun teacher, M'Bemba.
I occasionally get together with a group of fellow adventurers who are always looking for new things to try or new places to go. Our latest adventure was African drumming!

We went to a class taught by M'Bemba. Here's his bio:

M'Bemba has traveled throughout the world as a performer and teacher of West African drum & dance and is revered worldwide for his high level of mastery. As a native of Guinea from the Sousou ethnic group, he began drumming & dancing at a very young age. By the age of 21, he was acclaimed as a master drummer and invited to play for Ballet Djoliba, the most respected ballet company in Guinea at that time. Since moving to the U.S. in 1992, M'Bemba co-founded the Fareta School of Drum and Dance in NYC.

M'Bemba was very personable, very pleasant, and funny. His accent is quite heavy, and The really cool looking drum I rented for the class.I sometimes had difficulty understanding his words, but he also uses gestures and animated facial expressions, and I was able to keep up. He has a nice way about him and never became impatient with his newbie students. It was amazing how quickly he had us all drumming with a fair amount of skill when just an hour before we knew nothing about this.

While he taught us drumming, M'Bemba also told us about life in Guinea, and how drums are such a part of the life there among the villagers. He also explained that city and village life are very different - the village is where one can experience traditional music, celebrations, and food.

The class was held at a place I'd never been before called The Warehouse (in Albany). In addition to the large classroom space, it is full of architecural salvage and other fun odds and ends for sale, plus a quaint cafe.

All in all, there were about 40 students in the class! One person in our smaller group hadForty people drumming in sync makes for a very cool sound. her own drum and the rest of us rented them. Mine was very cool, with some type of animal skin around the upper part and some type of shells that clacked around the base.

We started with very basic taps and slaps, and were very soon drumming away in unison. It's quite incredible to hear the cadence of so many drums all beating together. For some of the class, each side of the room was given a different rhythm to beat. When we all played our parts at the same time, it was fantastic. I kept wondering what this must sound like outside the building!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Alphabet of Daily Life - I

.It's so excitingly dark in Ice Glen.
I is for Ice Glen…

Ice Glen is a local natural wonder – a wooded glen filled with ancient boulders set in a dark old-growth forest, and spotted even in summer with areas of ice that still haven’t melted. Walking up to one of the cave-like areas in the boulders gives one a whiff and a feel of very cold vapor trapped in the rocks.

I happen to have a penchant for this scent of refrigeration – odd, I know, but here’s how it happened:

When we first went to live with my grandmother in Schenectady, NY, my whole life had been spent traveling the US with my family in our “custom RV” which didn’t have electricity, and certainly didn’t have a refrigerator. One of the first and most important things I got very excited about at my grandmother’s was the refrigerator and freezer (hers was one of those avocado green babies!). Beautiful old stone steps appear throughout the hike.

I still recall opening the freezer on the summer day we first arrived at her house…a gust of chilled white air rolled out into the sultry heat of her kitchen, which was decorated in varnished wood paneling, red dotted-swiss curtains and quilted calico appliance covers, and an avocado stove with turquoise pots and pans. I stuck my head inside the freezer to feel the coolness, and smelled my first scent of refrigeration. I've been hooked ever since. To this day, I will just walk up to the freezer, stick my head inside, and breathe in very deeply several times to get my “fix” of the scent of refrigeration.

That’s what Ice Glen smells like. I get to walk around in that scent.

Located in Stockbridge, MA, we traipsed through Ice Glen as kids when we “went back east” to visit relatives. And, we’ve taken our Fresh Air child there for the past two years. It makes for a short, relatively easy, and beautiful hiking experience (it's especially pleasant to bring a picnic to eat on one of the rocks). The boulders are fun to clamber over, though sometimes a bit slick with moss, the stone steps scattered throughout are enchanting, and the forest is truly dark and deep. We've always hiked in from the Ice Glen Road side, but we understand there'sVery chilly inside the caves - we've never gone inside one because we're afraid we'll meet an animal! an entrance on the Park Street side, which we hope to try soon. (PS - be sure to wear bug repellent - you'll thank me for this tip!)

If one wants a strenuous and longer hike, they can head up to Lauras’s Tower, which is reached by a winding uphill climb through ferned and leafy woods. At the end of the trail is the tower, a lookout which is accessed by very steep steps and with a view that is far and wide. (I had vertigo when we were up there, and my knees wobbled climbing back down.)

A funny thing happened last year during our annual pilgrimage to the Glen. We met up with a tourist couple heading out as we were heading in. “Don’t bother going in,” the woman said to us. “It’s not worth it.” Little did she know that we dearly love this Berkshire treasure and find it well worth it!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sugar Shack Time

The sugar shack..
All the local sugar shacks are busy creating maple syrup - days are warm and nights are cold and the sap is flowing. Sugaring time is the best time to go for breakfast, eat and buy fresh syrup, and tour the sugar house to watch the interesting process that, with the exception of a few modern adjustments, hasn't changed much over the years.

I happened to read about a new place to visit on one of the Blogs I Learn From...What I Made Yesterday. One of the posts mentioned a place called Ioka Valley Farm, which is about 25 minutes away (we later learned that Ioka is an Indian word for "beautiful"). We'd heard of the farm but had somehow never been to visit. So, off we went for Sunday brunch. We also thought it might be a great opportunity for one of our beloved "photo expeditions."
Our friendly old instructor, who kept the wooden tap in his pocket.
When we drove in, the farm parking lot was full of cars from MA, CT, and NY. We strolled past the cows being gawked at by the "city kids" on our way to the Calf-A, where we put our name on the waiting list for breakfast - about an hour's wait. Then we headed over to the sugar house, which was also pretty packed.

Inside, the sugarmakers were busy keeping a watchful eye on the syrup and answering questions about what they were doing. It was cozy warm, the air was full of the damp and slightly sweet scent of the bubbling syrup, and enormous clouds of steam were rising up to the vent in the roof.

A large old tree ornamented the interior, it's many branches reaching up to the roof. The floor was gravel. And, there was a really cool bench featuring small stumps of different types of trees. Our task, should we choose to accept it, was to put a tree stump on its corresponding Loading the woodstove to maintain the constant high temp.name. We only got three right - cherry, birch and maple.

We then observed the sugaring process:

  1. Plastic lines are now strung on the trees to collect the sap, and left there year-round, and the taps are also plastic. In olden times, the taps were wood, and the sap was collected in individual buckets which had to be repeatedly emptied. One of the old sugarmakers showed me the wooden tap he keeps close in his coat pocket - he made it when he was young from a piece of punky wood. A heated coathanger was pushed through the center and out the other end to make the hole for the sap. It has the polished patina of much use and much love.
  2. Part of a sugarmaker's year-round job is maintaining the lines, which animals and nature tend to upset. They keep logs of when lines were put up, and have a routine maintenance schedule to keep them new. We were shown a length of pipe with some fairly impressive bear teeth marks. Hands also leave sweat on the piping, which turnPouring off some syrup to test the temperature.s to salt, which attracts smaller critters, so sugarmakers now wear gloves when handling the piping.
  3. The sap from the lines feeds into the holding tank and a reverse osmosis (?) process is used to remove much of the water before the sap is boiled.
  4. Then, the sap is poured into the large vat over the "Maple Pro Erable" woodstove. It roils and boils ferociously - when wood is added to the stove, it makes the syrup bubble even more and a de-foamer is added to maintain control over it. The sugarmakers prefer to do their work at night when the barometric pressure stays more constant - this affects how long it takes the sap to turn into syrup.
  5. A large thermometer on the side of the tank tells how hot the syrup is. When it looks like it's at the right temp, a cylinder of fluid is drawn off. If it's ready, a long portable thermometer (think very large candy thermometer) will float at the right level between 2 red marks.
  6. It's now time to remove any accumulated minerals, strain it, and determine the grade. The grade is determined by a combination of color and flavor, and is still a human-based decision-making process. Paler grades of sugar used to be in high demand, as maEnjoying a fabulous breakfast in the Calf-A.ple sugar and syrup were used as the main sweetener in homes and a strong maple flavor wasn't desirable. Now, however, a maple flavor in the sugar is considered a good thing, so the darker grades are more popular. Only mother nature controls what grade the syrup will be; it's kind of like having a baby - you just wait to find out what you're going to get.
  7. When ready, the syrup is poured into large barrels, and from there into correct containers.

After watching and listening for a while, we headed over to the homey Calf-A. The tablecloths and curtains are in a cow pattern, and the table containers are quaint baskets and painted tin cups. When we got to our seats we ordered mini corn muffins with maple butter, homemade (and delicious) applesauce, and of course pancakes and syrup, plus bacon and sausage. Everything was wonderful and we had such a terrific Berkshire morning. We bought a jug of syrup on our way out - a little pricey but we want to support a local farm. Then, a quick look at the animals, the hay, and the old farm implements, and we headed home. Nice day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

iPod Songs: Morning Has Broken

Tom Robbins novels must be read with utter abandon, and a release of all logical thought.
The story behind the song...

This song is red bandanas tied around shoulder-length hair, a cast iron woodstove, the scent of pipe tobacco, a floor lamp with a dim light around its base that stayed on all night, walking to the theatre in the rain and sitting through the show soaking wet and not caring at all, seeing the Po' Boys band at The Villa, cigarettes lit with the candle on the night club table so the light flickers against a profile…too cool for words, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eric Clapton, and Cat Stevens, ping pong tournaments in the attic game room, yellowed copies of old Steinbeck novels, Tom Robbins’ funky “Jitterbug Perfume” followed by a bowl of beets, and eagerly searching for the answer to life, the universe and everything. 42.

Why All the Buddhist Influences Lately?

Currently unable to attain this lotus position...will keep trying!
Out of the blue, my daughter asked me if I wanted to go with her to a local Buddhist mediation session, followed by a "What is Buddhism?" film lecture. Sure, I'm open to most new experiences, so off we went.

But it also made me think, "Hmmm...what's with all of the Buddhist incidents coming into our lives recently?" Here's what I mean:

  • Not long ago, I watched "What's Love Got to do With It," which is the story of Tina Turner's tumultuous life. In the movie, we learn that she turns to Buddhism to gain mastery over her situation, so I got to see how she worked this philosophy into her life, hear the chanting, the gongs...the experience.
  • We recently enjoyed a fabulous work/vacation to San Francisco, where we spent much of our time roaming around Chinatown. One of our goals while we were there was to visit a real live Buddhist temple. We did and we loved the beautiful altar and all of the offerings, although we didn't quite get how people worshipped there? We also bought a set of miniature Buddha figures in faux gold and jade, to help us remember all the fun we had on Nob Hill and in Portsmouth Square. I set one on my bedside table, as a reminder to have more adventures.
  • For my latest commuting book on CD, my hand pulled Siddhartha off the library shelf, which is the story of one man's journey to bringing to life the principles of Buddhism. I'm enjoying listening to it - Hesse's writing style is very flowery and lyrical, and there is cool sitar music between chapters.

We enjoyed the meditation and the lecture we attended, as I always like to learn new things, and everyone was very pleasant. I think we're going back next week.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Funny Daughter Story

Irish Soda Bread - best served hot. When cold, tastes great grilled with jam on the side.
So, I was making the usual St. Patrick's Day Irish Soda Bread, to go along with the heavenly meal bubbling away in the crockpot - corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots & onions, plus a side of mashed turnips, and a wee bit o' horseradish sauce for the meat.

I kneaded the dough on a floured surface while my daughter chatted to me about her day. I formed the bread ball into a six inch circle and set it onto the baking sheet. I was about to cut the traditional cross into the surface, to "ward off evil spirtits" when I said to my daughter, "Would you like to cut the cross this year?" She asked me why we did that, I told her, she quietly cut the cross without further comment, and we popped the bread in the oven.

Later, as we ate dinner, enjoying the hot-from-the-oven-and-covered-with-melted-butter bread, our cat Chloe was being her usual wild self. She is generally badly behaved and doing something she shouldn't.

The next thing I know, my daughter has hopped up and picked up the round loaf of bread from the cutting board on the table. She took it over to Chloe and said, "Chloe, look at the bread. Look at the bread, Chloe. Look."

Perplexed, I said, "What on earth are you doing?"
"Warding off evil spirits," she gamely replied.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Judgment Free Zone

My constant reminder to chill out, already!
When I first signed up for a Planet Fitness membership, I noticed, but didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to, their slogan – Judgment Free Zone.

Since I’m at the gym several times during the week, and this phrase is emblazoned on many surfaces – outside on the sign, inside the gym, the locker room, the free t-shirts, the website – it’s quietly made a definite impact on me.

Every once in a while when I’m working out, I’ll get a little judge-y without even trying to – about someone’s outfit or some other silly thing. But then I look up and notice the slogan, and say to myself, “Uh-uh…none of that. This is a judgment free zone.” And, the thought quickly floats away.

I’ve realized that I’ve begun to use this same thought "workout" even when I’m NOT at the gym. I’ll notice someone on the street or in a meeting, doing or saying something I disapprove of, and then remember in my mind about the judgment free zone. And, the disapproving thought quietly slips away without much effort at all.

So, when I go to the gym, I’m getting a body AND a mind work out. Nice job, Planet Fitness!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Living Room Makeover - Wallpaper Removal

A corner of the room showing the wallpaper.We've finally decided that now is the time to re-do the living room. We've been wanting to work on it for some time now, but have been dreading the wallpaper removal.

When we bought this house 5 years ago, it was covered with wallpaper and pink things - pink kitchen counter, pink carpeting, pink paint, pink bathroom fixtures. We quickly got rid of most of the pink, but the wallpaper has been a longer process.

First to go was the black, pink and white striped paper in the kitchen and hallway, with floral borders. Then we tackled the peach, black, and aqua flowers and fans in the dining room. Next we dealt with the pink, blue and cream stripes and flowers in the upstairs bath. And, now we've come to the formal stripe in the living room - which someone has VARNISHED!
Our temporary living room, in the dining room.
Many people tell us that they like this paper and don't understand why we want to get rid of it. I think it is pretty, but it just isn't the quiet serene style we're looking for.

Here are the changes we plan to make, in addition to re-doing the walls:

  • We are going to have a WHITE ceiling. For some reason, throughout this house, previous owners painted all of the ceilings the same grayish beige as most of the upper walls...not attractive.
  • We've already removed the fussy large (8' x 10') area rug that was in the room - we posted it on Craigslist for a while but didn't get any serious takers, so I gavAssembling our supplies.e it to my niece who was thrilled. We'll probably replace it with sisal or bamboo.
  • We're also going to get rid of the sofa - just too big, heavy, and clunky - and opt for two loveseats instead. Sadly, this will mean no more hide-a-bed sleepovers in the living room for my daughter and her friends.
  • We want to trade the glass and brass coffee table for two square Pottery Barn style cherry tables, with lower storage shelves; they're easily re-arranged and can double as seating during large parties.
  • We'll trade in our random occassional tables for more square-ish side tables, and trade in the embellished lamps for simpler, sleeker ones.
  • The BIG entertainment center will move to a different wall and I think we'll flank it with two bookshelves pulled from another room.The wall before.
  • No more drapes! We'll try Roman shades or wooden blinds (or maybe even shutters?).

So, today was Begin Removing Paper day. Our past wallpaper removal experiences have been pretty straightforward:

  1. Put down plastic tarps and absorbent towels/sheets around perimeter.
  2. Use the paper tiger to score the wallpaper. (My daughter thinks it's called that because of the growling sound it makes as it's rotated across the paper; I think it's called that because of the "claw marks" it makes in the paper.)
  3. Dampen the paper with a mix of warm water and wallpaper remover ("Chomp").
  4. Peel off the decorative top layer.One wall down, three more to go!
  5. Re-wet the remaining inner layer.
  6. Pull off inner layer and rinse glue off walls.

Well, today didn't quite go this way. The varnish really threw a wrench in the works. We followed the same steps, but found that the top layer just didn't want to come off. Instead, it was painstaking hours of nudging strips off with a putty knife, re-wetting the paper, scraping, etc.

Tonight, two walls are done, and two to go. We'll keep you posted!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lazy Saturday

Is there anything better in the world that a cup of hot tea with fresh lemon?
Every once in a while, a glorious thing happens...we get a Saturday (or sometimes a whole weekend) on which nothing has been scheduled and there's nowhere we need to be. The day is ours to use as we will, which is such a delightful prospect.

Today is just such a day. Here's how we ended up using this lazy Saturday:
  • Woke up late - 10:00! It's so nice to just sleep until we're no longer tired (a very rare occurrence).
  • Read the paper; laughed out loud at Zits...it's always right on the money about life with a teenager.
  • Discussed how we might re-arrange the living room once the wallpaper is stripped and the room is painted the new green color we chose, and what furniture to keep, give away, or replace with something new. Daughter gets the nicely-shaped curvy corner table to refurbish to her heart's delight - she's decided to collage it, which is her special talent.
  • Brunch - buttermilk waffles (from the freezer) with blueberry syrup (from Big Lots, one of our favorite bargain shops) and hot tea (I'm currently trying Newman's Own Organic Royal Tea) in our Entering Provincetown mug.
  • Decided that today is the momentous day that the living room project will begin. Photographed living room to document the before and after look.
  • Daughter went to dad's to stay overnight.
  • Blogged for a while - checked my stats counter to see how many visitors stopped by, read and responded to any comments, and read the new posts of the Blogs I Learn From. Last night's visitors came from Australia, Tanzania, Maine, and Missouri. Also checked into Twitter and posted a Tweet...discovered 2 new followers added during the night, which brings me to 94.
  • Watched a little bit of a Netflix - "Mostly Martha"; tried to watch "Grapes of Wrath" but the DVD is unplayable (this is a replacement DVD for the first one that was unplayable). It turns out that "Mostly Martha" is the same movie as "No Reservations," which I just finished, but it's in German and with different actors. Who knew?
  • Moved furniture (listening to the iPod for extra energy) from living room into dining room...this will be our temporary living room while we're working on the remodel.
  • Prepped living room for messy wallpaper removal, and scored paper.
  • Thawed chicken for dinner, and made chicken parm with angel hair.
  • Relaxed for the rest of the evening!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Leprechaun Traps

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
When my daughter was in elementary school, she learned about making leprechaun traps and was determined to create one for herself so she could catch her very own miniature man. Each year, she would set busily to work a few days before St. Patrick’s Day to devise and build her trap.

She made the traps out of the odd assortment of things one finds around the house, plus scraps of this and that from our well-stocked craft room. Usually, a discarded shoebox, saved for just such a project, was involved, along with lots of glue, glitter (to lure him), scraps of soft and pretty fabric, dishes from her Barbie stuff, and anything shiny and gold.

Once completed, she would set out the contraption near the front door, just before her bedtime routine on the night before St. Patrick’s Day.

And, each year, she’d go down first thing the next morning to check on the trap to see if there was a leprechaun inside. Each year, she’d find that the little treats she’d set out to lure him in were gone and in their place were gold covered chocolate coins and a tiny note with tiny lettering, that read something like this:

Ha! You thought you could catch me but you didn’t. Don’t you know that you can’t catch a leprechaun and you won’t get my gold? Nice try, though. Better luck next year, and thanks for the treats.
She was always sadly disappointed and just couldn’t figure why this year’s incredible design had failed. And, the following year she would be even more determined to improve upon her entrapment devices and lures. She stopped setting out the traps once she got into middle school and she never did catch one.

I miss those traps.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

4,000 Questions - #9: Personality

What is this rock, and how did it get in my garden? And who's been raking the gravel...??
Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #9: What one personality trait would you like to have?

This is something I've actually thought about often. I think about it any time I see someone who is calmly even-tempered in just about any circumstance. That's the trait I'd most like to have.

I'm not sure how they do it, really...people with this type of personality just don't seem to get ruffled no matter what's happening. They are still happy, sad, concerned, compassionate - they just don't ever "lose it" over situations.

This seems like a desirable attribute because it must make life so much easier to manage...for both yourself and those around you. And, it probably wreaks a lot less havoc on the nerves! I'm working on learning this, but it definitely doesn't come to me naturally.

What personality trait would you like to have?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

iPod Songs: I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing

The story behind the song...

Way back when, Coke make a pretty cool TV commercial...

It was such a happy, feel-good ad, and everybody sang along to it - I still find it so moving. (I really don't recall how we happened to see that commercial, because we didn't have a TV then!) Anyway, as part of that Coke promotion, you could somehow get a free 45 record of the resulting hit song, "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." My big sister, Ruthie, who was 10 years older than me and in high school, got that record!

At this point in our travels, we were parked in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Ruthie was so excited to get this record and have it as her very own. We didn't have the money or the space for lots of possessions, so owning this special personal property was a real treat. She was sooo careful with it and wouldn't allow anyone else to touch it. She'd put that funny looking whirly-shaped little insert into the center of it and set it spinning on the family record player, and we'd sing that song with her.

I added this song to my iPod in remembrance of Ruthie, who is no longer with us but who will always be cherished.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Alphabet of Daily Life - H

H is for Hybrid...

My number 1 reason for buying a Honda Accord Hybrid a few years ago was NOT savings on gas! Surprising, I know, but I had an ulterior motive. Here are my reasons, in order of importance:

  1. Voting with my pocketbook: the only way car manufacturers will create Hybrids is if there is enough demand to justify the expense of building them. So, eachThis can't be MY Honda...it's too clean! time I purchase a Hybrid (or other alternative fuel vehicle), I'm casting one more vote that helps manufacturers know that consumers want this type of green technology.
  2. Commuting costs: I like getting an average of 30-35 mpg on my 25-mile drive back and forth to work (and even better on the highway), which means I use less gas. Some people (who don't own Hybrids) argue that since you pay more to purchase one, that kind of eats up the gas savings, but again, I bought it to have my vote counted. And, I'm sure the costs to own Hybrids will come down as demand increases and more options become available to consumers.
  3. The environment: I like sending a significantly lower quantity of smog-forming and global-warming emissions into the Berkshire air.

People sometimes ask me if I have to plug my car in at night! Nope. As a Hybrid, the car uses a mix of gas and electric power to function. The gas runs the engine, the running engine charges the special battery, and the special battery helps give the car additional non-gas power when it needs it. Also know as Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). An odd feature of IMA is that the car totally shuts off at stop signs. It's completely quiet - no motor running at all. It took a little getting used to as a driver, and can also be startling to passengers. Cool view into a pristine Hybrid engine.

It's also addicting to watch the dashboard indicators that show current average mileage and whether the battery is currently charging or helping the motor.

If you're thinking of buying a Hybrid (and I hope you are) here are my tips from first-hand experience:

  1. Buy the warranty: my hybrid battery ended up needing to be replaced (I understand this isn't a common occurrence), which would have cost me over $3,000 - thank goodness for warranty coverage!
  2. Don't just assume you'll get a tax credit: the rules are so specific and may not apply to your purchase. I was surprised to discover that my purchase didn't fit any of the tax credit parameters...no credit for me.

Overall, I LOVE my Honda Hybrid. When I'm ready for my next purchase, I'm hoping to get a Honda Insight! I hear it's meeting or surpassing the Prius as far as mileage. Anyone interested in getting a Hybrid Newsletter can contact Brad Berman - it's great for doing pre-purchase research.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dining for Women - Uganda

Lots of hands dipping into a bounty of beads.
Our latest Dining for Women event will benefit BeadforLife in Uganda.

So, at this particular DFW event, we could purchase beads, with the proceeds benefitting this chosen organization, or simply make an outright donation without making a purchase. Buying the beads is much more fun! According to the BeadforLife website:

"Ugandan women turn colorful recycled paper into beautiful bead jewelry, and people who care open their hearts, homes, and communitites to buy and sell the beads. The beads become income, food, medicine, school fees, and hope. All net profits from BeadforLife are invested in community development projects that help people work their way out of poverty."

This also means, of course, that our meal was Ugandan! Our loaded Ugandan buffet.

I must admit, I have never cooked anything remotely Ugandan, nor do I know what is generally eaten in that country. As with any DFW event, participants are provided with recipe ideas, which is really helpful, and just one more example of the terrific organization exhibited by the DFW group.

In reviewing the available recipes, I decided I'd try Ugandan Kabobs with a yogurt dipping sauce. It turns out that in Uganda, a kabob is a meatball. After tasting my results, I can't say I'm a fan of these and wouldn't make them again, but it was fun to try for tonight's dinner. Here's what we had on our buffet table:
  • Beef Kabobs with Yogurt Dipping Sauce (my offering)
  • Kale with Leeks
  • Curried PotatoesOur hostess has such cool trinkets like this from her travels.
  • Paella
  • Couscous Salad with Cucumbers, Tomatoes, & Feta
  • Pineapple Peanut Bread with Cream Cheese (2 different recipes made with different types of flour)
  • Coffee, Tea and Amarula (liqueur made from the African Marula plant)

This time around, we didn't have the usual non-ethnic options for those not interested in venturing into the world of Ugandan cuisine...looks like people are getting more daring!

While enjoying our fabulous and adventurous meal, we looked at bead and jewelry options and made our selections. (Jewelry, pricing cards, and brochures had been sent in advance of the event.) The beads are beautiful - it's unbelievable what a clever hand can do with a few pieces of recycled paper. It was really fun to get to buy their actual products, and many of us did our gift shopping for upcoming birthdays and holidays. Over the course of the evening, we raised over $500 to send to BeadforLife!! And, we had a pleasant time socializing and chatting with other like-minded people who want to help the world in some way.

Can't wait until next month's dinner...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Found a Cape Cottage

Sand dune leading to the private beach. The rolling Atlantic.

Yahoo - our search for a cottage near Wellfleet's White Crest Beach on Cape Cod been a success!

Kitchen Exterior view (is this the front or the back?) The deck

We were fortunate to discover three Ocean View Cottages, which we've driven by in the past, with an available week that suited our schedule! We're all booked, and this is the one we'll be staying in for the week starting July 4th (photos are from the Ocean View Cottage website).

The three houses sit between Ocean View Drive and the rolling Atlantic. They have their own private beach, and White Crest is a short stroll along the National Seashore.

We won't need to lug as much to the beach this year, because we'll be able to go back to the cottage any time during the day for food, drinks, or anything else we need. And, we'll be closer to P-Town, so maybe we can spend more than just one day there shopping and people-watching. Can't wait!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

4,000 Quesions - #8: Excitement

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #8: What's the most exciting thing you've ever done?

Hmmmm....exciting can have so many meanings. I think I'm going to choose Army Basic Training. It was an incredible experience on so many levels: Me and my Lady Bug
  • I was only 17, and really didn't understand the concept of signing my actual life over to the US government (GI stands for Government Issue), but had the chutzpah to do it anyway. I made the decison without my parents' knowledge, but had to get their signatures before everything became legal because I was under age.
  • To get to Basic, I went on my FIRST airplane ride ever. We actually walked out onto the tarmac and climbed up a set of steps that had been wheeled to the side of the plane.
  • It was the first time away from my family, and I was traveling all over the states BY MYSELF in my little "Lady Bug" (that I bought used for $300; I swear it's the car that is used for golf practice in the first few scenes of the movie Tin Cup). People would always beep and wave at me on the highway in my cleverly painted little car (thanks, family), covered with Army stickers.
I joined the Army because I came from a family of 9 children and there was simply no money for college. By joining, I could travel, earn income, AND earn money for college. Not to mention, I could attend college while on active duty, which I did, and ALL expenses were paid for.

There are just so many things about Basic Training that were new and different, I hardly know where to begin:
  • Before you read this next comment, and start to wonder about me, let me begin with this disclaimer: I don't currently use or own weapons, and am so glad I never neA scrawny young Private E-2.eded to use one to hurt anyone, but I did learn to shoot at targets as a kid and always felt at ease on the rifle range. That being said...I really liked using an M-16! It has a regular and a semi-automatic setting; we only got to use the semi-automatic setting once in awhile, as it used up so much ammo, but it really was fun. I earned my Expert medal for the rifle and the Sharpshooter medal for the grenade.
  • I was in the best physical shape of my life, could knock out push ups and sit ups like nobody's business, and was a master of the "front leaning rest." (The only part of PT that I dreaded was running.)
  • I could low-crawl in the mud under barbed wire, knew drill and ceremony steps perfectly, and could move lithely through an obstacle course. Like all of the other soldiers, I felt strong and invincible.
  • I'm a sucker for precision, so my uniform, bed, locker, boots, patches, etc, were always according to regulation, which usually made my drill sergeants say, as they stood in front of me inspecting me, "Stone, always squared away."

A funny story I remember is from my very first formal inspection. I had never heard the term "Army brat" but sort of grew up like one. When the Captain, who was very scary to me, and his entourage got to me (remember...I'm a Virgo...everything in my locker was folded and placed EXACTLY according to the Army manual), he looked over me and my area and said, "Stone, are you a military brat?" As far as I knew, a "brat" was a derogatory term to describe an ill-natured person. So, I had two options:

  1. AGREE with the Captain, and call myself a bad name.
  2. DISAGREE with the Captain, and maybe fail inspection or make Basic life hard for myself.

What was I supposed to do? Standing stiffly at attention, my fingers gripped the seams of my pants and my eyes stared unwaveringly ahead. In my 17-year-old-oh-my-God-this-is-the-Captain stupor, I said the first thing that came to mind: "I don't know, sir." He just looked at me funny and kept moving on down the line of scared soldiers. I can only imagine what he must have been thinking.

Photo info: (yes, these photos were taken with a Polaroid, which was my first camera purchase ever...film is no longer made for these!)
Photo #1: Me after Basic Training graduation, in my Class Bs and my Clark Kents.
Photo #2: Crossing into Alabama on my way from South Carolina to Texas, with the odometer about to hit 100,000 miles and me in my old style BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform); now, they're made in a camouflage pattern, but the first set I was issued was this olive drab color.

Your turn...what's the most exciting thing you've ever done?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

iPod Songs: Sweet Surrender

The story behind the song...

“Sweet Surrender” by Bread brings me back to the days when I hung out with my buddy Ronnie during my medic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Some of you were introduced to Ronnie in one of my 4,000 Questions posts.)

On days off, Ronnie and I would spend rainy afternoons at the base activity center, where there was a room with record players and albums (yup – we were using actual record players, with arms and delicate needles, and big black vinyl records – I think the big ones were 78s?) available free for the soldiers’ enjoyment.

We’d carefully make our album selection, pull the large 12” square cardboard case with its wild graphics from the shelf, and set the record on the player. Using the lightest touch so as not to scratch and ruin the record, one of us would set the needle in place and the record would spin. And then we’d experience the height of technological sophistication for those days…we would each attach a headset into the jack on the player so we could each listen in our own set, but both at the same time! The headsets were huge, similar to what you might picture a helicopter pilot wearing today, but they were very techie back then. We thought we were pretty cool.

Then, we’d sit back and simply listen to music. Sometimes we’d mouth the words (we didn’t call it lip-synching back then) or laugh and smile at each other. It was a happy time. Ronnie introduced me to Bread, and I liked the band from the moment I heard their first song. After that, Bread was always on our selection list.

Nowadays, I create a list of things I’d like for birthdays or holiday gifts, to make things easier on my daughter. For some reason, I had been thinking about Ronnie, and our happy times listening to that music so many years ago. And I added "The Best of Bread" to my gift list. My daughter surprised me with it this past Christmas.

As soon as I put the CD into the player, I was transported immediately back. Back to that sweet happy time of innocence, adventure, new experiences and hesitant daring; a time when anything was possible and only the best could ever happen to any of us.

Saying "Hi" to Commenters

Not long ago, I was reviewing new content updates on the "Blogs I Learn From." On one of the sites I visited, I clicked to add a comment. When I did this, I noticed something interesting...the blog owner had a note saying "hi" to their commenters, just above the text area where I could write in my comment. Here's the blog and note:

Taste With The Eyes: "Hi there! What an absolute pleasure to hear from you. I look forward to reading what each and every one of you has to say. Your comments bring this blog to life! If you have a question or a request or would like a more detailed recipe, I will do my best to respond. Thank you so much for visiting and I can't wait to explore your unique blog as well. Lori Lynn"

It had never occurred to me that I could say "hi" in advance to my commenters! So, I got busy searching around my blog admin to figure out how to do this, and here's the easy process I discovered:

  1. In your blogspot admin, click on Settings.
  2. Click on the Comments tab.
  3. Scroll to about halfway down the page, and you'll see something called Comment Form Message.
  4. Type any greeting you like in the available text box. This message will appear just above the box your commenters will write in when they want to leave you a message.
  5. When you're satisfied with your greeting, scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Settings.

Ta-daa...give it a try on your own blog!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Alphabet of Daily Life - G

G is for (Mount) Greylock...

The highest peak in Massachusetts is right in our backyard! Mount Greylock is 3,491 feet high at the summit. It got it's name because the peak is often locked in grey Aerial view of Mount Greylock, including the mudslide area.clouds or mist - a sight I often see as I drive to work in the mornings. (Photo at right is from the mass.gov site.) On the right side of the mountain you can see a patch of treeless brown - this is the site of the Great Mudslide that happened there a few years ago during a particularly rainy season.

Someone I know has a large molded-vinyl topo relief map of Berkshire County, showing the height of Mount Greylock, the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshire Hills, as well as the depth of the valleys in between. In looking at the map, one really gets a sense of how the mountains protect the cities and towns below. This same feeling is evoked when standing atop the mountain and surveying the expansive view, especially if you use the available binoculars.

Appalachian Trail

If you've read Bill Bryson's humorous "A Walk in the Woods" (I listened to it as a book on CD from the library during my daily commute), you'll know that the Appalachian Trail wends across Mt. Greylock on it's way to Vermont and into Maine, where the trail ends. In the boShot of Bascom Lodge from the top of the War Memorial.ok, Bill and Katz (I think Katz was still with him at this point) stop to pick up a few supplies in Cheshire, and I know exactly where they were from Bill's description of local roads and buildings.

Greylock Ramble

For years, the town of Adams has sponsored an annual Greylock Ramble, designed to reunite the locals with their mountain, and to help visitors discover it. (Not sure if this event still takes place?) On Columbus Day, hundreds of hikers, including many families with children, slog up the slightly muddy (depending on the weather each year) Cheshire Harbor Trail to the peak and admire the breathtaking views. Various family members and I have made the trek in years past, and it was a fresh and new experience every year.

Bascom Lodge

A favorite feature of mine on the mountaintop is this rustic lodge, built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the late 1930s. It is beautiful - made of native schist stone and red spruce - with a large old fireplace in the main area and an aging screened porch full of picnic tables along the length of the back of the building.

I've stayed overnight at Bascom and the experience was charming and just a bit hippy-ish. In the dim evening light, someone was playing the guitar in front of the fire as we lounged in cabin-style chairs and rockers. Later, we had a hearty family-style meal in the large dining hall, with many friendly and talkative strangers. We slept in a spartan, but clean and comfortable, room, which I imagine is heaven to an Appalachian Trail hiker who's been roughing it out in the elements.

If I remember correctly, Bascom Lodge is currently in search of new caretakers.

March Cataract Falls

When my daughter was young, we hiked EVERYwhere in Berkshire County...she waThe War Memorial, a shape often used in local advertising.s such a trooper. (Sadly, she doesn't enjoy this anymore.) One of our day trips was to March Cataract Falls. We drove up the mountain and parked near the Sperry Road camping area. From there, it's a reasonable hike through a fairly flat wooded area with a floor of luscious green ferns that rustled against our feet as we walked - me with the backpack containing our picnic and her sashaying ahead of me with her pink Little Mermaid backpack and a walking stick. We ate lunch sitting on the rocks near the falls, and then had time to wade and splash and play a bit before heading back to the car.

War Memorial

Another feature on the top of the mountain is the 93' War Memorial. It's shape is often used in local advertising. I've never been up the many steps to the top of the memorial - I believe it's been under construction any time I've gone up there.

A favorite memory of mine is taking my daughter up to the summit one summer evening. We sat on the stone wall near the base of the Memorial, and listened to the Berkshire Highlanders bagpipe band play "Amazing Grace" as the sun set slowly behind them.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hudson River, Native Americans & Oscar

A friend and I met up to visit the Albany Institute of History and Art today. Our plans were to view the new Hudson River Panorama exhibit, as well as to hearThis old fold-out map has been turned into a wall-length display. the featured speaker: Joseph Bruchac's "First Voices of the River: American Indian Stories and Traditions of the Hudson."

We are both museum mavens and soaked up the learning while viewing the special exhibit and the galleries. In addition to the new show, there are also many of the intricately detailed "Hudson River School" paintings, with their dark foregrounds and pale receding backgrounds, which creates such an illusion of depth. Some of the interesting artifacts we saw while checking out the Hudson River Valley's history included:
  • an icebox - quite literally, just a chest-sized wooden box with a metal lining and a fitted lid, used for storing food along with the heavy ice blocks that were sawn from the river in winter, with a hole in the bottom for melted ice to drip out. Since the water dripped down over the food in the box, we also saw old advertisements admonishing housewives to be certain they were buying only the best "sanitary ice."
  • a beautiful cast iron parlor stove molded to look like a house in Amsterdam.
  • an intricate wooden tabletop stereoscope, which allows one to view two side-by-side images which, when viewed through the lenses, gives the image a OMG - my first real OSCAR sighting!3-D appearance; these images were the main source of news photos for the general public in the mid to late 1800s, before photos could be reproduced in newspapers.
  • huge and beautiful family bibles, with scrawled records of births, marriages, and deaths.
  • replica birch bark and dugout canoes (the dugout was made by burning the wood in part of a log, and hacking out the ashes).

While walking about, we happened to step into a small "what we're working on" room. In this quiet room, behind a large glass wall, visitors can peer into a vault of artifacts that may appear in an upcoming exhibit. And, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an OSCAR! A real, genuine, honest-to-goodness Academy Award. It's the first one I've ever seen in person, and it was such a moment for me.

This particular Oscar was won by Edwin Burke in 1932 for Writing Adaptation of "Bad Girl." As you may know, I'm in the process of watching all Oscar nominees since the awards first began in 1929. I only recently watched "Bad Girl" even though I'm currently watching films from 1940; so many of the older films requested through Netflix end up on a rather long waiting list (though I'm very happy I can get them at all...many are so old and obscure). Anyway, it was such a thrill to actually SEE an Oscar, especially so close. Now, to hold one in my hands...

After our tour of the museum, we headed to the lecture hall. Today's speaker, part of the educational lecture series that accentuates the exhibit, was Joseph Bruchac. He is an accomplished author (more than 70 books!) and storyteller, reflecting his Abenaki native American heritage and PhD education in his work. (He and his son made thOne of the beautiful Hudson River School paintings.e dugout canoe in the exhibit!)

As Joseph gave us historical accounts and wove mesmerizing tales for us, he also displayed his many other talents...he spoke and sang in his native language, and played the drum, rattle, and flute. Sometimes when he played the drum, he held the padded drum stick in part of his hand, and the rattle in another part. So, with every beat of the drum, the rattle kept time, and the combination made a lovely rhythmic sound.

Before he played his beautiful wooden flute for us, he told us the story of the first flute: once a tree had a dead limb, which left the branch hollow. Soon, a woodpecker came along and made a series of holes in the hollow branch. And, when night came, the wind blew over the holes in the branch and a lovely sound drifted out. And so we have flutes, which bring together the sounds of the plants, birds, and wind, mixed with the breath of man.

We learned that a young man would play his flute for the woman he was wooing. If she accepted his song, they were soon married. She then put words to his music, and that song became the lullaby for their children. Such a lovely circle.

Joseph's stories and descriptions of the history of the Abenaki and other New York tribes helped bring the Hudson River exhibit to life in a meaningful way. Such an enriching day.


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