A blog about my photos, my artwork, quotations, ideas, collections, passions, England, authors, handwork of all kinds, rusty bits, buffalo, and architectural detail...for starters. And the occasional rant.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Did NaNoWriMo - Did You Miss Me?

Instead of writing my random little blog entries, I have spent the last month taking part in NaNoWriMo - which is National Novel Writing Month. "Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon" in an effort to put 50,000 words down on paper.  In short, would-be writers the world over endeavor to write a novel (or at least part of one) in the month of November. That breaks down to 1,667 words a day.   This year 256,618 people took part, over 8000 of them in the Seattle area. Seattle is a NaNo hotspot, we have traditionally been at the top of the list when it comes to participants, words per participants, and donations per participants.

There are so many of us who have spent our entire lives thinking we might just have what it takes to be a writer of some sort. There are so few of us who ever actually write anything. Both of the previous sentences describe me pretty accurately. I started out as a Journalism Major in College, and then switched to Creative Writing (I was lucky enough to have studied with Richard Hugo at the University of Montana). However, between then and when I started this blog, my writing consisted of several different company newsletters, the occasional Christmas letter, and a few long and wordy travel journals.

Given that only about 1 in 5 participants do finish, I am inordinately proud of having done this. Happily, and most amazingly, my book was actually finished at 51,022 words so it turned out to be something I actually did finish in every sense of the word....well, not counting edits and stuff.

No question I was one of the older participants, and evidently one of the few who was not writing some variation on Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or Crime. I think I may also have been one of the few with no anticipation that I would be published - that kind of reality-based thinking also comes from being older. My goal was quite simply to write a book. I set myself no other goals or illusions, I didn't even expect to particularly like the finished product.

I learned a lot of things from the entire process, some of which I will share with you here:

1) One's characters really do take control of their own story line.
2) Little bits you put in early on for no good reason whatsoever become lifesavers 10 chapters down the line.
3) It's a wonderful excuse for avoiding anything else you don't want to do.
4) I am the queen of starting sentences with adverbial and prepositional phrases.
5) I prefer to write novels with very little plot...because I appear to be rubbish at plot.
      5a) Put another way, I write books for ladies over fifty who like England.
6) I use too many commas (see #4 above).
7) My rear-end hurts from sitting on hard chairs at Starbucks and Third Place Books.

The finished product turned out to be better than I had feared. I can honestly say I found several really good paragraphs and a few decent chapters when I reread it. There's a lot of me in it, and so I like it. Now I will be putting my self-discipline to an even greater test...I'm am going to start editing, and rewriting, and revising. My goal is simple, I want all my chapters to be 'decent'. I think I might be able to do that.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Liverpool FC

Over the last three years I have gradually been drawn into the world of International soccer, in particular the English Premier League.  After watching all 64 games of the World Cup last year, it became clear that supporting the English National Team was not going to be a particularly fulfilling use of my time or emotions.  And so I began a search for the team that would win my heart.  I had been told that unlike most things, when you gave your heart to an English soccer team you were in it for life, so I took it quite seriously.

I watched countless games on Fox Soccer Channel and read half a dozen books, starting with Nick Hornsby’s “Fever Pitch”, arguably the best soccer book written.  Slowly, but surely, I began eliminating teams.  Chelsea, while blessed with the lovely Chelsea Blue, felt like the Yankees to me – all vain, pretty boys making way too much money and looking to be in the papers for their amorous adventures.  Manchester United, the last thing they need is more fans, and while appreciating the talents of Wayne Rooney I found him unlikable, which is also true for the brilliant but sour-faced, gum-smacking, Sir Alec. I had nothing against Manchester City in particular, but I couldn’t connect in any way either.  Arsenal…a great working class team with a great history, but again, I just didn’t connect.

Your trivia bit for the day...this is a liver bird, symbol of LFC and the city, and an iconic feature of many important Liverpool buildings - most notably the Liver Building.  It is not pronounced as in 'river' or 'liver', but as in 'driver' and there is no certainty as to which bird it is supposed to represent.  There are two large bronze liver birds on the Liver Building as it sits on the waterfront and there is a story that the birds will come alive if a truly pure woman walks between them...an perfect example of the Liverpudlian humor.

Finally, I turned to Liverpool, a team with an incredible history – both wonderful and horrendous, but who had been struggling recently.  The more I read about them, the more I was intrigued.  And then, along came Kenny Dalglish, a charismatic Scot who had both played and managed Liverpool in the past (and there is a fascinating story in all that) and was returning to manage them again.  It took me several weeks to realize that one of his attractions to me was a certain resemblance in face and manner to my ex-husband in those early days to which I can still look back with great affection.

I think what finally clinched it for me was the first time I heard the crowd of 40,000 plus singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as they do each game.  I have known the song forever, I can even describe the sheet music (it was lavender, with a woman in a gown walking down a romantically-lit aisle) from which my brother and I played and sang many, many years ago.  I tear up every time it happens and I am always slightly embarrassed – sitting alone watching my TV and getting all emotional about a song I sang so many years ago and didn’t particularly like at the time (never could hit the high notes).

Today I had one of those ‘duh’ moments, when I realized what it was.  My high school years were blessed with a nationally recognized football team that was undefeated in 50 games.  Standing in the stands at the end of every game we sang our Alma Mater, a traditional sappy one at that.  But I will never forget, at the end of what could have been the 51st game, singing it with all my heart and tears rolling down my face.  There is no doubt in my mind that is the emotional connection there.

In spite of Man U’s brilliant success recently, no other team has the history and glory that Liverpool has known.  It is worth getting up at 5: every Saturday morning to watch the live games – win or loose.  YNWA

(Get it?  YNWA....You'll Never Walk Alone)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Business is Business

We all understand "buy high, sell low" is a business basic.  Even if we have no intention of selling for a profit, when we buy something which we know is worth a great deal more than we are paying, we are participating in this concept, if only in our imagination.  I once bought a lovely etching for $85, hung it over my desk for four years and then sold it for the amazing amount of $1600 in Charleston - pretty much paid for my trip.  I was thrilled and quite surprised at its value.  In fact, I suspect I could have gotten a few hundred more if I had been willing to shop it around.  What I DID NOT do, was go back to the seller and wave the $1515 under their nose.

There is nothing more irritating to me, as I clean up and catalog a new postcard to find that the card I have just paid $3 for was purchased by the dealer for 25p (that is about 40 cents!)  I don't even want to calculate the mark-up which that represents.  All I ask is that for this amazing profit, they at least do me the courtesy of taking 15 seconds to erase the price they paid from the back.  Is that really asking too much?

I know, I know...Business is Business.

Monday, October 3, 2011

I told you...

I said this blog was not going to be an everyday thing, it's not like I didn't warn you.  But I will admit, this post has been a bit long in coming and it's not even a real post, more like an apology.  No one wants to be bored with details, but my excuses (oh yes, I have more than one), in a nutshell, are... software issues, camera issues, dental issues, and a massive craft project.  I shall amuse and/or amaze you all with some REAL posts in the very near future.

Oh, I forgot one more excuse...a massive fascination with international soccer (football) that has resulted in countless hours in front of the TV.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dill Follow-up

The good news is...the dill lasts much longer than regular flowers and the slight fragrance lasts nicely also.

The bad news is....it's really messy.  There is a fine powder of dill pollen for a 3 foot radius which doubles when you handle the stems for disposal.

The verdict....it's worth it at least once a year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dilly Dilly

Every time I go to a Farmer's Market at this time of the year I gravitate to the pickling cukes for two reasons.  The first is that I really prefer the stubby wrinkled cukes to the long smooth year-round variety.  The second is to pinch the dill that is always available alongside them.  I love the smell of dill!

This year, as I stood pinching the dill, I noticed one lovely bunch (fully four foot tall with roots) that had somehow escaped being bent or scrunched.  So I bought it, took it home, and arranged it in my tallest vase.  There was even enough odds and ends for a small arrangement in a bottle.

Not the best photo ever, but you get the picture...
 I think it looks great, and every time I walk through the living room, I smell the dill...and I don't have to pinch anything.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


As near as I can figure, Kate and Bob were the first people I met 55 years ago when we moved from Montana to the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.  They had a corner grocery store one block from our new house…an old fashioned corner store just like the one my parents had owned in Great Falls.  They had a son a little older than I and a daughter my brother’s age and their family has danced in and out of my life ever since then.

My mother worked part time at their store for a while.  I went to school with the kids.  When their son married a girl from Great Falls we discovered her grandmother lived a block from our store at the reception in Kirkland.  After I was married and in a home of my own, my closest neighbors and good friends turned out to be great friends of this couple.  As we had children, they played softball together.  When the son married for the second time, my daughter sang at his wedding.

When Kate and Bob left the store they moved to my block and for many years I watched Kate take her afternoon constitutional down our street…and I watched Bob come up everyday to pick up the newspaper he shared with another neighbor.  If I was out working in the yard, they would stop and chat.  Kate was a hoot and Bob was an old smoothie.

Today I went to a memorial for Kate and Bob.  In death, as in life, they did it together.  At the ripe old age of 96 they passed away within 14 hours of each other.

Rest in Peace, Kate and Bob.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What's the Opposite of Rant?

There does not appear to be an antonym for the noun 'rant'.  Lots of synonyms: bombast, harangue, tirade and many more.  The best they can do is 'calm' or 'quiet' - neither of which will do.  Regardless of this semantic problem, I want to say something good in an emphatic manner, so call it what you will...here it is.

Last week I bought 2 pints of blueberries at a local farmers market.  I ate them both straight out of the box (yes, I washed them first), one on the second day and the other on the third.  Here is the wonderful and amazing thing: from those two pints, I had to throw away exactly ONE blueberry.  Even that was a close call, my mother would have eaten it in a heartbeat.  Now I ask you, when was the last time you ate even one pint of blueberries that had been so carefully picked and handled, and so rushed to market, that every single berry was good.  And they were all truly ripe!

And so in celebration of this wonderful and strange happening, I will break my rule of not naming names in hopes that it may do them some good.  The berries came from Crawford Farms in Prosser, WA and I bought them at Yakima Market on Bothell Way.

As I write this I am munching blueberries out of another pint I bought yesterday and at this point they all look perfect.

Maybe I need to coin a word for the opposit of a rant...how about a 'laud'. I have just written a laud...sounds good, I like it.  (Just looked it up and it appears it is already in use as a noun, but if it catches on I'll take credit for it anyway.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Green Lane to Nowhere

I don’t plan on doing very many book reviews here -  it would be rather foolish since most of the books I read have not only been reviewed to death but often have whole books written about them.  The majority of the books I read are classics.  But I do have a few revered authors writing currently – Terry Pratchett, Bill Bryson, Jasper Fforde – and I do go on what I call ‘reading binges’ when I have a new interest.  Usually this is a historical personage or period.  I have done Henry VIII and the Bloomsbury Group to a fare-thee-well, and now I am in the middle of football/soccer with an emphasis on Liverpool FC.

However, I do have a nice little stack of books by my bedside, most of them non-fiction and none of them classics, that is almost out of control, so I am trying to get it down to where I don’t trip over it when I get up in the middle of the night to visit the bathroom.  Where did all these books come from?  Well, I am often given books by friends who support my love for all things English.  I have a weakness for remaindered books with shiny new dust jackets.  When I order from Powell’s (the best bookstore in the world) I try to order in batches that total $50 to get free shipping.  You can get an awful lot of used paperbacks for $50 so I usually wind up getting a few on spec to fill out my order.

The book I want to talk about came from one of these Powell’s orders, and what caught my eye was the comment that it was a “modern Akenfield”.  Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe was also a filler in a Powell’s order and is a wonderfully readable book on the social history of Suffolk village life which was not only made into a movie but now has its own sequel,  Return to Akenfield by Craig Taylor.

I have just cheerfully broken all book review rules by writing three paragraphs without even naming the book being reviewed….so here it is….The Green Lane to Nowhere: The Life of an English Village by Byron Rogers.

Rogers writes about his life in and around a village in Northamptonshire in a way that is somehow timeless.  He weaves history and mystery, personalities and landscapes in a seamless series of extended anecdotes.  Yes, he is amusing, but it is the kind of humour that is so friendly and warm it makes you smile as you read.  When he reaches back, and sometimes he reaches a very long ways back, he gives you all the relevant information and still manages never to bore you with details.

I find his style brilliant, the kind where you sometimes stop mid-paragraph to admire his choice of words.  This book is so readable I do not hesitate to recommend it to non-anglophiles.  When I grow up, I want to write just like Byron Rogers.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eau d'Elevator

An elevator in your average condo building is a small closed room.  If you are claustrophobic it can be a problem.  I am quite claustrophobic, but for some reason elevators are not a problem for me.  My problem is that I have a very good sense of smell.

Several months ago someone spilled a coffee/milk drink of some kind in the elevator, and of course, they didn’t clean it up properly.  For two days the elevator smelled pleasantly of coffee.  I don’t need to tell you where it went from there.  For another three days it smelled like the inside of your average kitchen garbage pail.  Then it was reported and the carpet was cleaned.  For weeks, that small closed space smelled like a garbage can containing a cheap air freshener ………….  It was awful.

Yesterday morning, as I stepped in the elevator, a pleasantly scrubbed man stepped out.  This was a man who clearly loved his cologne.  I did not.  I suspect his wife sent him out on an errand so she could breath.

Ah but last night, my neighbors brought home pizza.  I know because I saw them going in their door as I was locking mine.  It was sausage with onion and there was no green pepper.  Ask me how I know….

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Slap Who?

View through the pines to Baby Island off Whidbey Island looking across to more Whidbey Island.
Imagine if you will, four woman of a certain age in a cabin, on an island, together for three days.  They’ve known each other for many years, there are sisters involved, so there was nothing new to be said about family or husbands, current or ex.  What on earth, you may well wonder, do they talk about?  The answer is neither as interesting nor as boring as you may think….

1)      Eggs: Just exactly how long are eggs good for cooking, when does one throw them out, and how well cooked must one be (the egg, that is) before you will eat it.  This was one of the many conversations stymied by a lack of computer access, and it turns out discussions like this are much more interesting when no one actually knows the answer – Google-free discussions can go on forever.  In case you are wondering, refrigerated eggs are good for 2-3 weeks AFTER the sell by date.
2)      Wildlife: We have over the years seen whales, seals, bald eagles (lots), osprey, herons, hummingbirds, wild bunnies, and this very strange guy living across the street.  The two main conversations are a) Did you see that? Did it move? Is it a seal? No, I think it’s just a big rock. b) Is it an osprey or a young eagle? Where? It’s too big to be a young eagle.  Where? But I think I can see white feathers on the head. Where? It’s gone.
3)      Hate: We talked for a very long time about the use of the word hate.  Although the conclusion was far from unanimous, we decided it was ridiculous to emphatically hate something inanimate – a waste of energy as well as credibility.  For the rest of our stay however, we were acutely aware of how often we did actually use the word – although three of the four are quite mild-mannered.
4)      Cheese: I think there was only one meal in which cheese did not play a part and that was a breakfast.  We had a substantial cheese plate for one lunch and ate the remains on our last day. (We plan no meals on the last day, we simply try to eat up the left-overs to minimize the amount of food we have to haul back home.)  No matter how well we plan, there are always a few items brought by everybody: coffee, cream, biscuits (the kind the English consider cookies), and cheese. Although for some reason, this year we had an abundance of avocados also.  And so, as we munched away, we discussed the various cheeses we had known. 
5)      Slap yo’ momma!: This was by far the most heated conversation of the stay, as we tried to come up with a clever ‘Name this Dish’ entry for a cooking magazine.  The southern expression, evidently a favorite of Paula Dean, is used to emphatically describe the goodness of something, in this case food.  As in: “that Extra Cheese Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon, Sour Cream, Butter, and More Cheese Added was slap yo’ Momma good!”  Some of us thought ‘Slap Yo Momma Spuds’ was a good idea.  Some of us did not feel it was appropriate - perhaps the fact that we were all Mommas had something to do with it.  I have a feeling this conversation will resurface for years to come.
6)      Gin and Tonics:  One of the funniest conversations ever as we tried to figure out what had gone wrong with the anxiously awaited ‘perfect’ G&T’s – they were decidedly NOT perfect.  Was it the gin, which had been carried up in a possibly tainted glass jar?  Was it the tonic, is there such a thing as bad tonic? Was it the plastic glasses they were served in?  Was it the lime, bad lime or too much lime?  We were a perfect bunch of Miss Marples as we tested and eliminated, remade and retasted.  We were quite serious, although someone watching us would have been ROFLing.  For the record, we finally decided it was too much lime.  Maybe this is why I personally prefer bourbon on the rocks – so much easier.

Usually, we spend much of our time on these annual weekends discussing England.  It was two years gone since our trip together to England and none of us had a trip in the planning stages.  Any one of us planning a trip to Old Blighty is grounds for endless conversations, listmaking and collective magazine-combing.  I think next year I will pretend I am planning a trip just to change the conversation, I am pretty well cheesed out.

This guy lurked out on the deck the whole time.  Yes, those are raindrops on the rose petals, it is the Pacific Northwest so of course it was raining much of the time.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thanks Sweetie!

So many of the negatives of growing older are countered by positives if you just make the effort to find them.  At this point in my life, I have trouble remembering the names of people I don't know well or see very often.  However, I am also at the age where I can call anybody under the age of 40, male or female...Sweetie.  It works for me.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tying It All Together

At this point in my life, I read fiction and non-fiction pretty much equally. I also listen to quite a few books as read on BBC4 and BBC4Extra.  It is such a lovely thing when they all come together.

One of the convenient things about reading is that we can read through an unknown reference without even realizing it was a reference.  For us ‘know-it-all’ types there is nothing more satisfying than catching a reference we assume most readers have missed.  This alone is a good reason for re-reading books after 20 or so years – of course this is on the assumption that you have learned something in that period of time.

So here is the set-up:  I have an abiding interest in the famous Shakespearean actress, Ellen Terry (1847 – 1928).  After having spent much too much time listening to me talk about her, my friends are always amazed at how often they come across references to her – someone they previously didn’t know existed.  Rarely, even in the age of Wikipedia, do we take the time to look up someone only briefly mentioned in a book.  In 1913, she wrote a book on the Russian Ballet.  I have always wondered how this subject came to be of such interest to her; something not really covered in her autobiography or the various other biographies I have read.

I just finished reading The Victorian Visitors: Culture Shock in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Rupert Christiansen.  The first half of the book was pretty slow reading.  I was surprised at how much was devoted to the life stories of the visitors: Theodore Gericault, Richard Wagner, Ralph Waldo Emerson - fully half of the book to these three, with precious little about their actual time in England.  The last three chapters were about an assortment of spiritualists, the early Australian and New Zealand cricket teams, and ballet dancers.  This was much more interesting to me as it delved into the changing tastes of Victorian and Edwardian society.  It’s always cheering to find that society a century ago was just as susceptible to hype, sham and glamour as we are today.

Now I understand.  The entire face of ballet in England changed after about 1880 and in 1911 the Ballet Russe arrived in London and completely took it by storm.  High society fought to entertain Nijinski, Pavlova, and even Bakst – the stage and costume designer. Even royalty attended the ballet, which until then had been very much a second class entertainment.  Ellen Terry, who traveled in the highest literary and artistic circles, would have been as caught up in this as everyone else.  And so, as she was pretty much retired from the stage at this point, she wrote the book.

There were two more enlightening bits.  Although I may have heard it before, in the chapter about cricket, the origin of the The Ashes was explained - I won’t spoil it for you, just in case you have any interest.  The first teams of natives from Australia and New Zealand also visited England at this point.  And so today, while listening to the newest chapter of Lord Peter Wimsey (Dorothy Sayers) on BBC4Extra, when Lord Peter begs off a boring chore by saying he was on his way to Lords to see the New Zealanders, I got it.  It was more than just a passing reference – it was a fully fleshed out reference to the sporting interest of the times and a perfectly good excuse.

We'll talk more about Ellen Terry at a later date............

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Winchester

As promised, I'm going to revisit Winchester....

BUSKER WARS:  I'm an early riser, especially when traveling, so in Winchester I would get dressed and get out on the streets.  One morning, on my way back home, I sat down on a bench in High Street and watched a busker with his guitar settle in.  He was sitting on a bench across from the Butter Cross, close to the gate which came through from the Cathedral - a perfect location.  He was quite good, both as a guitarist and as a vocalist so I sat and listened for a while.  Just as I was about to leave, I looked up High Street and saw a young woman all in white walking toward us.  As she walked, she held up her long skirts with one hand, which displayed her red and white striped tights, and in the other hand she held a bouquet of sweet pea.  When she reached the Butter Cross, she climbed to the top step and struck a pose.  Ah, I thought, a mime, more street performance.  Oh no, thought the guitarist, competition.  While he called across to her, in no uncertain terms that she was poaching on his location, she tried to keep in character.  Clearly, he was not giving up, and so she tried peacemaking.  She walked down the steps, walked across to him and sweetly offered a stem of sweet pea from her bouquet.  He wasn't buying it and although he was quieter when he stated his position this time, he was no less emphatic.  And so she tucked the stem back in her bouquet, picked up her skirts and moved on down the street.

SMALL PLEASURES:  A punnet is a term used in Britain for a basket used for displaying produce, usually in a farmers market or grocery store.  It's usually one of those green plastic mesh baskets.  Because my reading leans so heavily on British authors, there are quite a few words that I read here, but can only use over there without sounding like an idiot (not that I let it stop me).  So I took great pleasure at the farmer's market in purchasing a punnet of small tomatoes.  I figure I managed to use the word punnet at least four times during the transaction...and several times more when I got home

DOOR TO THE PAST:  In England I take a great many photos of doors and windows.  I love the varied architecture and the rose climbing round the door.  But some doors and windows are very special because someone special walked through that door each day, or looked out that window to check the weather.  It is even more special when you can actually walk through that door, or stand and look out the window.  As we walked past Jane Austen's last home, someone approached, knocked on the door, introduced themselves, and was welcomed in.  Obviously, they had made special arrangements with the caretakers as the house was not open to visitors.  I watched enviously, and I saw someone pull the white curtain aside to peep out the window.  Looking out is so much different than looking in.

CHARACTERS: The week in Winchester was really lovely...and interesting...and sometimes very funny.  One early morning, after watching the Farmer's Market setting up, I sat on a bench at the entrace to the Cathedral Close.  A woman came up, sat down, and started talking.  She obviously was lonely, although she was very cheerful.  She didn't stop talking for at least twenty minutes.  She told me about her uncle that went to America, her son who rarely came to visit her, her upbringing in Manchester, what her bedsit looked like and finally about the surgery removing her right breast - including the fact that she usually wore her artificial breast but had decided not to bother on this morning.  At that time, my daughter arrived and joined the conversation - she also lit up a cigarette.  The old ladies eyes sparkled, "Oh" she said, "I am out of cigarettes, could I buy a couple from you?"  This was followed by the 'discovery' that she had left her purse at home and had no money with her.  Of course, she was given several cigarettes, and by the way she lit up and took that first drag, she had obviously been out of cigarettes for a good while.  I took her picture, we said goodbye, and walked back home.  Much later, looking at my photos, I saw quite clearly that she had indeed left something at home.

DETAILS:  They have such wonderful downspouts in England!  I have a nice little photo collection of them and this was one of my favorites.  But I can't help feeling a little sorry for the pigeons.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Flickr Mosaics - Winchester

I do love making photo mosaics on Flickr, I do mine on bighugelabs.com  Here are several I recently made from photos of my visit to Winchester, Hampshire in 2007.  We spent a week in Winchester, a really lovely small city with loads of history, architectural gems, lush gardens, and a cathedral.  It was June and everything was in bloom.

High Street, the photo in the center, is so beautifully preserved that you can't tell if it's 2007 or 1907 if it wasn't for the omnipresent trashcans...Winchester is very big on trashcans,

Even in a week there was not enough time to begin to capture all the lovely details.

These photos are from Queen Eleanor's Garden at the castle (home of King Arthur's supposed Round Table).  It was just coming into bloom, but was so lush and green and amazingly full of ideas for such a small garden.

All cathedrals are wonderful in their own way, but Winchester Cathedral has to be one of my favorites.
Bollards in the heart of the town were painted in the style of famous artists, it felt like a treasure hunt as wandered around town and stumbled on on of them.  It also felt like a pop quiz as the three of us sometimes struggled to identify the artist.
Looking back at these mosaics, several things come to mind that aren't represented here, but deserve to be mentioned in any conversation about Winchester.  I'll save them for a later post...maybe even tomorrow.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Radio On Line

It will come as no surprise to anybody that I listen to BBC Radio.  It started as my news source, which is a subject for another post, but became an addiction when I found myself home most of the day and began searching the BBC Radio website for other things to listen to.  Now, I pretty much have it on anytime I am in my studio, which between computer time and studio time is a large part of my day.

I barely remember the age of radio, I was in first or second grade when we got our first TV, but I have a lovely memory of being at my grandparents house and watching my grandfather lay on the floor with his head on a small pillow tucked into the bottom cavity of his big radio/phonograph console (where most people kept their records) listening to baseball games.  Grandma didn’t like them I guess, so this was his small but functional version of a man cave.

One of the comments often made about books or radio as opposed to TV or movies is that they  allow, even force, one to imagine what the people look like, where they are, and all the little details.  Often we come up with something much more colorful and exciting than a film director imagines.  Exactly like reading, radio stretches your imagination.  I am sure Grandpa saw each pitch, strike and home run as clearly as we might on TV, perhaps better.

Amazingly, in England, big names do radio – familiar voices pop up when you least expect it.   On any given day there are half a dozen different novels in progress, everything from Classics by Trollope and Hardy, genre novels by Dorothy Sayers, John LeCarre and Terry Pratchett, to new fiction.  You can go from an episode of 'Doctor Who' to a reading of Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem Prelude. 

Even more amazingly, they have panel and quiz shows that play to the highest common denominator rather than the lowest.  Okay, puns are considered the lowest form of humour, and British humour absolutely thrives on bad puns, but they are seldom looking for the joke in farts or projectile vomiting.

BBC Radio Four does adaptions of classic and current works of fiction and you can subscribe to a newsletter which tells you what is playing this week, what is coming up, and what is in production.  Don’t worry about the time difference, most all of the shows are available on the BBC iPlayer for up to a week after they air.

Radio Four Extra has a corner on comedy.  Classics like ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Dad’s Army’ familiar to those of us who watch public television as well as some oldies but goodies that never made it across the water and recent classics like ‘Little Britain’.

I could go on forever, but I have an episode of ‘Babysitting George’ to listen to.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chickadee Photos

A week later and the chickadees are still visiting the skull several times a day.  (See my May 3 post) I have now washed all my throw rugs and bedding to produce a continuing supply of dryer lint.  I have also managed to catch a few decent photos of them.
This is the smaller of the two, which I take to be the female.  They sit on the forehead of the skull and look around, cheeping nervously for quite some time before they finally go into the skull.

And so, finally deciding it was safe, they enter the skull.  You can tell this is the larger of the two in this photo.

Most of the time, after a few seconds, they stick their head out again to be sure everything is ok.

Then they go back in, grab a mouthful of lint and take off.
Obviously it is not just nest building materials they find inside the skull, sometimes I can hear them pecking so I assume there are some small insects in there also.  Yesterday, while one was perched on the forehead and the other perched on the railing, and I perched at my computer, I played some chickadee song from a birding sight.  They were quite interested and it seemed they did try to respond.  But I suspect I am just imagining that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Old Age or Lack of Caffeine

I might as well be honest right from the beginning, I don’t drink caffeine so that pretty much narrows it down, doesn’t it.

Drive-through coffee is just an accepted fact of life in Seattle and most of us have at least one within a mile of our home or workplace.  I have three: A Starbucks, MacDonald’s, and one where the barista works in her underwear.  We are spoiled for choice and quality around here so most of us have fine-tuned our coffee to suit our needs and desires perfectly.  We can be almost ridiculously picky about our drinks and so, we usually are.  The customers who request a ‘tall brewed’ are few and far between.

Up until about 6 months ago I was drinking a ‘decaf grande two Splenda breve latte’.  Then I changed my regular drink and I swear, it took me at least two months to run through ‘iced decaf triple grande two Splenda latte’ without breaking into a “breve” somewhere.  But eventually your mind blocks out the rhythm of the old drink and the new one flows from your mouth to the mic at the drive-through with practically no thought. 

Now here is where it gets difficult. In my ongoing efforts to reduce carbs anywhere I can, I have decided to cut back on my lattes and replace them some of the time with ‘iced passion tea lemonade no syrup two Splenda’.  So now my poor ancient brain has to toggle between the two drinks.  It is embarrassingly difficult. 

I know I sound like the rich man complaining about how hard it is to handle all his money.  But I also know this would not be such a problem if I were thirty.  Thank God I am such a regular that the lovely young people at my local Starbucks know me and help me out when I get in the middle of a hopelessly botched order.  I am sure they do it for all the ‘old folks’, it’s probably part of Starbucks training.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Salisbury, Wiltshire

The notes on my Flickr collection entitled 'England' say "I just save my money until I can go to England again...and then I take a couple thousand photos...and then I play with them until I can go back to England and take some more".

I have been playing with my photos of Salisbury - one of my favorite citys.  These are from my 2009 visit.

All of these spots are in the heart of Salisbury.
As you can see, it was spring.

A really lovely cathedral, where the few modern changes have been chosen with great care.

The specifics on any of these photos are on the Flickr site - link to left and also to right.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And Then Nature Thrills

For the last forty-five years I have been blessed to live in houses that have a lot of birdlife in the yards.  As soon as possible in the spring, my bedroom window stays open round the clock and the dawn chorus has been a regular start to my day.  Where I am now, there are very few resident birds and no dawn chorus at all.  There are crows, chickadees, the occasional band of bushtits, herons flying overhead, and of course, starlings.

Quite a few years ago my daughter bought me a cow skull ( or maybe a bull skull?) that had been a wall decoration at a restaurant that was closing.  It was pretty worn down, had only one horn, and hung from a leather thong.  I assume it was a Mexican restaurant, it had that bleached-in-the-sun look that looks good next to the serape.  This spring when I cleaned out the pots on my little deck and planted the early pansies, I took the skull from under an old worn table (they actually looked quite good together) and hung it low on the wall by the railing.

Day before yesterday, as I walked by the sliding doors I saw a flicker of feather out of the corner of my eye and there was a chickadee perched on the hole that goes into the skull at the top.  Nothing was showing but his little tail for a minute and then he flitted away.  It was awfully cute.

Yesterday, as I sat at my computer, I looked out the door and there was the chickadee again.  Now he was going all the way into the skull and coming out with a beakful of brown material.  Upon investigation, I found there was some sort of spongy stuff filling much of the cavity in the skull.  Aha, I thought, perfect nesting material.  And soon enough there was a second chickadee, somewhat smaller than the first and quite a bit more cautious but also availing herself of this windfall.  For most of the day, every time I looked, one or the other of them was coming or going.

There is a pine tree at the side of my deck and there always seems to be chickadees in it, so I am hoping there is a nest being built there.  By the evening, when I checked the skull, they had removed most of the spongy stuff so I cleaned out my dryer lint trap and stuffed some of that into the skull.  Sure enough, this morning found both of them coming and going with great bits of purplish fuzz in their beaks.

Now I just have to figure out how to get a photo before the nest is completed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nature Kills

I have the great good fortune to live close to a heronry (a colony of breeding herons).  They are beautiful and unusual birds.  Although I am fond of quite a list of birds – crows, magpies, English robins, puffins, swans, and bullfinches in particular – herons have such a wonderfully unusual shape, and when they fly past for just a moment you think you are seeing some prehistoric flying creature.

Not long after I moved to where I am now, I became unemployed, so I had the luxury of spending as much time watching the herons as I wished.  There is a Park and Ride adjacent to the protected area in which you can park and watch them.  You need bins to really see what is going on, but all through the spring of my first year here I would stop by for at least a few minutes almost every day and watch them building and repairing their nests, jockeying for position, and occasionally making love.  It was a delightful break in my comings and goings during a sun-filled spring season.

One of about five trees with nests in the heronry.  One of the trees has easily twice as many nests as this one does.

Last year, still unemployed, I began my regular visits as soon as they arrived at the nests.  I was lucky enough to see a great group of them arrive at the nests all together – an amazing sight of gangly legs and outspread wings settling down into the trees and nests.
Early one sunny Sunday morning I pulled into the near empty parking lot and realized immediately that something was very wrong.

We are blessed, near the shores of Lake Washington, to have a healthy and happy group of bald eagles.  Bald eagles like heron eggs.  I watched helplessly as two eagles savaged the nests.  One eagle moved from nest to nest and you didn’t need bins to imagine what was going on.  The other eagle circled above the trees.  Several large herons tried hopelessly to drive the eagle away, but even a full grown male heron is no match for a bald eagle.  Most awful however, were the cries of the herons.  They have a rather squawky sound normally with inserted clacking of beaks but now, at this moment, they were clearly cries of agony and despair.  Not to anthropomorphize the situation more than necessary, but I swear I could hear the parental anguish in their cries.  It was quite disturbing.

As sad as it was, I reminded myself that this was nature in action, this is what happens in the animal world.  As a friend of mind reminded me recently, “nature kills”.

I really couldn’t bear to watch or listen any longer so I headed around the corner towards home.  About five hundred yards from the heronry is a stand of trees normally unoccupied.  Now, they were loaded with herons, well over a hundred – all the herons that are normally unseen in their deep nests, and probably every last member of the group sat there, looking towards the nesting trees.  Waiting.  It may have been the saddest thing I ever saw in my life.

One of this years herons, looking for the perfect branch to add to the nest.

So spring has come again this year, without sunshine for the most part, and I have resumed my watch at the heronry.  But it is not the same for me as it was.  I don't stay as long, and I am always scanning the skies above the trees.  It is sort of like Christmas the first year after you discover there is no Santa Claus.  The tree and the presents are still there, but some of the joy has gone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Year of the Book Update...

Since we are nearly one third of the way through the year already, and since I introduced my 'Year of the Book' project here, it seems appropriate to give you an update.  In short, I am cooking!  So far, this has been way too much fun, and I have had no trouble meeting the most important goal, which was to make at least one new type of book each month.  I have learned a tremendous amount, (mostly the hard way) and the way my other crafting knowledge carries over is wonderful.  I wish I could say my stack of papers looks discernibly smaller...but I can't.  Surprisingly, small books just don't use all that much paper.  Please note that I have made at least some progress on seven of my eleven goals. 

I had planned to take a 2-day workshop at the Pacific Northwest Art School on Whidbey Island this month towards my goal of making a "Proper Book" but the class was canceled for lack of interest.  This rather surprises me as interest in the book arts seem to be growing recently.  The quantity of books about bookmaking which I have justified the purchase of, is ample evidence of this I would think.

One of my March books was a Starbucks cup used as the container for a small book of ATC (Artist Trading Cards, some of which used Starbucks stickers.  I noted that my daughter had come into an large supply of them and thought I would show you how she used them to cover boxes. 

This was a cigar box, but she used various boxes and various combinations of stickers.

At any rate, just so you know, my Year of the Book is going splendidly.  If you haven't visited that blog yet, or recently, please do - the link is to your right.

Monday, April 11, 2011

March Madness

Whimsy has no place in my Mother’s life.  The fact that it has a very large place in mine is something that she has never come to terms with.  She is, above all things, a practical person.  For example, ask her what she thinks about birthdays…”Well, it’s just another day, really.”

As you can imagine, this has caused some strain in our relationship at times, but more  often just a great gap of understanding – like when I am trying to explain to her what I love about Terry Pratchett, or why I paid good money for a pair of earrings with a clay carrot on one ear and a peapod on the other.

But every spring, when the forsythias are in bloom, I think of something she did about 45 years ago when I was away at college.  And that usually leads me to thinking about something she did on my 16th birthday.  And that makes me wonder if there was a pocket of impracticality, of whimsy, hidden somewhere deep inside.  Let me explain…

One of the first shrubs to burst into bloom here in the Pacific Northwest is the forsythia.  If there is one blooming, you can’t miss it – glorious yellow.  Not the loveliest shrub in general and very often pruned into a disaster, but glorious yellow branches that promise spring regardless of the temperature at the moment.  Smart folk cut long graceful branches as soon as you can see the bud and with just a day or two sitting in warm water you have brought spring into the house.

Now while the forsythia is coming into bud in Washington, snow still covers the ground in Montana.  So in my freshman year at Missoula, when I received an oddly shaped care package from home, I was amazed to find a carefully wrapped bunch of forsythia branches atop the batch of homemade cookies.  Two days later my dreary little dorm room had a burst of sunshine that brought tears to my eyes every time I walked into the room.  The only other time I was really homesick at school was when I got the measles.

The second memory is of sitting on the couch in the living room opening my 16th birthday gift from my Mom.  Please note, no party, no family gathering, nothing special much except good wishes.  Mom prefaced the gift with a sort of mumbled statement about being a woman now and this was something every woman should have.  It was a lovely, if inexpensive, set of black lace underwear.  I am still shocked when I think of it.  I am pretty certain my mother herself never owned a matching set of black lace underwear and I can’t imagine her thinking a 16 year old had any need of such a thing.

I have been eternally grateful for those two lapses of practicality, or whimsy, or whatever you want to call it.  I treasure them each spring.  Now that I think of it, my birthday is in March, about when the forsythias bloom.  Perhaps there is something to that Mad as a March Hare business – for my Mother at least.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lucky Me

I am lucky to have the kind of friends who want me to be happy, even if that means doing rather foolish things because they know it will please me.  Like the year I kept complaining about not having a set of antlers (well, my family in Montana have more than they know what to do with!) and a good friend went against all the accepted garage sale rules and appeared at the doorstep of an advertised sale one day early to beg them to sell her a pair of antlers. They did, and it was a wonderful birthday surprise from the group of friend I lovingly refer to as The Old Bags.

They now hang happily in my studio.
Another friend feeds my anglomania by bring me a lovely bunch of cowslips every spring.  This year she brought me a small plastic bag with both cowslips and the sweet pale yellow primroses.  It may not sound all that special, but I happen to know she smuggled starts of both of them home from England...so these are genuine English blossoms...and that matters to me.
Last years cowslips, in the empty Penhaligon bottle I saved from the 1986 trip to England.
We'll talk about the rubber ducky at a later date.

Friday, March 25, 2011


We have had a week of spring weather...sunshine, clouds, sprinkles, then sunshine again.  Exactly what I wanted.  I knew how much I loved looking up into a tree in full bloom in the sunshine.  I knew how much I loved seeing raindrops on the daffodils.  I forgot that, for me, Spring means sinus headaches.  All that sunshine, clouds, sprinkles, then sunshine again gives me sinus headaches. 

These pictures were taken March 23rd.  This is what Spring is like in the Pacific Northwest.

Deep in the overgrown, blackberry tangled woods,
the sun shines on a wild cherry.
It's worth a sinus headache, any day!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Rant for Spring

I love living in the Pacific Northwest and I can’t imagine living anywhere else…except, of course, anywhere in England.  Everything I need to make me happy is within one hour from Seattle: ocean, mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, museums, concerts, major retailers, festivals, fresh seafood, farmers markets, gorgeous gardens…an endless list really.  And if I get the occasional yearning for plains or wheatland, it’s still only an hour away.  I love lichen and moss and I don’t need to tan.

Way up at the top of the list of things I love about the Pacific Northwest is Spring.  Coming from a childhood in Montana, I knew the joy of endless sunshiny summers and amazing white winters.  I had no idea what Spring could be.

I know that in most parts of the US March is not considered a Spring month, it starts properly in April (between the April Showers) and continues in May (with the May flowers).  In Seattle, we have early camellias and rhodys blooming at the end of February with the early spring bulbs at their feet.  We have forsythia – pure sunshine.  By March the plums have begun to blossom – clouds of pink and white since they bloom before the leaves come out. And from there it is a continuous riot of blossoms through to May.
The apple tree in my Mother's backyard...in bloom...in the sunshine.

And through all this amazing bloom, there is sunshine, soft showers, fluffy white clouds and then more showers.  Sure, there is the occasional week of grey skies, but in between are the weeks when you look out your kitchen window and see the sun reflecting off the raindrops on the six foot tall rhody in full bloom.  And you just smile, a really big, warm, happy smile.

But not this year.  There hasn’t been a combined three hours of sunshine in the last month, and there is nothing on the forecast but more of the same.  I swear, I rarely complain about the weather, but this year – I have had it!  Everything is late because of the bitterly cold February and early March, fine, I can deal with that.  But all the trees are starting to bloom, the bulbs are up and blooming – none of this is any good without sunshine.  What good will it do to have sunshine in April?  It will be too late!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Location, Location, Location

These are the magic words for real estate agents everywhere.  It appears they may be equally so for those in marketing and sales.  On our recent trip to Portland we stayed near Portland Meadows, the horse racing track.  Now I am not a gambler, but in my early twenties I spent a fair amount of time at Longacres (which preceeded Emerald Downs) and it never felt like a particularly masculine sports venue.  Certainly not compared to football stadiums or hockey rinks.  Good grief, even Queen Elizabeth goes to the races.

Portland meadows backs up to a mid-sized shopping area and I jotted down the names of the businesses located there:
            Baxter Auto Parts
            Fisherman’s Marine & Outdoor
            Dick’s Sporting Goods
            Lowe’s Hardware
            West Marine
Exercise Equipment NW
La Z boy
Burrito House
Could you find a more masculine group of businesses?  All it was missing was a steak house.  What I am wondering, is whether the stores get their business as the men are on the way to the track (while they still have money in their pockets) or coming home from the track (if they have been successful). 

“Honey, I have to run to the hardware store and then pick up a new air filter for the car.  I’ll be gone a couple of hours.”  Right….

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Weekend Away

It says something very nice about the relationship I have with my daughter that we can take a week-end out of town in which pretty much everything went pear-shaped…and we still had a lovely time.

For my birthday, we were going to drive down to Portland for an antique paper show – postcards, stamps, and other ephemera.  We hadn’t gone down for one of the Portland shows for quite a few years, so when we planned it in early February it seemed like a good idea.  The entire lead-up became stressful because of the  unusual end-of-February cold snap which brought snow in fits and starts for three days from here down to Portland.  After haunting the weather and DOT sites during that period, we finally decided to just do it.

There were no disasters or accidents…but….there were slushy roads, an obnoxious refrigerator hums in our hotel room, bloody noses (more than one), two really bad meals, a toothache, and temperatures that stayed around 20 degrees day and night.  The paper show was in an old armory building with incredibly inadequate heating, filthy rest rooms, and seating that gave my daughter a back ache and really pained my poor old arthritic hips.  We even managed to get lost in South Tacoma on our way home.

I’ll admit we did have one nice meal of take-away Chinese, the hotel had enough pillows, and we lucked into a great craft shop in Centralia called Cindy’s Simple Stuff. It’s a delightful little shop with lots of variety for any of the paper arts and lots of ribbon at killer prices.  If you are in the area…do not miss it. http://cindyssimplestuff.blogspot.com/

One rather wonderful thing happened on the trip, one of those things that makes you realize your child has really, finally, become an adult.  After 35 plus years of  traveling together, for the very first time, she got out of bed before I did on Sunday morning and started packing things up.  I just laid there in bed watching in amazement.  It was wonderful!  And hopefully it wasn’t just because she was in a hurry to get home.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

One the same day that we visited Mottisfont Abbey we also went to Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Romsey, just a few miles down the road.  This garden couldn't be more different, and yet we found it equally wonderful.  It covers 180 acres with over 42,000 plants from around the world in themed plantings.  We were particularly attracted by the fact that it was hosting a show of garden art.  There were hundreds of works of art spread out through the gardens - art of all sizes and types, truly something for everyone.
You can get a better look at these pictures on my Flickr site. There are at least a dozen more of the artworks there also.
The lovely lady wading in the pool is the one who got us there as I had seen her on-line.  She was, of course, one of our favorites, as were the big balls of wound vines shown at the bottom.  And speaking of bottoms, who wouldn't love that blue guy standing on his his head.

Some pieces were very organic and would fit nicely in almost anyone's home garden...

Others were of a size that could only be called 'Institutional'.
My favorite was a group of Mad March Hares frolicking through the tall grassy meadow, a perfect example of how perfectly sited each and every work was. 

Don't you just love them?
  An added bonus was the newly hatched group of Moorhens - would they be Moorchicks?  We found them balancing gingerly on the waterlily leaves as mother watched on approvingly.