Wednesday, 4 March 2015

National Unplug Day: Sundown March 6th to Sundown March 7th

I grabbed a link several years ago that I've just recently rediscovered. It was about something called the Sabbath Manifesto, something to do with some Jewish organisation and something called 'Reboot', which is basically about slowing life down.  The original thing that attracted me was their "Ten Principles" for observing a weekly day of rest:

  • Avoid technology
  • Connect with loved ones
  • Nurture your health
  • Get outside
  • Avoid commerce
  • Light candles
  • Drink wine
  • Eat bread
  • Find silence
  • Give back
What's not to love?

I spend a fair amount of time on my computer, but it's been several years since I carried a functional mobile phone. I keep meaning to get that taken care of, just for emergencies, but it's clearly not a high priority for me.  I am appalled when I see the behaviour of a lot of people who carry these 'smart phone' things, particularly when they are supposedly in social settings. It is so incredibly rude to ignore someone you're out with and I can't imagine how hurtful it must be to feel you have to compete with a little box for someone's attention. They are both wonderful gadgets and horrible, foul things, these screens that hold us prisoner. The National Day of Unplugging has this brilliant / funny / sad video that shows just what we are doing when we stare at a screen instead of engaging with a person. 

Selfies: don't even get me started - I just don't get them!

I have lately been less on Facebook or blog-reading than at my sewing machine / out running / reading a book, which is good, but I could certainly improve a lot more. I may give this 6-7 March thing a go and see how that feels. 

Monday, 2 March 2015


My bookshelves are positively groaning with the addition of my Christmas gifts (and a few other purchases of items not received). I recently read a blog post that talked about 'how to unclutter your book case'. She said to decide first how many books you would like to own. She came up with 60; I thought somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000...which doesn't sound very helpful except that I wouldn't necessarily own all the books I currently have. And of course I've not that much space for bookshelves, so I'm not really in any danger.

Anyhow when I noticed that the Marsden Boy Scouts were having a book sale of course I dropped in for a look as I was passing. I headed straight for the craft section, then the biographies and other non-fiction and then only lightly perused the novels for Veronica Roth's trilogy. No such luck.

But I did find a few other books of interest: The Viceroy's Daughters I have read before and know I will enjoy it again. It is largely set in the inter-war period and is about the three daughters of George Curzon but also has a lot to say about the Mitfords (one of whom who married Oswald Mosley,the ex-husband of the eldest Curzon daughter) and about Duke and Duchess of Windsor (AKA Edward VIII who abdicated to marry Mrs. Simpson).

The foodie book is rather silly and full of ideas I'm not likely to take up both for the health of my body and of my pocketbook, but I shall no doubt learn a term or two.

The Historian was selected mainly because of its title and the nice thickness, but it turned out to be about vampires, something I'd not realised. Fortunately it was nothing like Twilight, read more like a mystery and gave some wonderful descriptions of old cities in Eastern Europe, where we are headed this summer. 

I thought How to Shop and Why We Buy sounded intriguingly yin and yang. The former turns out to be a list of recommended outlets and boutiques across Britain whilst the latter seems to be an insight into how social psychologists study the habits of shoppers and make recommendations to stores. I'd hoped it would be more along the lines of 'how not to buy'; then again, I know quite a bit about that already.

Finally, the book about economics may well prove to be over my head, but I have enjoyed Freakonomics and The Undercover Economist, so we'll see.

I think six books for £4.50 to a good cause was a brilliant deal, don't you?

Friday, 27 February 2015

Money and Gender

Have you ever thought of financial management in terms of gender stereotypes? I was recently considering what financial chores are difficult for me and those which seem to come naturally and I discovered I think of 'male' and 'female' jobs. Not that my money is anyone's responsibility other than my own. I sometimes seek enlightenment from Bill about 'accountant-speak' or ask him to double check that I'm not missing any info off a form, but I don't ask him to deal with the bigger issues as much as I would sometimes dearly love to off load the responsibility.

Wallington Hall, May 2014; just because I like posts to have pictures and I like the tranquility of this one.

I find being frugal - not spending money, looking for good prices, doing things myself, is almost second nature these days. Having experienced financial instability at a young age, I'm much more comfortable keeping a good sized margin between me and the 'financial edge', the subject of one of Amy Dacyczyn's editorials in her Tightwad Gazette newsletter. Spending less, even doing without, isn't that hard for me. I'd rather have financial security than just about anything I can think of buying.

What I struggle with is the tax preparation and the management of investments. I didn't have that much problem with going out and making money during my working days, but I would probably struggle with going back to work after over seven years of retirement. I could do it if I had to, but I wouldn't like it. Which pretty much describes the other tasks. I do what I have to, but I really hate it.

It was in trying to outline the 'Getting Things Done' Project List that I became aware of this weirdness in my thinking. I'm practically 19th Century in looking at money jobs: "men's" work is making the money, investing, dealing with tax authorities, giving the "little woman" her household budget and setting other spending priorities.

"Women's work" is running the household for as little as possible and developing the skills necessary to save money. I don't enjoy all those skills, either, but they don't give me the headache that some of the financial stuff does. I suppose part of "women's work" is spending the money to provide food and household goods. I quite enjoy grocery shopping, but I hate buying things for the house, particularly decorating decisions.

Do you like some parts of financial management better than others? 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Homemade Doorstops and Floor Protection

I've found that inviting people over is a great way to push me to do those little projects I wouldn't bother with otherwise. It makes me sit down and do something I enjoy...once I get started.

One doorstop started with Bill's idea. At some point when the downstairs loo was being built last spring he put a milk bottle, half filled with water, where it would stop the new door from banging the wall and leaving a dent. That milk bottle remained while we were away on various trips and while I was doing my UK tax return. It wasn't until I'd sent out the Thanksgiving invitations that I turned my attention to making a bag to cover the milk bottle. I probably could have chosen an easier doorstop to make, but Bill liked his idea and I so tried to work with it.

The outside was a lush fabric scrap some crafting or sewing group had given me (as it, it would go to the tip if I didn't rescue it). The lining was some fabric I bought 20 years ago for a project I never tacked. I still had the receipt folded up in the fabric. I'm not that wonderfully thrilled with how the bag turned out, but it's completed and it's totally functional. Job done. Were I to tackle it again sometime, I wouldn't fit the bottom part to the size of the milk bottle, I'd just make a big squishy looking bag that had the drape I wanted (the first time) for the top part. I'm not very spatially competent, me.

The other place that needed a doorstop was to protect the corner of my china cabinet from the dining room door. Bill gave me a block of wood that was just the right shape and size. I proceeded to wrap it like a give. Then realised that I was just making another hard surface to put between the two hard surfaces, which wouldn't accomplish anything...duh. Starting over, I buried the block in several layers of wadding and then went back to wrapping.  The result is kind of silly, but I like it. The green matches the carpet and the chair covers; the dark blue matches the blue velvet curtains in the dining room.

The one innovation I was quite pleased about came about after Bill had installed the bamboo flooring in the extension. He was about to put my Grandma's sewing machine cabinet in the alcove opposite the loo but worried his new floor would be scratched. I've been saving milk bottle caps for Vivien for some charity that gets money for recycling them (we have some mad projects going on like that). I took four of those bottle caps, cut larger circles around them from dark brown fabric and stitched covers for each of the bottle caps. Bill put those under the legs of the sewing machine and it slid around just great!

Have you done any 'home sewing' lately?

Monday, 23 February 2015

Pasta Sauce

Bill got an ENORMOUS crock pot for Christmas. I was happy enough with my old £5-bargain-from-the-fleamarket-15-years-ago crock pot, but he wanted one that you could take the 'crock' part out and soak it. 

I've been trying to think what to do with this GIANT thing other than cook 16 meals worth of beans at a time. I think of crock pots as being mainly to do with beans or with meat. I don't wish to add substantial amounts of meat either to our diets or our pocketbooks. 

One thing I did remember cooking 20-some years ago when I lived in Salt Lake was the pasta recipe from The Tightwad Gazette.  As I recall it was practically a party day any time I took a jar off the shelf for dinner. 

I had loads of homegrown tomatoes then and I did the proper canning thing with a hot water bath and all. I remember being really paranoid because of the odd case of botulism associated with home canning, so I was very careful to follow the rules. And I promised myself NEVER TO TASTE something I'd canned that wasn't just right - I'd talked to a woman recovering from botulism who'd done just that, even though she knew it was risky. She was lucky to have survived.

The recipe doesn't call for a crock pot, but I remember struggling to get it all into my biggest pan. So I decided to see how it worked in the new BIG crock pot. I used tinned tomatoes (on sale at my green market four 800g tins for £1!), counting them out and squeezing most of the juice/water out. Bill helped me by grinding the onions and green peppers in Grandma & Grandpa's old meat grinder. I cooked everything except the tomato paste in the crock pot (it was barely half full, but those were huge tins of tomato paste) over night. I added the tomato paste the next day, mixed it all up and put it into jars, not quite filling them to leave room to freeze. 

It smelled and tasted wonderful, mainly because of the herbs and garlic! That said, the tinned tomatoes weren't as big as my homegrown ones (and nothing ever compares to home grown tomatoes, right?) so the paste is a bit acidic. I may try adding a bit of baking soda, not being a huge fan of sugar. When I make it again - and I expect I will - I'll probably double up on the tinned tomatoes. Also, I'll probably try cutting back on the oil, maybe by a third to begin with. We're not on a low fat diet by any means, but it's not unusual for us to find processed foods too oily and a lot of older-fashioned recipes are too rich for our taste.

All that aside, I was well pleased with the outcome and will look for other sauces to make in batches to freeze. 

Do you use a crock pot much?

Friday, 20 February 2015

Queen Victoria

There are several series which I have started on this blog and not continued/finished.  So I thought I'd pick them up again. I particularly enjoyed writing about the women listed in Deborah Felder's book: The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time. Felder wrote about them in the order that she had ranked them, but I chose to write about them chronologically, in hopes of fitting them more closely in my mind with the time in which they lived. I'll have to go back and re-read my posts about the earlier women. I see I last wrote about George Eliot who lived from 1818-1890.

The next person listed is Queen Victoria (1819-1901), ranked 38 out of 100. I must admit I'm not much of a fan and I'd need to go back and re-read the library book to remember why Felder gave her that much credence. Though I'm certainly no expert, the only real way in which I would consider her influential is that she and her husband Albert changed the pattern of behaviour for British monarchs. 

They both had unhappy childhoods which they attributed to the sexual escapades and affairs of their parents; they decided to be more upstanding, to practice higher morals and to raise their children to behave similarly. I'm not sure the latter attempt was successful, considering the life of their eldest son, Bertie. Nevertheless the Victorian era became synonymous with rigid social rules about sexual morals, such that even when discussing furniture one said 'limbs' rather than 'legs'. The Victorian era is also remembered as one of hypocrisy (hence the name, Victoria's Secret for the lingerie company), because of the levels of poverty that led to prostitution, the widespread use of child labour, also the strictest observance of the class system. Between the 'family values' they upheld and the size of the family they produced (nine children) Victoria and Albert personified a lifestyle with which the growing middle classes of Britain could identify.

Just before Victoria came to power in 1837, Britain had passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 which outlawed slavery in the British Empire (with a few exceptions). In 1838 £20 million pounds was put aside to pay to slave owners as reparation for the loss of their slaves; of course no reparation was offered to the slaves themselves.

Nothing I've read about Victoria suggests she was a particularly fond mother.  She thought babies were disgusting. Later, she saw her children as obliged to serve and please her and seems to have had little regard for their feelings. Whether this was because of her view of being a mother or of being a queen, I'm not sure. I gather this was not an uncommon attitude in Victorian society overall, particularly where advantageous marriages were concerned. 

According to Wikipedia Victoria supported the Reform Act of 1867, before which only 14% of the seven million men in Britain could vote. This act doubled that number. However, Victoria was not in support of women being able to vote.

Victoria has never been depicted as particularly intelligent but rather a woman ruled entirely by her emotions. Her journals report that she enjoyed her sex life with Albert, which is fair enough. After his death she withdrew from public life so much so that a protester put up a notice on Buckingham Palace demanding that

"...these commanding let or sold in consequence of  the late occupant's declining business."

She was known to be susceptible to flattery and apparently had the odd crush on various men, earning her the nicknames of "Mrs Melbourne" and "Mrs Brown".  Queen Elizabeth I also had affairs of the heart, or at least one with Robert Dudley, but as queen before the institution of constitutional monarchies she had a great deal more power and during Elizabeth I's reign England became a great power.

The Great Famine in Ireland happened during Victoria's reign, when Britain was at its peak, the richest nation in the world. For some time I've held her largely responsible in my own mind. However, just now I've read that she gave £2,000 toward the British Relief Association in aid of the Irish, more than any other individual. 

I've long thought of her as full of self-pity, a spoiled and pampered individual who happened to be born into the royal family. That said, she had a horrible childhood living under the Kensington System, an elaborate set of rule devised by her mother and her mother's supposed lover to keep Victoria weak and dependent.  She clearly adored her husband, though she was loathe to lose any of her power to him. I can't imagine that being royalty, particularly being the longest reigning monarch in Britain's history is conducive to having what I would consider to be an admirable character. The 'constitutional monarchy' had been in place for well over a century by the time Victoria became Queen, so her powers were quite limited, perhaps only to "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn".  So perhaps I'm too hard on the woman. In any case her name describes the era in which developed societies became industrialized and she perhaps witnessed the largest changes in the world during her reign, the longest in British history to date.

By the way, mark your calenders. This year 11 September will not only be the 14th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it will the be day on which Elizabeth II takes the place of Queen Victoria as the longest reigning monarch.  I'm wondering what sort of events will mark the observance of that event!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A New Neighbour!

We are so excited to welcome young William into the world! Born Tuesday morning, 8 lbs. 3 oz.  I got to see him in person today. He was already visiting next door with proud father, Matthew, and Grandfather, William, whilst mother Julia was catching up on some much needed rest.

He's even more gorgeous in real life!